Hey people. We have our first band member interview up on the site today. Trick Johnson, the bass player for The Miss Fairchild Show, kindly sat down with me to talk about his life, the bass and Elvis Presley. Click here to read the interview.
Or just read this:
Since the summer of 2006, Miss Fairchild has featured Patrick “Trick” Johnson on bass guitar. Trick has played the bass for nearly twenty years in many musical contexts. He has a road-tested fluency in funk, rock, jazz, reggae, and electronic styles. Recently, he can be found as part of “The Difference,” the rhythm section that includes Miss Fairchild’s Todd “The Rocket” Richard. Together they have played with Joshua Eden, Andy Happel, Slowing Room and founding Fairchild member Samuel P. Nice.
Tell me about your first musical experiences: performance, listening, in the womb…
I was at an Elvis Presley concert when I was in the womb! Are you writing down my epression? [Curls his lip a la The King.]
I don’t really like Elvis.
Do you think being at the concert has something to do with your dislike?
It’s just not my thing, really. He’s alright.
Fair enough. Did you start with bass?
Piano. For four years. I don’t know how old I was. It was some lady who gave lessons at her home. Theory, songs, I did recitals. I also played saxophone for a long time. I started playing sax in fourth grade in the school band. Start with alto, then tenor and settled on baritone. I stopped playing after senior year in high school.
And what about the bass guitar?
I started playing in bass during sophomore year of high school. I took over the bass position in jazz band.
Besides jazz band, were you playing in other bands?
Yeah. At the time I think it was called grunge. It wasn’t quite punk rock, but it was pretty hard. Jazz band to grunge, pretty funny… I was listening to stuff like Fishbone, Mike Watt, Minutemen, Firehose. But at the same time stuff like Parliament (Osmium era) and early Funkadelic- psychedelic stuff. There was a lot of different music around. Just about everything i got into was from my mom and my older brother. Mom for the older stuff and my brother for more current stuff.
I know you love James Jamerson.
Yeah, that was from mom’s Motown stuff. And Jaco [Pastorius] was a major influence when i first started. I had started by taking lessons at a guitar shop, but after about four lessons, my teacher said that he had nothing left to teach me, that I was already better than him, so I was passed on to this guy, who wasn’t so much a teacher, but just a bass guy. He was into recording and he had an old Fender precision, ’62, fretless. It wieghed about fifty pounds. He let me borrow it for about a year along with a Jaco video. That’s when my style changed from a grungy thing to a more melodic thing.
Yeah, people have told me that they think you play more off the vocal than the drums; I agree that you really listen when you play. Was that an instructional video? It must have been some pretty advanced stuff for such a young player.
Yeah, in a way I was actually able to pull off that Jaco stuff, because I just wanted to do it so bad. It was more his feel than his actual playing that I was interested, so I could play the basis for a lot of Weather Report stuff, but i never really touched the bass solos.
Did that lead you to other music?
Around that time I met up with these twins- a drummer and a guitarist. That was my “improvisational” period. They opened my eyes. We would do shows that were completely improvised. It was more “pocket” improvisation, not so much “out.” I was pretty lucky- they were incredible musicians. That was around senior year of high school.
Did you feel freed from playing charts in jazz band?
Well, I always felt a certain amount of freedom, even in the jazz charts, when i played bass, because even then it was just chords that I had to walk on. I could choose how to play the changes.
So, was freedom a factor in choosing between bass and saxophone? Your bari charts were likely more specific.
They were, but I never stopped liking the saxophone. The bass guitar just took the place of the baritone. I never owned a bari sax; I just used the school’s and when I graduated, I couldn’t affort one. But I could afford a bass, so when i graduated that was it.
I love tenor too, but i just kept going lower. I sing low as well. I guess I’m a bass frequency kind of person.
I think that’s a common analogue. a lot of people play instruments in the range that they hear.
I play a little guitar, but i don’t and would never consider myself a guitar player. And that’s why I stopped playing alto, because it’s too high pitched. And too loud. [Laughs.]
Was there something about being so loud that made you self-conscious? It seems like you gravitate away from the spotlight, towards the more anonymous role.
Well, I’ve always been a low-key personality. Bass is like that. The stories that I heard about Jaco playing behind a curtain so he didn’t have to wear a suit, it always seemed like something that I might do. But, back in that timeframe i was also pretty influenced by Stanley Clarke. He was one of the guys I found that were like WOAH!
But he’s not so low key.
Exactly, that’s the thing: to take an instrument out of it’s context. It’s exciting to hear the bass do what people don’t expect it to do. Stanley got me into the fusion stuff. At that point it was kind of fun to see how fast you could play. And he didn’t lose the pocket.
When you play, you embellish, but don’t show off.
I’ve never been a show off. It’s not who I am. It’s not my style. I don’t like being the center of attention, but i like being a strong supporter. i know my place as a bass player.
What was the band with the twins called?
Travianna Farm. We played in Virginia for about a year and then moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. We pretty much had instant success, bought a motor home and went on tour.
Was this still completely improvised?
No, no. We had maybe an album’s worth of songs, but somehow we found ourselves smackdab in the middle of the jam band scene, so it was pretty easy to stretch our material for hours and hours.
How many people were in this band at this point?
Six people: The three of us, plus singer, flutist and percussionist. We traveled with our lighting guy and sound guy. We had our own sound system. We were competely self-contained. It went on for two yers in raleigh before the ship sank. The twins just couldn’t be around each other. They had an unflattering nickname. It wasn’t uncommon to see a drumset fly across the room and one time i showed up and a guitar neck was snapped in half. We all lived in one house, everyone involved in the band. Everyone. There was an artist, a poet, the lighting guy, a bunch of stragglers that leeched off us.
Even at the time, though, it felt strange to fall into that type of crowd. I did, however, grow hair down to my ass to look the part.
We were hanging with Aquarium Rescue Unit.. Just to hang with [bass player] Otiel. [Burbridge] was amazing. He was so humble and mellow, and to know someone who’s that incredible on his instrument, a virtuoso really, who didn’t act any different than us made me feel more comfortable and confident as a player.
After the band broke up, I moved to Virginia for a few months and then back to Raleigh. I guess I was in North Carolina about three and a half years total. I moved out of town the first time because of a bad breakup, but when the dust settled, I moved back and met my future wife, Amy.
And you left pretty soon after that, right?
Yeah, we met in February and headed to Maine together in september of the same year…
Then there’s a period when i didn’t do too much. I fell in a slump. I’ve always been really picky about my projects and despite getting a lot of offers to play in generic blues bands and the like, just wasn’t playing much. I was coming from the south and blues seemed a little different in Maine than it was in North Carolina. It was awkward for me. So much that I think I went a whole year without even opening my case.
And then, I actually got a gig in Virginia with this band Zakia (the twins hooked me up). The details sounded good: there was some money and gigs lined, so i said, “screw Maine. I’m going back to Virginia.” And Amy moved with me. We played a total of 2 or 3 gigs, and it fell apart. It was a bunch of lies. All of the promises went unfulfilled. So after a year in Virginia, we went back to Maine.
Not long after that, i answered an ad in the paper from Joshua Eden. It must have been a good ad for me to answer it. I had been looking for a while, but couldn’t find anyhing right. I went to various metal band rehearsals, but I found myself immediately thinking “Why am I here?” One band was called ‘Riot Act,’ which they didn’t tell me until I showed up. No thanks.
When i met Josh, I told him, “I’m tired of schlepping my gear. Let’s just talk and see if we get along first.” And I think that’s the basis of his and my musical connection. We hit it off as human beings and we have similar taste in music. We started going around a little bit, gigging in Boston, etc. We went through a bunch of members. Some drummers, a conga player. We even recorded an album with our second drummer as Eshai’s Story I guess it was a self-titled album. Right before the record came out, though, we decided that the music wasn’t really work with that particular drummer and suddenly Todd [“The Rocket” Richard] showed up. Josh found out about him through a local music promoter: Fresh drummer, new to Portland, looking for a gig. And he stuck.
Was the writing with Joshua collaborative or did he do most of the writing?
Josh and I actually wrote at least half of the songs on Eshai’s Story together. He would write the lyrics and guitar parts, and I would write in the Reggae and African influences. we would each bring parts to the table, shells of songs and we would work them out together. It was pretty much full-on collaboration.
When Todd joined, did it become 3 way collabo?
He definitely had full-on writing power for his parts and made a lot of suggestions, stylistically speaking. He helped us break out of a tendency for everything to sound the same. By that time, we were pretty much a trio, with the occasional rogue guitarist.
Did you gig a lot with Joshua?
We played, but we weren’t super busy. A lot in Portland, sometimes Boston.
How did you start playing with Samuel P. Nice?
All through Todd. I dont know, really. It was pretty strange for me, because I had never done anything like that, playing live instruments with a backing track. It wasn’t hard, but it was awkward. I’m good playing with a metronome, but I wasn’t used to it. Even playing with Todd was an adjustment, because he’s so consistent. I was used to pushing and pulling the tempo a bit and he’s rock solid. He tightened me up for sure.
So that was altready on its way before P.Nice & The Difference?
Maine Jazz Festival was your first gig was those guys?
Yeah, it must have been. It was a growth period for me, musically. I really liked the music, but it wasn’t a genre I wasn’t too familiar with. I had listed to hip-hop a bit (Tribe Called Quest and the like), but I had never played it. The whole electronic aspect was new for me, too.
Did it change the way you played the bass?
I think that’s the thing: you can’t let it change you. You’re the human element. It would be just as easy to program the bass, but that’s the point of having a live human being: you have to keep it from changing you. I’m not a robot, I never will be. You need to have a looseness. It’s the human element. You gotta have it.
I guess, in a way, all this is leading to Miss Fairchild. Between the funk listening you did as a child, the extensive gigging and learning to be in a band in North Carolina and playing with pre-recorded material, it seems you have all the elements.
Yeah. Good grooming. How many years did i see you guys as a trio and suggest that you needed a rhythm section? I like to think that I might have had a small role in getting the gig, by egging you on. It definitely worked out for Todd and myself: a good match all the way around.
So, tell me about Miss Fairchild. Say some good things.
[Laughs.] One of the best things is that it’s fun. It’s higher energy than any project I’ve ever done. It’s just fun. To play and to dance and see the crowd reaction. People just want to have fun and Miss Fairchild allows them to.
From my perspective, you pretty seamlessly added yourself to this music.
It was work right off the bat, but it does seem pretty seemless looking back.
What about the songs? I can say that hearring you play the songs has changed our writing for the new stuff (that you haven’t heard.)
It’s the old turn around.
I see that. Well, we’ve been inspired to write more with the bass in mind, but also simpler parts to leave more room for you. I assume that you will be taking over most of the recorded bass parts, so I want to relinquish some control over what’s happening and bring in your voice.
I feel like in these songs, i finally get the chance to play the kind of music i’ve always wanted to play. That’s why to me it feels seamless. I’ve always wanted to play good soul music.
We’re a little guilty of pushing you out of your comfort zone, too.
It’s good for me. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t go there. Obviously I’m not used to some of the things you guys ask me to do, like soloing, but it’s fun. It’s nice for some to push you.
And honestly, you’ve pushed us. You’ve taught us a lot. Learning your preferences and needs has inspired us to make this music work for you.
So, what does future hold for Mr. Trick Johnson, bass player?
A house on the beach. World tours. What more do you need? [Laughs.]
I don’t know, a second bass cabinet?
That would be nice. A Fodera sponsorship, maybe.