Artist Spotlight: Donald Waugh - Multi-Instrumentalist
As we arrive in California for NAMM 2019, we reflect back on Summer NAMM 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.
I met up with Ontario based bass player Donald Waugh at Summer NAMM June 2018, held in Music City downtown Nashville, Tennessee, USA. It’s buzzing it’s noisy and it’s far too hot, 108 degrees to be exact, (I’m old school remember, no decimal for me) ok, for modern folk that’s the best part of 42 Celsiwotsit.
Thankfully, the Music City complex is a very modern building with a huge and very effective air conditioning system, I soon find a quiet lounge to conduct our interview, whilst still I audible range of some of the finest chicken-picking guitar players on the planet.
Donald Waugh is a well respected bass player with skills for drums, guitar, banjo, piano – he can sing as well, in other words, a multi-instrumentalist. I ask him with which instrument does he feel the most at home with, either in a band or in the studio? He explains,
“Well, I’m actually hired as a drummer and a bassist for session work and for live work, I feel equally at home with a multi-string bass guitar or a pair of hickory drumsticks. I’ll swap around, maybe gig a few times with a band as the bassist, then next time around I may get asked to be the drummer. I’ve been freelancing for many months, but right now I’m rehearsing with a band called Purple Haze, taking the bass player and vocalist role and getting ready to embark on a four-month tour which takes in the UK, Europe and Australia. We’re going to be really busy, and on my days off I’ll also be promoting my own album called ‘Early Days’ which is set for release later in 2018.
"I’m pretty excited about it because I’ve been working with musicians around the world to get a flavour of different countries and vibes for inspirations within songwriting and musical song content.
"I always have a notebook with me jotting down new ideas, phrases, lyrics and bass riffs. I have many songs yet to be recorded from way back. I also have more recent songs like ‘Maybe’, on which I collaborated with a Canadian Pianist called Brian Baillargeon. I first saw him on Facebook playing a groovy chord sequence, and I thought dude, I need those chords. He sent them on an mp3 file which I loaded into Reaper on my computer, I jumped on my drum kit and laid down a rhythm, then a bass groove and wrote some lyrics.
"The internet, of course, makes it almost like one big rehearsal room or studio, so we can send ideas to each other which I’ve been doing with a brilliant bassist from the Middle East called Usama Allati who has a solo part on the song 'As I Sing This Song' from the album 'Early Days'.
"I’m based in Ontario Canada and if it’s geographically possible, I’ll meet up locally with friends and we’ll work on original material. There’s a song called ‘Chameleon’ which I wrote recently with Andrew Stuve a bass player who drove up here from Detroit. I originally had 10 tracks for ‘Early Days’ but I just kept writing and recording so many songs that I’ve added two more now before I start on the final mix. I have the whole album on my phone constantly listening in order to finalise the mixing when I get back home. This will be my third album having released ‘Just Passing Through’ in 2014 and ‘Feel Brand New’ in 2016.
"You’ll notice a Caribbean influence in a lot of my songs, as I grew up in Jamaica and was highly influenced by reggae music which still inspires me to write so many songs. I think, though, if you are a serious songwriter you are influenced by so many world topics on a daily basis, and there are so many fantastic bass players that I love and go back to time and time again.
"I would say I’m a sponge, inspired by people I play with rather than what I hear on the radio for instance. I hardly listen to the radio for that reason unless I am learning a song. I love musical relationships. When I was a kid I adored the American jazz composer and bassist Marcus Miller who has worked with so many greats, like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davies. I actually met Marcus when I played at his awards ceremony hosted by Sirius Radio on a Jazz Cruise, it was really surreal because I thought this is the guy that I studied. I was on stage doing the bass thing and he came over and looked at my technique, he stood there for 20 minutes and then said how do you do that four fingered technique?
"This is a multi-fingered technique where I use all four fingers and my thumb on my right hand, almost like a flamenco acoustic player, but on bass guitar. This allows me to get a balanced, consistent sound. If I want to play loud I can, but if I want to play soft I can play it more delicately with this style. I also want people to listen to my music and be zoned-out in a trance, I don’t want them to be agitated, and so I’m playing the notes with a smooth, mellow sound, not abrasive or harsh. It’s hard to explain but I have a lesson on my website where I go through my technique and people can learn it."
Donald is a master of all things smooth, mellow funky bass, this shines within his own playing style, I ask him about his favourite basses and amps.
“I’ve been using Cunningham basses for a while built in Australia by Jamaican born Dwight Cunningham. I have the RLJ-6 Headless, this is a six-string model that he built to my own specifications. I wanted quite a wide fingerboard with 19mm between the strings which are tuned to E and F and a 34in scale. I’m on the road a lot, so it had to be lightweight but without losing important qualities like sustain and tone, so we chose alder for the body with a 7-piece neck constructed from mahogany and Australian myrtle plus an ebony fingerboard. I am a bit of tone nut, I wanted this bass to deliver all the sounds I need in the studio and live. We sat down and looked at all the in’s and out’s of wiring the electrics, adding controls and a trio of mini toggle switches that would handle bass/treble boost/cut and humbucking single coil pickups with series, parallel and out of phase pickup permutations.
"My amps, of course, are the other part of the sonic equation. I’m currently endorsed by Phil Jones Bass, built by British luthier Phil Jones based in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. I’m using the BP400 amp and a pair of Cab47 cabs. These amps are loud and very clean, almost like playing through headphones or monitors and don’t colour the sound of the bass guitar, they have a very transparent sound, and like Cunningham basses, they’re compact and very light and easy to travel with. It’s essential I keep an eye on the weight when travelling solo. I take the bass guitar everywhere in my Fusion Urban Series gig bag and, as it’s headless, it fits into the guitar version and I still have enough room for all my leads and music scores and so much more.
"The whole package is so light and it’s good to know that the bass is safe and protected. I find on most flights I can put it in the overhead compartment, it’s also very strong and can take all the knocks of the road. It does have a rain cover, but I forgot to put in on once when I was on a flight to New York and the case got drenched, but it was fine and the bass was dry inside. I’ve always got quite a bit of luggage, but my accessory bags are no longer needed thanks to the compartments in the gig bag and I can use the back straps so I have hands free for a suitcase."
We’ve established that Donald Waugh is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but I ask if the bass guitar was the first instrument that inspired him to be a professional musician, he replies,
"Well, my Dad could also play several instruments and I watched him on stage playing bass when I was a kid, I just thought how did he do that? My mum had been sending me to piano lessons which I hated. My brother-in-law also played bass and I’d drop by now and again to try and work out some bass lines. In no time I was playing Ritchie Valens’s La Bamba, after that, I was hooked and practised on my dad’s bass every evening. He didn’t want me to be a professional musician, but I bought an old 5 string bass with some money he accidentally put into my bank account and that’s a true story."
Now I find out that Donald is also a qualified teacher, there is no end to his talents. He continues,
“I used to teach a lot, but at the moment touring takes up all my time so I’ve had to let the teaching side of things lapse for a while. I really enjoyed it so it’s a bit of regret, but I will get back into it when the time is right.
"I used to teach on The Perfect 10 course, where I had a strategy of teaching songs to kids very quickly so I guaranteed 10 classes where they would learn to play the songs. You teach children according to their age level, at one year old you teach them to say daddy first, then allow them to find their own attraction to music on their own accord, guide them of course, don’t force them, and just let them naturally fall in love with music.
"My method of teaching is a little bit backwards though, in terms of what everyone is doing now. I don’t teach students how to read first, I teach them how to listen, feel and fall in love with the music, and then how to read. It is important to be able to read through, especially if you are a session player like me. I often get the studio call where I’m presented with a musical score and expected to more or less sit down and play. It can be 50-50 though, I might get a call from a studio whereas often is the case, it’s a mix of reading and playing through inspiration or learn beforehand from a file of the songs they’ve sent to me.
"It all depends, in this day and age some people can survive without reading. I know people who can read but they can’t jam. If you can’t jam, how are you going to build relationships?"
Donald Waugh is a popular face and sound on social media, taking full advantage to self-promote in this modern day and age.
"I’ve been promoting myself on social media for several years now with a healthy following," says Donald.
"I try to feature a positive outlook. I want to encourage people to say something encouraging. There’s also the connection that social media can provide, I was so humbled when I received a message from someone who was about to end their life. They sent me a text saying that after watching one of my videos of a song called ‘Never Stop Trying’, the music touched them in a way that they wanted to continue living.
"I just thought wow, I can make a difference like that? It’s the power of music. Positive energy only."
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