Last month, I took the liberty of reminiscing about the good ol’ days of 48th Street. The best part about it was remembering so many amazing, and just plain funny, things that happened. And yes, it’s all about vintage bass.
Hey kid, what tune is that? Some of the most challenging pieces to figure out are the melody lines to 1960s TV shows. To develop my ear, I spent time trying to work them out. My band at the time played a lot of Led Zeppelin, and the guitar player had a Jimmy Page black-and-white Danelectro, so I thought it would be cool to have a matching bass. In the oppressive heat of the summer of 1979, off I went to 48th Street. Danelectros were considered throwaway pieces of crap, they were so cheap. It was more economical to buy another Dano with strings than to restring it. Strings were $25 a set, and the masonite bass could be had for roughly the same money, if you looked hard. I must have showed up on trash collection day, because there wasn’t a single Dano bass to be had. There was a cool new store that had recently opened, though, that had a reputation for having archtops and other good stuff. I thought, “What the heck,” and went for a look. That was my first trip to Rudy’s Music Stop.
Rudy’s actually had one of these basses, and it was black and white! I was playing this bass, ripping out TV themes, when a guy came over to me and asked, with a mild accent, “What’s this riff you’re playing?” I explained that it was the theme to the Flintstones. I sat in Rudy’s riffing out every TV theme I knew. The fella with the accent was Rudy Pensa. Thirty years later, we’re still friends, and I still have the bass.
You can’t make this stuff up
About 30 years ago, a client was sitting in one of the shops playing a Pre-CBS Jazz Bass. He was doing some noodling at a respectfully low volume, but some really tasteful riffs. One of the “store guys” approached this highly skilled player and commented on his chops. They introduced themselves, and the store guy asked, “Do you play in a band?” to which the client responded, “Yes, I do.” (Keep in mind, they’ve already introduced themselves). The store Guy asked what band, and the player responded, “Led Zeppelin.” It was John Paul Jones. Doh!
The names have been changed to protect the guilty
Have you ever picked up a ‘70s vintage SVT head? Of course you have, every bass player has—except... let’s call this guy Joe. It’s 1979, and Joe is 17 years old, six feet tall and 140 pounds. A successful teenage entrepreneur (okay, he has a big paper route), Joe has more dollars than sense. He’s outgrown his Ampeg B25B, so he goes to 48th Street to buy a used SVT. New SVT heads in 1979 were roughly $550, and used ones about $350. Joe buys the SVT at Alex Music with two female accomplices in tow. One-hundred-forty pound Joe goes to lift the 90-pound SVT. This is not good. Joe suffers a hernia before making it to the corner. There’s a hardware store a block or so away, so Joe purchases a folding shopping cart, and 45 minutes later the SVT is on a subway headed home. Long story short, an hour later Joe is at his home train station looking up at three flights of steps. By the time the head made it home after a two-mile walk (sitting sideways in the cart), the cart was busted, along with every tube. Joe was busted. Lucky for Joe, his Uncle Bernie was a Magnavox repairman.
Joe is no ordinary moron, though; he’s a super moron. Not content with the SVT fiasco, the following Saturday Joe ventures back to 48th Street to buy a Cerwin Vega B36MF cabinet. Just what is a B36MF? If you ever saw a movie in sensurround , these were the bass bins used for the effect—they were three-fourths the size of a refrigerator and just as ergonomic. They at least had recessed handles and steamroller casters, so if you kicked the bin back it rolled easily. Joe has a better plan to get the CV home. He’ll find a taxicab and leave his car at the ferry. One problem: the cabinet doesn’t fit in a cab’s trunk, not even a big, old Checker. Ok, he’ll take the train.
The cab is too wide for a turnstile, and will not fit through the revolving grated door. It can’t go on a bus, either. Joe returns the amp. Why? “The casters broke off!” The following week, Joe’s dad (who has a truck) picks up a new B36MF in the carton. Of course, Joe was actually yours truly. C’mon, you never did anything that dumb? Sure you have! That SVT was later bought by Chris Donato of Marshall Crenshaw. Chris, Marshall and Tommy Crenshaw came to my house to pick it up—in a VW Bug!
The Lowdown Wrap-up
Many great memories surround 48th Street. The friendships, the gear, the stories… I could write a book. I own four basses that I bought on “The Street” more than 30 years ago. I was talking to Rudy Pensa about this column a few weeks ago. He said he couldn’t put a price on his memories—they’re priceless. Yes they are. Until next time, drop the gig bag and bring the cannolis!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is currently President of Goodguysguitars.com. Feel free to call him KeBo. He can be reached at Kebobass@yahoo.com.
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