A Sentimental Mood on Double Bass, Part II

Last year at Bethel, in California, there were many times during worship sets when I thought how cool it would be to have a double bass. I’m a sucker for big band and old jazz records. As much as I love rock and roll, I have always loved the sentimental sounds of a jazzy double bass.

I began tossing around the idea of restoring the old Kay bass my grandmother gave me about 16 years ago. I researched different techniques of stripping the old finish and applying new. I figured if I could at least take care of the finish, I could then take it to a luthier to make any necessary repairs.

When I came back to Texas, in May, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish; restoring the bass was chief among them. Since I was in Texas during the uncertainties of COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, it was as good a time as ever to take on such a project.

The first step was to strip the 50 year old finish brushed by my grandfather. I decided to use Blue Bear Soy Gel Stripper. I had no idea what the original varnish was or the state of the wood underneath. It took a bit of courage to take the plunge into the unknown and even more patience. But after several coats of stripper, beautiful wood grain and an 80 year old patina began to emerge.

I spent the next 3 weeks carefully stripping the old finish one layer at a time. I then began the process of sanding it down. I had to go a little deeper than normal to remove some of the sanding swirls from when my grandfather refinished it. I took it all the way up to an impressive 1500 grit. Smooth as glass.

With all that done, I decided to take it to the luthier before I applied any finish. My luthier is Lamb’s Music in White Settlement, Texas. Steve Lamb and his family do amazing work and are always patient with my long list of questions.

They reshaped the fingerboard and glued a few places around the body of the bass that over time had come apart and formed small gaps. They also ordered a new bridge, bridge adjusters, and did a proper setup with a new set of D’Addario Zyex strings.

After a few weeks, it was ready to pick-up. Now, the big job began. French polishing.

If you know anything about French polishing, you know it is both time and labor-intensive on even the smallest of instruments. To French polish a double bass is largely a ridiculous notion, but I, however, was undeterred. I wanted to do the best job I could, and there’s no sound like a French polished instrument.

After watching hours of Youtube videos, reading dozens of articles, and testing out techniques on scrap pieces of lumber, I felt relatively ready.

I figured I would learn as I went, so I started on the bottom bout to hone my skills a bit more. It wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined, but I was surprised by the elbow grease required. I had to keep a sweat rag nearby to constantly wipe away my sweat and prevent dripping on the bass.

There were many days when I spent well over 8 hours working on it. I easily lost all track of time. I would only realize how long I’d been working when the sun began to set, and I needed to bring in more lighting. It was without question a labor of love, and I couldn’t wait to show my grandmother.

In the process of buffing the bass, I noticed something that caused my stomach to sink. The old crack across the neck heel had become loose. I called the luthier to tell them what had happened and see if it was possible for them to repair it before I drove back to California. They were less than optimistic.

In the luthier world, a double bass neck repair is considered the most difficult and labor-intensive project there is. They estimated it would take 6-8 weeks, and I was leaving in 16 days. It didn’t look good.

I almost decided to do the work, myself. I was just about to order the necessary tools to do the job when I began to feel the stress mounting. I stopped to pray and asked God what I should do. He told me to take it to the luthier and put it in His hands, so that’s what I did.

When I went to drop it off, they again told me they didn’t see any possibility of finishing the job before I had to leave for California. I assured them I understood but only asked them to do their best.

In the midst of all of this, the unexpected happened.

We got the call that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. She was not doing well. It turned out she needed heart surgery. It was touch and go for a bit. And with the added difficulties of hospital quarantine restrictions, only one person could visit her each day. But each time my mom or I spoke to her, it appeared she only had one thing on her mind – the bass.

“How are things with that ol’ bass fiddle? Heard anything from the luthier yet?” she’d ask. Each time, I had to tell her I had not heard anything from the luthier. The truth was I was a little nervous to call them. But eventually, I decided to call and find if there was any news.

The bass had been at the shop for less than a week, so I wasn’t expecting to hear much in regard to progress. Needless to say, I was surprised when the first words I heard were, “The bass is ready. You can pick it up tomorrow.” Stunned and smiling, I repeated what I heard to make sure there wasn’t a mistake.

The luthier noticed my surprise and explained he didn’t need to remove the back of the bass. Instead, he was able to slide the neck out from the front with a little steam and muscle. If you ask any luthier, that never happens. He was as surprised as I was. This was the answer to my prayer.

At the same time, we received even better news. After much prayer and a few well-placed stints, my grandmother was doing much better and on the road to recovery. She was released from the hospital and on her way back home. By all definitions, it was truly a miracle in which we are still thanking God.

My dream before summer even began was to restore the bass and see my grandmother’s reaction when it was finished. It had all looked impossible far more than a couple of times along the way. But against all odds, it was actually happening.

A few days later, my grandparents came over to my parents’ house for dinner. Soon after they arrived, she looked at me and asked, “So where’s that bass?” I led her into the piano room where it lay waiting. She absolutely loved it and beamed, “Your Grandpa Jerry would be so proud.” That moment alone was worth it all.

She laughed and played while my parents and I took pictures. Afterward, I played the old hymn “Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” for her. This was a dream come true and the culmination of months of work.

I told my grandmother I wanted to name the bass after her. She laughed at the thought. I plan to carve a heel plate with her name inscribed in script, “Minnie.”

My grandmother, Minnie, stands just below 5 feet, yet chose to play the biggest instrument in the band. I appreciate the irony.

A few days later, I packed up all my instruments in my little white hatchback, and began the long drive all the way to Redding, California. I crossed the entirety of the American West with a double bass in the passenger seat of my car.

It now sits safely on its stand beside me.

This bass belonged to my grandmother and then grandfather. They both played it in worship to God. It is a part of them. It is a part of their story. And because of tragedy, its voice was silenced for almost 47 years. Until now.

Now, she sings again.

She reverberates praise to our King.

She has been restored.

AR

IMG_2121

A Sentimental Mood on Double Bass, Part I

The year was 1957. Eisenhower was president, the Russians launched “Sputnik,” and Elvis was king.

My grandmother, Minnie, was 17 years old. She grew up in a big family in a small Texas town. Her family loved church and music. They especially loved a local band, Pace Family Band. The band traveled from church to church playing gosptel tunes. My grandmother’s family never missed a service.

One of the daughters in the Pace Family Band played double bass. Her name was “Bootsie.” My grandmother loved the bass and thought “it was the prettiest sounding thing.” Bootsie was only a year older than her. She figured if Bootsie could learn to play, so could she.

She began taking bass lessons in junior high, but she didn’t have her own bass. Years passed. She continued taking lessons, but she wanted her own bass to practice and play.

One day, she received a phone call from a man known as Brother Lewis. He was a family friend who worked at a barbershop in Whitney, Texas. He knew Minnie had been looking for a double bass for quite some time.

As things often go in small towns, the barber had a side business. He operated a small music shop beneath the barbershop. Mr. Lewis called to let her know they had just received a double bass in great condition.

The bass belonged to none other than Chuck Berry, himself.

Chuck and his band had been touring through the area. They had heard about the barber’s music shop and decided to trade-in the bass and order a new model due to arrive in a couple of days.

Understandably, my grandmother was elated. Her older brother, Harold, offered to drive her down to Whitney to look at the booming behemoth. The sun had already long since set when they arrived at the barbershop. They ventured down the stairs and immediately saw it, a 1941 Kay S-8 Swingmaster “Supreme.”

After a few minutes spent testing its resound, she loved it but explained to Harold she only had $75. He kindly offered to give her the remaining $50 on the condition she would learn to play. She quickly agreed.

They paid the barber $125 and carefully placed the bass in the back seat of Harold’s 1952 Cadillac then made the hour-long drive back home.

Minnie joined the Cleburne High School Band as a junior, one of two bassists. The other bassist was her good friend, Annette Martindale. To her dismay, the band director would not permit her to play pizzicato (with fingers). In band, she had to learn to play arco (with a bow).

She never enjoyed the sound of a bow on a bass. To this day, she relates the sound to a belligerent bear.

She learned the finger positions and techniques from her younger sister, Marynell. Once she felt comfortable, she began to play at church and left her bow at home.

Life continued on and she continued to play at church until some years later when my mother was born in 1964. She stopped playing to sit with my mom during church. After a few incidents of fellow church-goers commandeering the bass without permission, she took the bass home.

A couple of years later, my grandfather, Jerry Hanna, asked if it would be alright if he learned to play. She gave her blessing and gifted the bass to him. He refinished the bass with a mahogany stain and a polyurethane topcoat. He also outfitted it with new electric strings, a pickup system, and an amplifier.

She tells the story of the countless hours my grandfather sat in front of the record player. He listened and played along to his favorite gospel albums by The Statesmen Quartet and The Blackwood Brothers. He quickly learned the art of bass and began playing at church in 1969.

An unfortunate event happened when my grandfather was playing one day at church. A well-meaning woman knelt down to pray near the bass during a prayer meeting. Unbeknownst to her, the hem of her dress caught on part of the bass stand. When she stood up, the bass fell over and cracked the neck just above the heel. An ugly problem for any bass.

The lady was very upset, but my grandfather tried his best to console her. It could be fixed. He took it to a local shop to be repaired, and they reattached the neck with a long, beefy, bolt. Not ideal but it did the trick. The bass was back at church within a couple of weeks.

I’ve heard many stories of when my grandfather played at church. He was regularly seen with tears streaming down his face. He did not just play bass. He was a worshiper.

He played until his death in 1973.

That’s when the bass was brought back to my grandmother’s home. And there it sat unplayed in a corner by an upright piano. Decades passed as it sat in silence.

That’s when I came into the story.

I began playing bass guitar when I was about 10 years old. I had ventured toward the double bass a few times growing up, but it was mostly due to curiosity. It was a mystery to me. However, as I neared my 14th birthday, I expressed interest in the double bass to my grandmother. She decided to give it to me for my 14th birthday with the promise that I would always keep it in our family. I gave her my word. We carefully placed it inside my parents’ Ford Explorer and slowly drove home. I held it all the way.

I had dreams of restoring the bass to its former glory, but every luthier I spoke with didn’t want to even look at it. I soon realized I would need to save a substantial sum of money to have someone restore the bass for me.

My grandfather did a great job when he refinished the bass, but he wasn’t familiar with the finish for instruments. The polyurethane he used to seal the wood was too thick and rigid. It choked the sound because the wood was now too stiff to vibrate freely.

I had wanted to restore the bass since I was 14, but I knew it would cost thousands of dollars. It was set aside as a project for “someday.” But I now had more than a decade of experience building and refinishing furniture, and my confidence was slowly growing. Maybe, I could restore the bass, myself.

To be continued…

AR

 

Upright Bass

Nell, the Mandolin

05F8907C-968E-4A1B-90E8-2FA860E3848E 2

When I was a little boy, my great aunt, MaryNell, introduced me to a rather peculiar instrument –– the mandolin. Often relegated to the distant fields of Kentucky or orchestral chambers, it serendipitously found its way into my hands.

It was the first instrument I learned to play, somewhere around 6 or 7 years old. Honestly, I was not a fan. It looked funny, sounded strange, and the action on the neck was rather high. It required more strength to press down the rusty strings than my little fingers possessed.

Beside the need for callous development and finger dexterity, I did not find bluegrass or southern gospel music to be in any way cool. The Gaither Vocal Band was a far-cry from the rock anthems I enjoyed. My musical preferences leaned more toward Genesis, Journey, and Eagles. However, Aunt MaryNell was undeterred.

She was an endless reservoir of encouragement. I remember sitting next to her on her piano bench with mandolin in hand. We would play through a simple tune dozens of times. At some point in the song, she would stop, smile down at me and say, “That was beautiful, Andrew. Let’s try again.” But I, in fact, knew it was not “beautiful.” Quite far from it. I was largely unable to get the chords to ring true. But that’s how she was. Always encouraging and ever-patient.

She was an amazing pianist. Her style always reminded me of the Wild West saloon scenes in movies. But we both shared a love for Jack Johnson’s music. Soon after she first heard his album, In Between Dreams, she set out to learn the song “Banana Pancakes.” It was an amazing amalgamate of musical genres. We shared a lot of laughs over that album.

In 2011, she passed away. It was a devastating loss to our entire family. She was a matriarch and a friend. It seemed surreal for a long time. I often found myself almost turning onto her street to say hello, but as if roused from a dream, I would suddenly remember. She was gone –– and the realization and emotion would wash over me again. I suppose that’s how we often find just how much of an impact someone has made in our lives; the hole they leave behind.

In 2015, I bought a mandolin of my own. I had been thinking about it for several months and decided to take the plunge. The first time I picked it up, I thought of Aunt MaryNell and all our lessons on her piano bench. I knew she would be happy I decided to play again. I wanted to honor her and her eternal patience with my mandolin playing. I named the mandolin, Nell. It means, “The Bright and Shining One.”

It’s a beautiful instrument. I was happily surprised by how much easier it was to play than I remembered as a boy. My fingers are now far stronger and calloused from decades of playing both bass and guitar.

I began practicing 2+ hours each day for several months. I found myself on a journey of unlocking the beautiful mysteries hidden inside an instrument I long ago dismissed. I was quickly falling in love. I had never thought the mandolin was a versatile instrument, but I began finding several artists who were venturing into uncharted waters. I took it upon myself to follow in their wake.

At this point, I have played at one wedding, dozens of worship sets, one studio recording, and a couple of Irish sessions. I love how the mandolin cuts through a mix with growling chops and twinkling highs. I recently had the opportunity to lead worship with a few friends at Revival Group in Redding, California. They both played guitar while I played mandolin. I absolutely loved it.

I have had several people approach and tell me they have never liked banjo or mandolin before they heard me play. Quite the compliment. I once counted myself among them. The mandolin is interesting in that way. It first appears to be a one trick pony with little to offer, but if given the chance, it surprises you immensely.

I have been wanting to make a leather mandolin strap for quite some time. I started the project almost two years ago, but time got away. I finished it early this morning. The strap has some Sheridan patterns and the name “NELL” tooled upon it. I think Aunt MaryNell would like it.

She taught me far more than some simple mandolin chords. Through her example, she taught me to love God, love people, love music, and to love life –– laughing all the way.

Aunt MaryNell, I want to say thank you for sharing your passions with me and your endless encouragement. It has all meant more to me than I was ever able to say.

I’m still pickin’.

I love and miss you.

AR

 

 

Screenshot 2020-03-16 12.00.22

Yes, I play bass guitar.

For those of you who do not know, I am attending Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California. Quite a big move from Texas. It’s been an amazing experience thus far. I have met so many incredible people from all around the world, and I am privileged to be taught by some of the foremost movers and shakers in the church on a daily basis. Wild.

There’s a tremendous amount I could say on any given area of the journey I’ve walked so far while being here, but there’s one area that has been an area of great intrigue to me lately.

When I came here for school, I auditioned for the worship team on bass guitar. I made the worship team and have been playing bass for the school since late August/early September. Strangely, it already seems like a lifetime ago.

I began playing bass guitar when I was about 10 years old – so about 21 years ago. Time flies. I remember loving everything about the bass and pouring myself into it. Sting was a hero of mine. However, my perception of bass changed somewhere around my junior year of high school. I was playing with some friends in a band, but I began to realize the bass player was largely out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

It was difficult to feel I was destined to be relegated to the background. Second-fiddle, forevermore. That’s when I bought my first guitar. I loved the bass, but I wanted to be heard and feel proud of what I brought to the table. Enter guitar, stage right.

I spent countless hours over the course of many years learning to play guitar. There were more than a couple of years when I spent at least 2-3 hours everyday working on guitar theory and techniques. I love guitar, but I always found it interesting – no matter how hard I tried, it never quite felt hand-in-glove.

Opportunities would come whether playing in churches or bands, and I always tried to introduce myself as a guitarist. But without fail, they soon found I also played bass. And then regardless of my fruitless endeavors, I was assigned the role of bassist. It was annoying.

I have often said bass is like a boomerang. No matter how far I throw it from me, it always comes back. It seemed I was never going to escape a bass guitar hanging from my shoulders. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

Over the last couple of years, I had finally begun playing lead guitar for two different churches. It was really exciting to be able to step into a role I had been working toward for so long. It was always fun but also stressful. I figured with time, the stress would diminish. And it did to some extent but never entirely.

When I came to BSSM in Redding, people would ask me if I was on the worship team because I looked familiar. I would tell them I played bass, but somewhere inside, I would feel a pang of shame. Weird. I didn’t really know why I felt shame. However, I noticed the shame caused me to quickly explain that back home in Texas, I played lead guitar for two churches. Somehow, I felt the need to show I was more than “just a bassist.”

As this happened more and more, I began to take note of what was going on inside. I felt ashamed to play bass guitar. When did that happen? Somewhere along the way, I learned that a bassist was needed but not really wanted. Countless sets buried in the darkest shadows on every stage. Soundmen perpetually turning my volume down to the point that I’m now unseen and unheard. After two decades of those experiences, I absolutely hated it. Thousands of hours of practice seemingly all for nothing.

I wanted to play guitar, specifically lead guitar – to be seen and heard. I wanted the 20+ years of hard-work I had put into music to mean something. I wanted to feel proud of what I had accomplished and proud of what I brought to the stage.

When I first came to Bethel, every time I walked on stage, I was very stressed. My identity was 100% tied up in how well I played that day. Ad nauseam. It was difficult for me to fully trust the other band members because I was bracing for their disapproval, spoken or unspoken. It’s very hard to have fun when that is the tune marching around your head.

At some point, my walls began to fall, and I began to not only trust those I played with but truly love and respect each of them. Small, subtle, changes sneak up on you without you realizing. The critical voice in my head perpetuating shame was becoming less and less apparent.

I found myself with people who celebrated me and the instrument I played, the bass guitar. After each set, smiles and hugs abound as we champion each other. It is by far the most beautiful and healthy worship culture I have ever seen or experienced. I am forever grateful for what Bethel has cultivated here.

As I spent some time with God praying into these things rumbling through my brain, I realized it was always something far deeper than just bass guitar. The Lord has had me in a process of learning to love and trust myself and resting in who He has made me to be. I don’t have to be something more or something different.

It is difficult to quantify the liberation this has brought me. With each day, I feel more and more comfortable in my own skin. And I’m learning to love myself just as I am and extend grace to myself when needed. I don’t listen to the voice of shame in my head anymore. And strangely enough, bass guitar has become a symbol for this journey.

A couple of weeks ago, when I began processing this, I decided to sell the last of my guitar pedals back in Texas. The money I made from selling it, I bought a new bass microsynth pedal and power supply. I then decided to build a pedalboard for my bass rig. This was my way of saying, I’m all in.

Yesterday was my first worship set with the new bass pedal and pedalboard, and it was the most fun I have ever had playing bass guitar. As amazing as my setup is – what made the difference is I’m now playing from my heart in a way I have not done in a very, very, long time. And it’s just fun. Stupid fun.

So yes, I play bass guitar.

And I love it.

AR

C74BB62D-DED1-40FC-B801-323519A9EF99

The person sitting alone

steven-hwg-1143561-unsplash

Have you ever found yourself sitting alone? Praying to God someone would say hello. Hoping someone will smile or at least acknowledge that you are there because the thought of sitting alone again without one single interaction is more than you can bear. I have.

I have felt so alone that I have driven somewhere, anywhere, just to find myself among people. And even just a smile from a stranger across the room meant more to me in that moment than a thousand words could express. There is a level of loneliness that chips away at the soul if it is left unaddressed.

The sad thing about this is that there are people feeling this all around us everyday. Whether we are at work, a restaurant, the gym, church, at home – even when surrounded by people, there are so many who feel utterly alone. They long to know and be known, but it is viewed as a weakness to express such a need. It requires an uncomfortable level of vulnerability. We are supposed to be independent. We are supposed to not need anyone. Rugged individualism.

When some brave soul ventures toward that person sitting alone and asks how they’re doing often times the reply is little more than, I’m good. Just busy. Just tired. Just something. These are nothing more than knee-jerk responses said before we even realize what we are saying. We don’t want to be perceived as weak. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We push it down a little bit more and work up a smile in hopes of seeming to be a little bit less of a mess than we presently feel.

Maybe you can relate to this or maybe not. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can all remember times we have felt alone. Regardless, this is a reality for a growing number of people. People have a need to belong. And there is no worse feeling than to realize when you need a friend, there is no one to call. There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere you belong.

In the seasons when I have experienced this, it has forged in me a deep compassion for people who feel they have no tribe, no community. I have been praying as I have tried to find how to be intentional about making a difference for these people. The statistics are abysmal, but it hits home when it is no longer just a number. It is a face. It is your face.

I was thinking today about when I have been the person sitting alone, and how I have seen those who are in conversations around me. It is easy to see they are friends who know each other well. You halfway hope they make eye contact with you and motion for you to join in the conversation. The other half feels uncomfortable being seen as the one who is alone, so you hope to remain unnoticed. I believe this is one reason why so many turn to their phones. It helps numb the awkward feelings, but at the same time, it walls us off from the connection we so desire.

Today, I saw something different. While we are looking at those around us who community comes easily hoping they will see us and end our plight, we fail to see others just like us –  alone and as uncomfortable as we are. Instead of waiting for someone to extend kindness to me, I am fully able to be the one to speak with the others who are hemmed in by their isolation.

I have done this a few times, but honestly – I imagine it would be an embarrassingly low number if I could recall each instance. But I remember how I felt each time. Whether young, old, man, woman, or child – we all have a need to belong. And I have the ability to connect with someone and let them know they matter, and I see them, and they belong right here.

I’m no longer going into new places to find those who are among their friends and hope they will welcome me into their group. If that happens, I will warmly welcome it, but instead of waiting – I will be looking for the person sitting alone. I will seek them out. I want them to know they are not invisible. I want them to experience kindness. I want them to be able to put an end to the question that tirelessly runs through their mind. Yes, you belong here. And as long as I have something to say about it, you will not sit alone again.

If you already do this, I thank you a thousand times for your kindness. If you are like me and have not approached the person sitting alone as often as you would like to say, I invite you to start today. Everything in life is about intentionality. Your smile and kind words may very well be the hope a person at the end of their rope latches onto. People are amazing. They are beautiful. They are a treasure worth your effort. Every single one of them. Embrace the awkward moments along the way. I promise it will be worth it. We can shift culture round about us and ensure that every room we walk into – there is no person left sitting alone.

Isolation ends when we each decide it ends. I choose to create community wherever I venture. Alone we crumble. Together we build. Will you join me?

AR

Introduction to the Markets

With eyelids still heavy from a long night of tossing, I made continued effort toward finding the edge of the bed where an infernal alarm lay growing more bold in its tones with every passing second. By the time I found relief from its rhythmic, belching, rackets, my mind was already roving through the morning tasks ahead. Perhaps, today would be the day.

Sizzling water made its way through the coffee grounds and filter into an old, trusted, mug. My mind drifted here and there as I awaited the frothing sounds that signaled coffee-making completion. It’s funny. I had no desire for coffee until a trip to Tennessee, earlier this year. It has become a near daily ritual, at this point. I believe it’s the aroma that signals morning as much as any level of caffeinated jolt it may provide.

Coffee in hand, I made my way upstairs to prepare for another morning’s work. Fridays are notoriously slow in this business. Summer months tend to be as well. As you can imagine, a Friday at the end of summer does not usually elicit tremendous enthusiasm, but I like to leave room to be surprised.

I have spent most of this year studying a business within the finance industry with untold potential. But with such potential, it can be fraught with risk as well. I have found I enjoy the challenge of it all, but this summer has been frustrating. I have attempted to capitalize on the markets downtime by studying as much as possible each day. There have been days where I have worked and studied 14 hours straight, and others where I have only been able to study for 2 or 3.

The last time I wrote, I spoke at length about the importance of goals and giving yourself over to it and its process. I have been living this out this year, and though it has been difficult and required sacrifice in most every arena, I have enjoyed it. I know I will find success. It is only a matter of time.

AR

rick-tap-uJhgEXPqSPk-unsplash