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  • Big Blues - Lane Baldwin's View

    So, I recently had the pleasure of listening to Lane Baldwin's new album, The View From Here, and I think it's safe to say this one's got enough to knock the Blues world on its ear.

    The lineup is twelve songs that traverse the entire spectrum of hard-times music, in both meaning and arrangement. It's not all straight up Blues - I hear Swing and Big Band, Folk, Rock, you name it. Maybe even some jugband-sounding ditties! It's all encased in the personal, deep experiences of heartache, fear, contemplation, questions, and the time when all you need to cool your hot brow is to strap on Papa's guitar and sing along! (I swear, I'll be learning to play this one on bass!)

    Lane was gracious enough to share with us his thoughts on the new project and the challenges he is facing in life.

    TR: I understand it took a long time to put the project together.

    LB: A very long time. The seed for The View From Here was planted all the way back in 2008, soon after the release of Dig the Hole. My close friend Polo Jones (a monster bassist, music director and producer) assisted with final financing of DtH and made me promise to talk to him before starting another project. We stayed in close contact, and in 2010 began discussing bringing me out to California to do another CD. It took almost two years to find a hole in his schedule that was long enough for us to do the project. I came to CA in January, 2012, and we began work soon after.

    TR: You went a very different direction for this album.

    LB: Initially, we thought we were going to do a sort of follow-up to Dig the Hole - working with a smaller band, a trio, perhaps with some organ here and there. But as Polo and I went through my catalog (over 60 unrecorded songs at the time, now up to 80 or so), he started hearing ideas that included horns, percussion, stringsÖ all sorts of incredible things! He wanted to show as many sides of me as possible, while weaving a thread through them all.

    TR: With such a large catalog of unrecorded material, how did you whittle down the choices?

    LB: We were looking for a broad view of my writing and storytelling - because theyíre all stories at heart. Our intent was to show the listener some of the things Iíve struggled with (had the Blues over) and some of the high points in my life.

    We chose eleven songs and began work. The 12th track - Spoonful - was an accident. Polo found a hockey stick that had been turned into a one-string bass!

    He just knew we had to use it, and we chose Spoonful because it was written by a bassist (Willie Dixon) and was one of Jack Bruceís signature songs.

    TR: And how did you choose the lineup of songs for this one?

    LB: Imagine weíre on top of a hill, looking down into the valleys below. Thatís my life down there, my journey so far. Stand with me, and Iíll show you The View From Here. Over here is my deepest fear: dying alone. Thereís my faith that God will guide and protect me. Over that way is how I feel when Iím in love. You see what I mean? You listen to this song cycle and youíre peeking into my life, and my deepest emotions. And, sister, if that ainít Blues, I donít know what is! (laughs)

    TR: What does each song mean to you?

    LB: Thereís a reason for every song I write, even the happy, ďletís-go-dancingĒ ones. Each song begins as a story, one that needs or wants to be told. Itís like the song is banging on a door inside my head, yelling ďWrite me! Write me!Ē A lot of the time, itís almost as if Iím hearing the story for the first time, which can be extremely emotional. They come from somewhere deep inside me, and sometimes I donít even realize Iím carrying such deep pain until it comes out in one of those stories.

    Right now, weíre working on a series of videos to tell the story of each song on the record, and will begin releasing them soon. I donít want to give away anything yet, so Iíll ask that folks keep an eye out for the videos.

    TR: Is there one song that means more than the others? A special number?

    LB: Itís hard to give you a single song thatís a favorite, because theyíre ALL favorites! (laughs) Theyíre my babies, my children. They are each a little piece of my heart that Iím putting out into the world in hopes that they will be of value to others. Not just as good tunes to sing along to, dance to, all of that. And I certainly hope that a bazillion people will like them enough to buy them! (smiles)

    But beyond that, I want them to bring something good into the lives of others. Are you heartbroken? Iíve been there, and hereís a song to help you through it. Have a deep-seated fear? Me, too, and here it is. Head over heels in love? THIS oneís for you! Like thatÖ

    TR: But there have to be some that stand above the rest.

    LB: Well, yeah, there are a few.

    Lullaby - This may be the best love song Iíve ever written, because itís simple, easy to sing, and straight to the point: ďSleep with me, and dreamÖĒ Polo did an incredible job producing this one, and I hope the whole world sings it!

    Freedom Train - This one is to honor the slave communities who gave birth to the blues, and to the parents who put their children on the Freedom Train, never to see them again. ďOh, Lord, I pray my sons will all be free - Sent Ďem down that railroad, so they wonít live as slaves like me.Ē

    Lay Me Down - the opening track, is a look at my deepest fear: dying alone. ďAinít nobody cominí when they lay me down.Ē

    Happy Boy - Like Lullaby, Polo really worked magic on this one. At its heart, which is the acoustic guitar part, itís a simple, upbeat blues tune. But, wow! What an arrangement on top of it! This is what it feels to find the perfect partner. ď. . . got the shiny red bicycle when I found you, Iím a happy boyÖĒ

    TR: Who are the musicians joining you on the album?

    LB: Polo assembled an amazing group of musicians for the project. For me, it was like hitting the big jackpot in the lottery. Local legend Terry Hiatt did much of the guitar work, along with LA monster David Adams. Drums were done mostly by Bryant Mills, who toured with John Lee Hooker for several years. Freedom Train features Abe Laboriel, Jr. - and thatís a real honor, to have Sir Paul McCartneyís drummer on the CD! HUGE honor!! Nate Ginsberg (Larry Graham, Herbie Hancock) did keyboards, as did Danny B., from Sistah Monicaís band. The horns were done by Mambo Tropical, led by Rik Feliciano, and the acoustic parts on Sing Along Song were provided by The Abbott Brothers, a highly-regarded second-generation Bluegrass trio. And thatís about HALF of them! (laughs)

    TR: You played all the bass parts, right?

    LB: Actually, I didnít! Weird, huh? But we had reasons. On Lullaby, what you think is the bass part is actually part of the acoustic guitar track. We detuned the low E to D, and that note is equal to the D string on a bass. There is a bass part, but itís a bowed electric upright in the interlude section, and Polo played it because I donít really do upright at all, much less bowing. For Sing Along Song, which we did with the Abbott Brothers, Mike Hutchison played upright, and I played acoustic guitar. Other than that, yes, I did the bass parts.

    TR: I didnít know you even played guitar!

    LB: I tell people I donít play guitar, I play around with it. (laughs) But for many years Iíve used it as a writing tool, and in my solo shows. It surprised me more than anyone, as I expected weíd bring in a specialist. Polo just said, ďNope! Youíre playing this part. You already know it.Ē I also played acoustic on Happy Boy, Sing Along Song, and the one we did last Christmas with the Abbott Brothers, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.

    TR: What else did you play?

    LB: I also played the electric rhythm guitar part on Freedom Train, and a simple keyboard part on Runniní for Daylight. Polo really made me stretch, and it was very good for me.

    TR: Since weíre on a bass-centric site, tell us about the gear you used.

    LB: All of my bass tracks were recorded with my Spectors. My main bass is still The Voice, my NS-6XL, which Iíve had for almost twenty years. I also used my Coda-5, Etta, for a couple of tracks. We ran everything through various Markbass amplifiers - everything from a 410 and 1200 Watt head, down to this teeny little combo that sounded like a rig four times its size! We mic-ed the cabinet and took a DI out of the head, then blended the two.

    I love my Spectors because I donít have to fuss with eq, either on the bass or on the amp. We did very little eq on the amp, leaving any of that to the outboard processors. Donít ask me what they were; there was a bank of them, and Polo would choose different units for each track. He did the same for each vocal track, picking the best microphone and best preamps, etc. He made sure every track sounded its best.

    TR: Youíve been an avid Spector supporter for a long time. Ever considered switching?

    LB: Never. Let me repeat that: NEVER. Let me tell you why. When PJ [Rubal Spector VP of sales] sat me down with more than a dozen Spectors one day, every one of them sounded the same Ė like me. For the first time, I heard in the world what I had heard in my heart for decades. No other instrument sounded and felt so right for me. I ordered The Voice, which is a serious piece of Spector history, on that very day. Weíve been partners ever since.

    TR: Have other companies come to you to switch? Offered free gear?

    LB: Yes, they have. And Iím always honored. But there are certain things that just canít be for sale. Your voice is your voice. And your soul is your soul. You only get one of each. Best not to trade them away, you know? Thereís a reason I call that bass The Voice.

    TR: You said you used Markbass amps, but I remember you endorsing David Nordschow, first at Eden for many years, then at DNA amps. Why the change?

    LB: I discovered Eden at the same time I discovered Spector, and fell in love. It was the other half of the ďvoiceĒ equation. I promoted them for years before I became an endorser, then eventually worked with David on the inside. After David left Eden, I stayed at his request to assist the other endorsers and end users during the upset. I exited not long after, though, and helped him start DNA.

    I still use an Eden head and DNA cabs live, but only until we decide which Markbass rig Iím going to use on tour. Touring and ease of service were the two main reasons for the move, because at this stage of the game, tour support is essential to success. None of that would matter, though, if they didnít also sound extremely good! From the first rehearsal, I was able to get my tone quickly and easily, without a lot of dial tweaking and fussing. Iím very impatient with basses and amps that require a lot of knob-twisting to get a decent sound. A little finesse is fine, but Iím the kind of person who wants to plug it in, turn it on and go. As I said earlier, we didnít have to work to find my voice.

    TR: What about effects pedals?

    LB: There were only two tracks that had effects - an octave in one section of I Miss You, and the fuzz bass in Happy Boy. Both were in Poloís bag of magic. I did, however, use my pedal board for the tuner and the wireless. Iíve used Peterson Tuners for decades, and have endorsed them for almost ten years. My current units are Stomp Classic models. The wireless is a Line 6 G-50 unit I got in 2010. Itís incredibly clear and dynamic.

    TR: Any other essential gear?

    LB: DR Strings. Iíve used them exclusively for decades, and have been proud to endorse them for the last ten years. I use Black Beauties on both of my Spectors, and Rare acoustic bass guitar strings on my porch bass. I also use their strings on my guitar. Again, itís about consistency and tone. Iíve never heard a better string. And I swear by LM Products straps! The attention to detail is incredible.

    TR: What about the bass parts themselves? Youíre known to have a sort of split personality on bass. On one hand the depth of your groove is well known, but youíre also known for some pretty complex stuff.

    LB: Yeah, in this sense, other players are either going to love it or hate it. (Laughs) Like the last CD, The View From Here is mostly straight ahead groove lines. Theyíre often pretty straight because thatís what works best for that particular song. And to me, presenting the song to its best is more important than bass chops. The beauty is in choosing slightly different approaches to how you write those lines.

    TR: What do you mean ďwritingĒ the lines?

    LB: Even when Iím in a jam situation, Iím writing my line as I go. Iím not just tossing licks out willy-nilly. Thereís a reason for every note I play. I think it was George Carlin who was quoted as saying that, in the Blues, itís ďnot enough to know which notes to play; you have to know why.Ē There is no greater truth in the blues and, for bassists, pretty much everything else.

    In the studio, itís even more important, because once itís done, itís there forever. When I build a line, I think of the entire song, the ebb and flow of it. On a straight 12-bar, like Big Dog, that means being very careful about where I change the line, so that it adds to the song instead of detracting from the groove. On Running for Daylight, I means staying completely straight for the verses and bridges, then letting loose in a focused manner at the end.

    TR: On that one, the bass line at the end is very different from the rest of the song. Why is that?

    LB: I didnít notice it until Polo pointed it out, but flipping things around at the end of the song is something I like to do. Running for Daylight is a great example. The main bass line, the one for the verses, is played claw-hammer style [think fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar], has a little chord stab at the end, and is a bit syncopated. For the end, I use the same notes, but lower and heavier. The whole song just drops a bomb for that outro guitar solo, and everything flips. It really underlines whatís happening at that point in the song.

    TR: You mentioned complex parts. Can you tell us about some of those?

    LB: I guess the most complex part is on Blow Twister Blow. Thatís another finger-picked part thatís two parts in one almost. Youíve got a low line and an upper part that flows on top. Plus a chord dropped in on the hook lines. The solo section mimics the intro line, which is based on, but different from, the main bass part. Then the outro flips everything into this cool half Reggae, half heavy, all Blues thing.

    TR: What made you decide to do a two-part line?

    LB: Polo made me do it! (laughs) Itís actually the acoustic guitar arrangement I came up with when I first wrote the song. As soon as he heard it, Polo said, ďyou need to do that on bass.Ē And it was so similar to other things Iíve done before that it made perfect sense when he said it.

    TR: What about bass solos on the CD?

    LB: Thereís actually just one bit of a bass lead line at the beginning of I Miss You. But thatís really it this time around. As I said, some bassist will hate me because I didnít solo more on my own record.

    TR: But youíre known in the bass community for your unique Blues-based solo arrangements. You even won the Sacramento Blues Challenge on solo bass - which I understand has never happened before. Why didnít you do more than that one solo?

    LB: Well, yes, I was the first solo bassist that ever made it to the finals in Memphis But honestly, we werenít producing a record for bassists alone. We wanted the record to appeal to as many people as possible, to showcase my stories, not my bass lines. As I said earlier, I choose what to play on bass based on what the song needs in order to be presented at its best. Iím not a fusion or jazz player. Iím a blues man at heart, and the blues doesnít call for a lot of super-flashy bass licks.

    Besides, there are so many great players out there already doing that stuff. Folks like Victor Wooten and, of course, Roy Vogt, whom we all know and love. I love what they do, and have enormous respect for both of them, along with a ton of others who do that. But if Iím going to solo, itís going to sound like a blues guitarist, only lower. And Iíll only take a solo if it advances the song.

    TR: You talk about Polo a lot. How important was he?

    LB: Itís not a stretch to say I couldnít have done it without him. Working with Polo is like working with a smarter, more experienced version of me. He totally gets me, from one end to the other. Not just musically, but everything else I do, the special kind a crazy I am, my vision, just everything.

    For the recording, Polo handled everything from booking musicians and studio time, to pushing me to be my best, to overseeing every aspect all the way through mastering. Heís also my executive manager, and is putting together my team, and will guide them as we move forward. I have leaned on him far more than he deserves, and heís always been there when I needed him.

    TR: What were the biggest challenges in getting it all together?

    LB: You know, itís supposed to be easy to talk about your project - how it all came together, all of that. And yet, this time around, itís not a simple answer, even though the question itself is very simple. It took a serious leap of faith to come out to California and bet my entire lifeís savings on it. I mean I literally spent everything I had on this venture, and thatís a pretty scary thing to do!

    Then, when we realized it was going to take significantly longer than expected, we had to keep faith. 2013 was a difficult year because we had gone well beyond the timeline I had budgeted for. It was hard not to lose faith, but I believed in Polo, perhaps even more than I believed in myself. I knew that if he wasnít giving up, I couldnít either.

    TR: That's about when you had your health scare. You almost died.

    LB: Yes; on the very first day of the year, I got sick, and the ordeal almost killed me. In fact, it did kill me several times as they were preparing me for emergency surgery when the gangrene set in. And that all happened in January! Since then, itís been a long, extremely difficult road, a serious challenge of my faith and perseverance. I had a second surgery in early May, then was back in the hospital a third time in June due a tear at the surgery site that almost forced me into a second pair of surgeries. Iím still not out of the woods, but every day I get a little stronger and the odds tip a little more to my favor.

    TR: It must have been horrible!

    LB: It was, and in some ways, it still is. But Iím still here, so Iím looking forward, not back. I donít want to sidetrack too far, and Iím writing a book and a CD about it all. If all goes as we hope, youíll see those before too long. For now, suffice to say that God slapped me down harder than Iíve ever been slapped and then challenged me to prove my commitment to the whole thing. Almost like, ďprove to me you deserve it and will honor it by doing your part.Ē
    Iíve done my best to do my part ever since. Now, almost eight months later, Iím finally able to work again, and Iím really looking forward to what comes next, whatever it may be.

    TR: Pretty impressive how positive you are in the face of so much hardship.

    LB: (laughs) Well, Iíve sure lived through some Blues, but part of using the Blues to conquer pain is finding renewal and a way forward. Itís something Dad talked about a lot, so it became ingrained in me. ďItís not getting knocked down that defines you, son,Ē he told me. ďIt was how you get back up.Ē

    So, at this point, thatís all I know to do. Itís like Stephen Kingís anti-hero, Roland, says in Kingís Dark Tower novels: you have to ďstand and be true.Ē I just doing my best to do that, to stand and be true.

    TR: Excited about the release?

    LB: To say Iím excited is an understatement. Even without all the upset this year, Iíd be excited to put out a project of which I am so proud. Just to have worked with all these wonderful people is like a dream. And I couldnít ask for a more perfect producer and guide for my career than Polo. As much as I still love Dig the Hole, Iím even more proud of The View From Here.

    This CD is such a leap forward for me in so many ways, as a writer, a singer, a bass player and perhaps most important of all, as a person. I feel like Iíve come a lot closer to who Iím supposed to be and what Iím supposed to do with this gift we call life. Iím very grateful for the opportunity.

    TR: Why arenít you releasing a physical CD?

    LB: There are a few reasons for that. The first is financial; itís far more expensive to manufacture and distribute CDs than downloads. Itís not hard to get into all the iTunes stores, Amazon, all the rest. But doing it with a physical CD is far more complicated.

    The other is that, like it or not, CDs are dying. Itís harder and harder to find an actual CD player. Sure, you can play them in your computer and in your DVD player, but you can also drop the files on a thumb drive and plug that into newer DVD players. Plus, I wonít scream if you burn a CD for your private use. Go ahead and make an extra for your car, if it has a CD player. But thatís another thing. Newer cars donít have CD players; they have USB ports for thumb drives and phones.

    TR: Will you ever manufacture CDs for The View From Here?

    LB: Itís possible. We have to do a short run for radio stations and such, so we may make those available on our web site. If we do, Iíll make this promise: anyone who purchases the full album download from CD Baby will have the opportunity to purchase a physical CD if we produce one, at a cost of $5, shipping in the US included. The combined price would be just about the same as if you purchased the CD from the site. So, everyone can get the album now, burn a copy if they need to for personal use, and get the official CD if/when we produce them. Iíll even sign them for the folks who ask.

    TR: Whatís next?

    LB: Well, we have a ton of videos to do, and weíre already working on those. If we can pull it off, weíre going to release a single or two in the near future - date specific stuff, such as another Christmas song. And Iím so ready to take this music on tour and let the world hear it! Then add the fact that Iím still alive, still breathing, still able to do what I do, and that just amplifies everything I feel about this CD. And Iíve got to tell you, even after all of it, after crawling through fire, as I call it, you knowÖ the view looks really good from here!

    The View From Here is available for download on CD Baby and iTunes.

    Check out the latest promo videos on Laneís You Tube Channel.

    For ongoing updates, ďlikeĒ Laneís Facebook Page
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. line6bassman's Avatar
      line6bassman -
      Very good and better than that on the view from here...
    1. SilverFlame46's Avatar
      SilverFlame46 -
      Excellent interview! Thanks, Lane for sharing!!!
    1. TobiasMan's Avatar
      TobiasMan -
      Great interview and insights from Lane.

      Guess I'll have to download it and burn a CD. Gotta have the physical "item".
    1. Elmeaux's Avatar
      Elmeaux -
      I download, but I don't cut a disc. I make backups of all my files onto this 3 terabyte backup machine thing I bought. If any of my downloads go astray or get damaged, I just offload a fresh copy from the "master files" in storage. The only reason I'd like to see a CD is because of the packaging, art, etc that come with it. And an autograph, of course! But it's up to Lane. Gotta Have This One!
    1. Basslad's Avatar
      Basslad -
      Great interview! Thanks to Elmeaux for conducting it, and Lane for sharing the insights.
    1. Lane's Avatar
      Lane -
      Hey, all y'all! VERY glad you enjoyed the interview, and I really hope you enjoy the CD as well.

      We are doing the first run of promo CDs now. These will have graphics on the CD, but ONLY a white sleeve. We have to have a physical copy to send to various media and industry types, and as I promised, you can have one of those as soon as I have them in my hand. And, yes, I'll be happy (and honored!) to sign them.

      I don't know if we will do a full package, meaning a real sleeve, in the future. Just in the past three years that we've been working on The View From Here, the industry has changed under our feet and, like a lot of others, we're still trying to figure it out.

      I we do actually produce a "consumer" version, I'll find a way to discount it as heavily as possible for those who purchased the download through CD Baby (which I can track). If we put the downloads on my site, I'll offer the same thing to those who purchase there.

      Again... thanks a ton! I think it's really cool that the first article appeared here in our little private club house!

      God bless, and Keep Thumpin'!

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