Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

A Q&A with Bass Virtuoso Rich Brown

A Q&A with Bass Virtuoso Rich Brown

Rich Brown

Photo by Jeremy Green

The Toronto bassist talks inspiration and influence.

One of my favorite bassists is also the one person on earth that I have the most bass gigs in common with. He has played in more bands that I have also played in than anybody else, and most of these bands—from Dapp Theory to Rudresh Mahanthappa to Steve Coleman—were not easy situations to step into. However, in every single case, I have listened to him and thought, “Damn … he sounds great!”


Rich Brown is an all-around bass virtuoso who is everybody's first call across the Canadian border. I had the great honor of chatting with Rich recently. This interview features excerpts from that conversation:

When did you first start playing music, and in particular, when and why did you take up the bass?

I took guitar lessons when I was around eight, and I dreaded going to those lessons every single week. But my dear mom urged me to keep at it. She would make me practice for 15 minutes before I could go outside and play with the other kids.

My interest in the guitar waned until one day at the age of 13 when I turned the TV on and saw a video on MTV called "Unchained" by Van Halen. When I saw how much fun those guys were having on stage and realized how good the music made me feel, I knew I wanted to be a musician.

I taught myself to play by listening to Van Halen, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Mark Knopfler. But years later, in high school, I found that there were a million guitar players and zero bass players. So I made the switch thinking, “How hard can it be to play bass?” The answer was, VERY!

I started by playing along with albums by the Police, and I would spend my days playing along to the songs on the radio, most of which were simple pop tunes. One night when I was 17, I tuned into a jazz program that had announced that a bass player named Jaco Pastorius had just died. I had never heard of Jaco, and the two hours that followed completely changed my life. The first song they played was “Continuum,” and by the end, I realized there was a higher level of musicality on the bass. So, I made it my mission to get to that level, and to this day, I'm still on that mission.
We are all the sum of our influences. I've found that learning from as many sources as possible makes me a more multifaceted player.

Jaco has been a common denominator for many bass interviews! Almost everybody has had a Jaco moment. However, you don't just sound like Jaco. What are some experiences that contributed to you developing your own sound?

One of my first important musical experiences was playing in a Rush cover band in high school. I had so much fun working with those different rhythmic cycles. It was my introduction into playing so-called "odd-time" signatures. But I live in Toronto. A city that the UN once recognized as the most multicultural city in the world. I've been blessed with many incredible opportunities to work with amazing musicians from disparate parts of the globe. Over the years, these experiences helped to shape my sound and broaden my perspective as a bass player.

One of the most formative experiences has to be my time with Dapp Theory, led by pianist and composer Andy Milne. I was very inexperienced when I joined, and I learned a lot about my tone and the various bass sounds required to play that music. I had to get a good slap tone together and a solid, well-defined bass tone with enough warmth in the high register for melodic solos. Just having those three sounds available to me on one instrument allowed me to feel comfortable within any project.

How did all that exposure prepare you for some of the musical situations that you play in today?

I feel like certain aspects of my playing have truly benefited from working with musicians of different cultural backgrounds. I got into bands that played a lot of Brazilian and West African music back in the ’90s. Playing with those projects taught me a great deal about time, groove, note placement, and note length. I also worked with bands that played Egyptian, Turkish, and South Asian music. With those groups, I learned a lot about melody and note ornamentation. There are beautiful melodic inflections unique to each of those cultures that floor me to this day. These inflections are subtle but deeply effective, and I try to learn and incorporate them as much as I can.

We are all the sum of our influences. I've found that learning from as many sources as possible makes me a more multifaceted player. Gaining a deeper understanding of the different styles around the world gives me some new insights into my approach to all forms of Western music.

YouTube It

There’s a wealth of content on Rich’s YouTube page, but his cover of Floating Points and Pharaoh Sanders’ “Promises” on an 18" bass might be the most eye-catching.


Ted’s to-go kits: the silver box and the Big Black Bag.

Traveling with a collection of spare essentials—from guitar and mic cables to extension cords, capos, tuners, and maybe even a mini-amp—can be the difference between a show and a night of no-go.

Anyone who’s seen a spy flick or caper movie knows about go bags—the always-packed-and-ready duffles or attachés filled with passports, a few weapons, and cash that’s ready to grab and run with when the hellhounds are on your trail. As guitar players, we also need go bags, but their contents are less dramatic, unless, maybe, you’re playing a Corleone-family wedding.

Read MoreShow less

Firebirds came stock with a solid G-logo tailpiece, although Bigsby vibratos were often added.

Photo by George Aslaender

The author’s PX-6131 model is an example of vintage-guitar evolution that offers nostalgic appeal in the modern world—and echoes of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young.

An old catchphrase among vintage dealers used to run: “All Gretsches are transition models.” While their near-constant evolution was considered confusing, today their development history is better understood. This guitar however is a true transition model, built just as the Jet line was undergoing major changes in late 1961.

Read MoreShow less

On her new record with her trio, Molly Miller executes a live-feeling work of structural harmony that mirrors her busy life.

Photo by Anna Azarov

The accomplished guitarist and teacher’s new record, like her lifestyle, is taut and exciting—no more, and certainly no less, than is needed.

Molly Miller, a self-described “high-energy person,” is fully charged by the crack of dawn. When Ischeduled our interview, she opted for the very first slot available—8:30 a.m.—just before her 10 a.m. tennis match!

Read MoreShow less
DØVYDAS & John Bohlinger Busk in Downtown Nashville
DØVYDAS & Bohlinger Busk in Downtown Nashville Before We Give Takamine Guitar & Fishman Amp to Local

Then we give a Takamine guitar & Fishman amp to an up-and-coming Nashville musician.

Music City is always swirling with top-notch musicians performing anywhere they can, so Takamine and Fishman challenged PG's John Bohlinger to take his talents downtown to—gig on the street—where he ran into YouTube sensation DØVYDAS and hands over his gear to rising star Tera Lynne Fister.

Read MoreShow less