The bottom line

Dan Grady

Photo By Larry Dalton

Dan Grady never has played any instrument but the bass. As a family man with two kids, and as a full-time nursing student who also holds down a job at Kaiser Permanente, it’s hard to believe he finds time to play music. But this self-described veteran of about 50 bands still manages to gig. His current band, the Pleasure Seekers, plays a mix of cover versions and original material, with most of the covers coming from obscure soul and R&B records from the 1960s and 1970s, specifically the music that came out of Memphis and Detroit—songs with great bass lines.

How did you put together the Pleasure Seekers?

Even when I was living in San Francisco, I was in Sacramento bands; I was in Magnolia Thunderfinger and Sex 66. And when I moved back here finally, I ran into Ned [Hammad], and I wanted to do some traditional chitlin'-circuit R&B Memphis soul. And he was a great player, and so I just asked him if he wanted to do it. Paul Wells and I played together in the ‘80s, and Paul can play anything. I had a bunch of records and turned him on to it, and we started gettin’ a rhythm section going. And then I heard Kizzy [Miller] was singing some kinda soulful stuff, so we got her.

Were you an old fan of semi-obscure soul?

Because I love bands like the Band and the Stones, I knew that the great rock ‘n’ roll bands always had a source of R&B. They always mentioned blues, but they never really mentioned the rhythm and blues. That’s what drew me, because I’m like, well, I don’t wanna go play like [the Band’s bass player] Rick Danko. Anyway, people used to go, “Oh, yeah. You play like Rick Danko. You play like Jack Bruce.” So, I listened to that, and I thought, “I like their playing, but I want to know who turned them on.” So, that’s how I dove into that. And then, there was a guy named Phil Givant. He used to do this radio show, and he used to talk during the songs, and he’d just piss you off. He’d go, “Big mama, gimme dat thing,” right through the songs. And there was a dude who lived on my street, an old black guy who had a restaurant on Florin Road, and he taught me how to play the bass; he’d show me these riffs. I didn’t have a bass, so I broke the two strings off of a Strat copy my brother had, the high E and the B, and then he’d show me Willie Dixon and shit like that. And down the street from my house, they’d be listening to Phil Givant on Sundays, so I’d go over there. He was on KPOP radio, when it was Sacramento’s only soul station, in the ‘70s.

When did you start hooking up with other musicians?

When I started playing in bands, I skated for a couple different skateboard companies in the ‘70s when I was a kid. Everybody here that skated quit skating and started forming bands—guys like Tom Bixby and Pat Stratford. I grew up with those guys.

What attracted you to the bass?

James Jamerson, Motown. That was it. I heard Motown, and that’s all I heard was the bass. I can’t listen to a song and hear [anything else]; that’s what I hear, you know what I mean? If you’re a guitarist, you hear guitar parts. If you’re a singer, you hear the melody. I just hear bass melody.

What’s your approach to laying a bass line down?

What I do is I don’t play a bass line; I get the drum track going, and then I take the guitar into consideration, and then I just put the notes in between it. I don’t come up with a bass line; I put the notes in between the other instruments. I never come up with the bass line first. And the way to do it is you gotta utilize space. And by utilizing space, you don’t play a bass line; you put the notes in the empty space. And that is more effective. You know what I’m saying?

Yeah, because a lot of musicians just aren’t conscious of space.

And that’s the whole key to soul music, R&B, is the space. Because that’s the difference between rock ‘n’ roll and soul/blues is the use of space. Rock ‘n’ roll floors full-throttle and takes up the space, whereas soul and R&B uses that space. With soul, you gotta leave a hole.

You like playing it better than rock ’n’ roll?

No, I like to rock. I like country. But I like being able to improv with blues and soul. In rock, it’s pretty regimented, and if you spill outside of something, it’s gonna stand out. Whereas, in soul, if the drummer starts changing the high-hat, you can just cruise with it. I started with the punk rock and went through it all. And, as I learned my instrument, I kind of, I dunno, I mean, I don’t want to be 40 and playing punk rock. Some people are comfortable with that. I’m not [laughs]. I don’t have anything to rebel against anymore. I’m pretty comfortable.