What first inspired you to play bass?
It was by default that I started playing bass. Everybody that I knew wanted to be Robert Plant or Jimmy Page. Nobody wanted to play bass, because then you’re [former Rolling Stones bassist] Bill Wyman—you stand in the background while everybody else gets the chicks. So the first band I played in, I borrowed a friend’s guitar, took the top two strings off and played it like a bass. And then I grew to like how the bass vibrated me.
What was your first bass?
My father bought it for me at a local flea market. It was a Japanese bass called a Victoria, and I had a little Gibson amp. I immediately blew that up. As I kept playing, I saved money for my first Fender Precision bass. I sold the Victoria bass to a buddy at school, and around 10 years ago, I ran into his brother. He had the bass and gave it back to me. It was still in the original case, with the curly cord and the pitch pipe.
What was the first song you learned?
“Little Black Egg” by the Nightcrawlers [a mid-Sixties garage rock band; the song was a minor hit in parts of the U.S.].
What do you recall about your first gig?
My amp wasn’t loud enough. I had this Standel amp with two 10-inch speakers. I’d turn it up to the point of farty distortion just to keep up with the guitar player.
Ever had an embarrassing onstage moment?
In 1978, Van Halen were playing in North Carolina, opening for Boston. I did this little bass solo thing where I’d play a little bit, then jump up and hit the fuzz. This particular time, nothing happened. There’s nothing worse than having to do a tap dance in front of 60,000 people. That was pretty embarrassing. My tech wasn’t too pleased with me after the gig. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford anybody else!
What’s your favorite instrument or piece of gear?
That’s a tough one. I have an old Gibson EB1 violin bass. One of my favorite players, Felix Pappalardi of Mountain, played one. I don’t take it on the road a lot, but I play it at home and in the studio.
Do you have any advice for young players?
Do it for the love of it. Don’t do it for the fortune and fame, because it never works out.