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Born in Boston, on August 24, 1938, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, David has become a respected bassist, keyboardist, singer/songwriter, throughout the San Francisco Bay Area over the past fourteen years. A veteran of six years and nine albums with the Quicksilver Messenger Service, one of the charter San Francisco Psychedelic bands, he has been with the Jefferson Airplane/Starship aggregation for the past four years, filling in on bass, keyboards, and vocals, as the situation demands.
But Psychedelic Music has not always been David's forte. During his childhood he took formal violin and viola lessons for thirteen years, eventually earning himself third chain in the Ohio All-State High School Orchestra, first chair in his high school orchestra, and offers of musical scholarship in the tenth grade. But an argument over a particularly difficult passage lead to an unsealable breach with his Director, whereas he quit to try out for the high school baseball team, which he of course made, ending his classical music career.
After 3½ years at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, where he mainly sang and took part in dramatic presentations, he became bored with school, and came West, to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he eventually settled in as a clerk with the Southern Pacific Railroad.
He became involved in the Folk Music Scene in the Bay Area in the early Sixties, where he was widely known for a duo he formed the other half of, called "David and Michelle". Their success was such that they did a brief, unstructured tour of the country in late 1964, during which Elecktra records offered them a contract as a part of a larger New Christy Minstrels-type of group.
This offer was rejected though, and David soon returned to the Bay Area. There he resumed performing, and hanging out with his friends David Crosby and Paul Kantner.
At about this time, he, and Paul discovered the Beatles, electric music and psychedelic drugs, and it was also at this time that he had his first encounter with the State's drug laws. This incident, in early 1965, ended with him serving some small amount of time in jail for possession of a miniscule amount of marijuana, while Paul Kantner and Marty Balin formed the Jefferson Airplane.
Upon his release from jail, he and John Cippolina, whom he had known for sometime, along with Gary Duncan and Greg Elmore, formed the Quicksilver Messenger Service. So named because all four of them were Virgos, with Mercury the ruling planet of that sun sign: Quicksilver being another name for that swiftest of the Greek gods. It was at about this time that he had his infamous short wave radio audition with the State Narcotics officer.
Up until this time, David had been playing a variety of six and twelve-string guitars, mostly Guild and Gibson, though his first twelve string was a harmony six-string that had been converted to twelve. It was at the formation point of Quicksilver, however, that he made the decision to become the bassist of the group. The transition from acoustic folk guitar to electric rock and roll bass was fairly simple.
"I was familiar with the bottom four strings, and I had been into the Beatles for sometime, as well as basic folk bass runs", he reminisces.
His equipment during those times was varied, as far as his selection of basses. His first bass was a Danelectro six-string bass, which John Cipollina had converted to a four-string and presented to him, then he switched to a Gibson EB3, which he did not like at all, especially in the studio; then eventually to the Fender Telecaster Bass, which he now uses, and which he has used for many years.
He state that his preference for Precision Basses lies in the shape of the neck. "Jazz Basses are narrower at the top, and wider at the bottom, whereas the Precision has a slightly wider neck all the way up and down, and it doesn't get as wide at the bridge as the Jazz, but is wider at the nut so its a little more even. I feel more at home, I like the way it feels. The strings go all the way through the wood, and come out the back, just like a Telecaster. I think that makes a difference".
His amplification system started out with a collection of 200-watt Standel Imperials, back when Quicksilver was first forming, and which Bill Graham co-signed for; gradually to be replaced by Ampeg 300-watt SVT amps. Today with the Jefferson Starship, he uses two SVT tops, with two Ampeg bottoms, each containing eight ten-inch speakers a piece, as well as two Peavy speaker cabinets, each containing one eighteen-inch speaker which he shares with co-bassist Peter Sears.
In a concert situation he will be found continually adjusting the volume and tone controls on both his amplification system and his 1953 Telecaster Bass # 0077 to fit the acoustic of the hall, auditorium or stadium, with each concert bringing forth new problems.
In the studio he generally records directly into the mixer board, and uses an Ampeg B15S to monitor himself. His home studio is a Peavey TNT, solid-state amp, with one 15-inch speaker. "I had been looking for an old Ampeg B15, to put in my home studio, and I found a Peavey TNT model, which is a solid-state, but with FET's, so it sounds like tubes. It sounded just great in the store, so I bought it and took it home, and I love it. It sounds great, though I haven't been in the studio with it yet".
String-wise, he prefers Roto-Sounds, which he changes very three days on the road, and every two weeks when he is at home. His preference of picks varies between a large, green, triangular Herco flat pick or none at all, where he'll use just his thumb and his first two fingers.
I can play faster with a flat pick than I can with my fingers, but Pete (Sears) can play with all of his fingers and play as fast as he wants". When David plays guitar though he uses a Dobro thumbpick, and National fingerpicks.
Though over the past few years, David's musical role has shifted from bass to keyboards he still considers himself primarily a bassist. "I still think I'm more of a bass player than a keyboard player, really. When you get right down to it. It's just coming out this way that I know more about bass than I know about keyboards".
"I like to play bass really simply. I like to keep the notes at a minimum. I don't want to get in the way, there are other people there, I'm trying to be a "base". Something to build on. And to get a solid (rhythm) section, you just get solid with the drums, and that's what I want to do".
Playing off the drummer's syncopation is what David finds himself doing quite a bit, and Johnny Barbata, the Starship's drummer is one of the best. "I'm trying to get a set of drums into the studio that I built on my house, so he can come and play, when we're not on the road. I play with a lot of drummers when I have time off; Mickey Hart (of the Grateful Dead) somewhat".
The bass drum is a main focus for his figures, and more often than not, he finds himself working his rhythms from that tonal point. "A lot of times I'll try and get exactly what he's playing, and not anything else. Just the bass drums, and I'll try and see just how tight I can get with them".
With Quicksilver though, I was a lot freer of a bass player. I'd play off anybody. I'd stick with the bass drum a lot, but if one of the guitarists would start doing something, I'd just start working off him".
He does not consider himself a fast bassist in the Jack Bruce vein. if anything, he considers himself the exact opposite. "I don't work at being fast. I work more at trying to figure what to leave out, than what to put in".
"Usually, being a bass player, a lot of the stuff you're playing, if you're playing behind a vocalist". He elucidates futher. "You don't want to have a whole lot of notes, man. You want the people to listen to the vocal. And that's the bass player's job. To make the vocalist sound good, and if you call everybody's attention to the bass line, then you aren't doing your job".
"That isn't the function, at that point. You can play something pretty catchy, and maybe a tricky syncopation, and everything like that, but not to the point where you draw attention away from the vocalist. Jack Casady is one of the few that can do it, and get away with it, but then Jack is great".
Outside of music, his interests are few. With music, and particularly the study of formal keyboard training at this moment, taking up almost all of his time and energies, though he does find time for an occasional professional football game on Sundays or Mondays.
"It seems to me", he comments "that music takes up almost all of my time. I mean I don't even have enough time to listen to it as much as I want to. And the fact is, that where I find myself, is I haven't even had enough time to play a guitar for about a year, and that's one of my favourite instruments".
David owns a Guild F-50 six-string acoustic, a Guild F-4-12 twelve-string, an early sixties Gibson SG, given to him by John Cipollina. "I had to really work hard to get it back from him. He borrowed it and turned it into one of his guitars, with a Bigsby. It didn't have a Bigsby on it when I gave it to him. It was so nice without it, because it stayed in tune. It's still a great SG though. It's one of those early ones that says Les Paul on the top".
"I also have a Stratocaster, that Pete (Sears) has had for a couple of years. I bought it new in Manny's, in New York City, for the first and last Airplane tour that I did. It's really a nice one. A sunburst, and it really feels good. It sounds good too. Pete use it on stage".
"And Mickey Hart layed his Ampeg Fretless bass on me. It takes a ton of playing though to be able to really use it, and play in tune with anything. Your fingers have to be in exactly the right place. It's sort of like viola playing, but then again that's why I don't play a lot of viola anymore, either".
"I don't like to play out of tune, and it takes a lot of playing to be able to play in tune; just to have your fingers going to the right place, and I don't like to play out of tune. It's a great instrument, but I have to spend hours a day playing the piano, trying to get a little further, there. It takes up a lot of time.".
Session work has not been especially attractive to David either. "I'm not that quick. It takes me a while to figure out what I want to do. And I might not come up with it, right in the first session... I mean I haven't done enough of it to be really called a session man".
He has however worked on several albums, other than those of Quicksilver's, or the Jefferson Airplane/Starship's. Among them are Mickey Hart's "Rolling Thunder", (Warner Bros., BS2635), which he also co-produced, Nick Gravenites "All My Labors", (Columbia), Robert Hunter's "Tales of the Great Rum Runners", and "Tiger Rose", (Round Records RX-101 and RX-105), Ned Lagin's "Sea Stones", (Round Records RX-106), and Steelwind's "Child of Nature", (Grunt BFL-0194).
His influences are many and diverse, some mentioned are Stanley Clark, George Porter, of the Meters, Paul McCartney, and Pete Sears. "The closest ones usually influence you a lot", he quips, referring to Peter Sears, the other half of the Starship's bass/keyboards duo.
Drummers are also listed as some of his primary sources and influences, such as Johnny Barbata, Billy Cobham, and Mickey Hart. Influential groups are the "Meters", "Earth, Wind, and Fire", "Fleetwood Mac", "Weather Report", "Stevie Wonder", "Jan Hammer" and Jeff Beck.
As for a complete definition of himself he says, "It's hard to tell what I am, you know. It's all the same stuff. You can play the same notes on anything, usually. I mean you can't play all those notes on the bass, but you can sure get the left hand in there".
International Musician & Recording World May 1978, Volume 4 Issue 5 (UK)
[Many thanks to Ian Churchward for sending me the scans of the pages.]