Jack Casady Q&A

Which bass parts on the new record stand out for you as a player?

Casady digs in onstage with his goldtop signature Epiphone while Kaukonen strums his Gibson SST acoustic-electric in front of his Louis Electric Amplifiers KR12 half-stack.
Photo by Barry Berenson
I’m delighted with every single track—and I’ve rarely felt that way after a record. In the past, I’ve gone home and been unable to listen to the record because I either second-guessed myself or the record took a direction I wasn’t happy with. This time, though, I walked out and listened to it. I think everyone in the band did a great job on every song. And with Larry Campbell’s help, I can’t remember having so much fun and getting such concise, grooving results on every song.

What do you think was the key to things going that well?

You have to have the foundation in the songs. If you have secure underpinnings of the song and a groove, the other parts flow—including Jorma’s singing, which is the best I’ve heard him sing. I brought music in for one song and Jorma came up with lyrics in the studio. It was amazing to watch. Music is the only art form where artists come together to work on the same piece. Can you imagine five painters working on the same canvas?

Your playing is very responsive and improvisational.

I try to reach a balance between diverting the river to make it unique and never losing the groove at the expense of a lick or finger exercise. You always have to test that balance to create something new, while also trying to capture the essential atmosphere of the song and not leave it until the last note.

What do you do to pull everything together like that?

You listen objectively to the song from the outside, and then, inside the song, subjectively play off the other musicians and work to make the whole sound unified and consistent. Each song is like opening a door and walking into a room, and each night is a unique creation. You’re always trying to play the song better, but “better” doesn’t mean playing it the same night after night—it means getting to the essence. Some songs might have a vignette or a lick—a recognizable aspect that you don’t want to lose—but if the song changes, you have to be ready to adapt.

What do you look for in your bass tone?

I look for a good transition from my hands, through the instrument, and through the amplifier. If I’m playing over the pickup, I want a nice, tight midrange sound. Up on the neck, I want more of a standup-bass sound. And behind the pickup, I can get some gank. I measure my sound against the dynamic response of an acoustic instrument, with the conciseness of an electric. I heard acoustic instruments first, so I always measure my electric sound against the sound you can get from a standup bass. I sat in front of jazz guys like Charles Mingus and Scott LaFaro, and I was always amazed at the diversity of sound coming from the same instrument played by different people.

Tone is something you’ve obviously given a lot of consideration to. What’s your beacon for tone?

I’ve gone full-circle on basses. After beginning on passive hollowbodies, experimenting with active electronics, and using solidbodies, I’m back to passive hollowbodies. One of the things about active electronics is that your tone is less about your hands and more about the miniature preamp. So when I developed my signature bass with Epiphone, I wanted to make it a bass guitar that had acoustic properties but would record really well. I wanted the bass to have one fat-sounding, low-impedance pickup, which gives you a greater dynamic range. I focused on how many windings it had, the strength of the alnico magnets, and finding a good preamp, power amp, and speakers.

Jack Casady’s Gearbox
Epiphone Jack Casady signature hollowbody, fretless Epiphone Jack Casady signature hollowbody, Fender ’62 Reissue Jazz bass, Fender ’53 Precision bass

Alessandro Basset Hound 60-watt head driving an Aguilar DB 285 JC cabinet (for studio and acoustic work), Aguilar DB 680 tube preamp through an Aguilar DB 728 power amp driving an Aguilar GS 410 4x10 cabinet (electric rig)

Dean Markley Blue Steels (.065–.105), Thomastik-Infeld flatwounds on fretless Epiphone and Fender Jazz bass