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LEGEND'S CORNER: Tisha Simeral
This month in the Legend's Corner, we're pleased to present this exclusive interview with Nashville bassist Tisha Simeral, an extraordinary and versatile musician and teacher. Tisha has played double bass or electric bass with the Orchestra Nashville String Quintet, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Pops, Rolando Matias' Afro-Rican Ensemble, jazz artists Denny Jiosa and Linda Dauwalder-Dachtyl, bluegrass artists Louisa Branscomb, Corinne West and Roland White, country artists Eric Heatherly and Thom Shepherd, singer-songwriters Jon Vezner, Darrell Scott and Sara Hickman, veteran rockers Ron Keel and Charlie Wayne Morrill and jam band superstar Trey Anastasio.
As the bassist for Americana artist Brian Ashley Jones, Tisha maintains a busy touring schedule, performing at venues such as the Bluebird Cafe, Eddie's Attic, the Kerrville Wine and Music Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. Footage of Tisha performing with Brian at the Bluebird Cafe recently aired on ITV in the United Kingdom in an episode of "Amanda Holden's Fantasy Lives."
Tisha writes and arranges music and her works have been performed by jazz trombonist Sarah Morrow, the Women in Music Columbus Orchestra and String Sinfonia, the Land of Legend Philharmonic and the Prevailing Winds Quintet
Tisha earned a bachelor of music degree in jazz performance from Ohio State, graduating magna cum laude and receiving the College of the Arts Excellence in the Arts Award. Following graduation, Tisha freelanced in the Central Ohio area, taught electric bass, double bass, jazz combo and popular music history at Capital University and was an artist in the Greater Columbus Arts Council's Artists-in-Schools program.
Her professional affiliations include the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the International Society of Bassists and Women in Music Columbus
Check out this video, then get to know Tisha!
TR: As good a starting place as any is to ask when and why did you start playing bass?
TISHA: I bought my first electric bass in 1985, when I was a junior in college, because I wanted to play in a rock band with my friends. In 1993, at the tender age of 30, I bought the string bass I still play because I had gone back to school to get a music degree and was required to play it. (Thank you Ohio State!)
TR: Tell us about your first bass.
TISHA: My first bass was an inexpensive copy of a Fender Precision. It shaped my playing style as a "low on the neck" player because the neck was so warped and the intonation so out of whack that it was practically useless above the 7th fret. I loved it anyway, but I'm happy to say I now play a real Fender Precision.
TR: Never heard of it. (Pause) Just kidding.Is there a bassist or other musician who helped you along the way?
TISHA: My bass mentor was my friend and teacher Cornell Wiley. He passed away in 2004, just after I moved to Nashville. I studied with Cornell for several years after I graduated from music school. He helped me fill in the gaps in my knowledge and boosted my confidence as a player. Cornell suggested that I move to Nashville many years before I actually did it. We were both glad when I finally took his advice. Every now and then, if I'm feeling low on a gig, I'll work one of the riffs from his bass book into a song. It always centers me and makes me smile.
TR: So, you confess that you've been at this a while. That said, what's your most memorable gig thus far?
TISHA: In 2008, I played the world premiere of Trey Anastasio and Don Hart's composition Time Turns Elastic with Orchestra Nashville conducted by Paul Gambill at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The composition featured Anastasio on vocals and electric guitar, and the concert included several other works by Anastasio and Hart as well as contemporary classical pieces by other composers. It was my first time to play at the Ryman. The music was interesting and challenging. There was really a buzz about the concert and you could feel the excitement in the air on the day of the show. Trey's fans from Phish filled the audience, listened intently, and were on their feet applauding and cheering after every piece That's how classical music was meant to be: alive! The icing on the cake was a good review by Rolling Stone.
TR: Would you define that as the ideal gig?
TISHA: The ideal gig is any gig where you're playing good music with good people for an audience that is actively listening. The size of the crowd, the style of music, and the type of venue doesn't really matter as much as having a good exchange of energy between the performers and the audience.
TR: And if it pays, so much the better! What was your first paid gig?
TISHA: My first professional gig was with Richard P. Boals & the Soals in Columbus, Ohio. Ric hired me to sing and play sax, flute, and percussion in 1992. We worked hard playing blues and classic rock, four to six nights a week, mostly in and around Central Ohio. My bass teacher, Richard Kolb, was the bassist in the band. I learned so much from him both in my bass lessons and in working with him night after night. Ric Boals had been a successful working professional for many years when he hired me. He took a chance that my enthusiasm made up for my inexperience and helped me make the transition from having a day job to being a full-time musician. We made some great music and had some great times. He is a dear friend and continues to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to me.
TR: You're a one woman band! I take it the bass wasn't your first choice as an instrument?
TISHA: Technically, the pop bottles were my first instrument. Mom and Dad would fill them with different levels of water, line them up, hand me a spoon and I'd be busy and out of their hair for hours. When I was in 4th grade, we got an old upright piano and Mom taught me to play. I tried to teach myself to play guitar, but that didn't work out so well. Much to Mom's chagrin, I took up clarinet in the school band. (She wanted me to play violin. Even then, she knew I was a string player. Moms are always right.) My school music teachers patiently let me test out the bassoon, the sax, and even the tuba. I first became interested in the bass when I heard Kenny Passarelli on Elton John's "Rock of the Westies" album. Once I finally got my hands on a bass, I knew I'd found my instrument.
TR: There weren't a lot of lady bassists in those days. Who do you think is the greatest female bassist ever?
TISHA: Carol Kaye, without a doubt. She's a great player with a long career who has appeared on many influential recordings, and she is an active educator who has shared the elements of her style with other bassists.
(NOTE: Read about Carol in our Bass Player Biographies section - Ed.)
TR: Carol plays just about any kind of music, but is probably best known for her contributions to 50s, 60s, and 70s - era pop. If you could only play one kind of music, what would it be?
TISHA: I would continue to play Americana because it embraces everything from blues to Aaron Copland. There's a lot of range there!
TR: What is the best professional advice anyone ever gave you?
TISHA: Kathleen Horvath, one of my bass teachers at Ohio State, told me, "Keep to your own road."
TR: Which can be pretty broadly interpreted. How about the best personal advice anyone ever gave you?
TISHA: My high school band director Daniel F. Nawrocki, said, "To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late."
TR: With studio work in mind, he might have said "To be early is to be on time. To be late is to be fired."
TISHA: So true.
TR: Most parents, upon learning their precious offspring has a spring loose and wants to be a professional musician, begs them to first learn a trade, or get an education in some more "respectable" field so they'll have something to fall back on. So, let's say you hadn't succeeded as a musician; what would you have been?
TISHA: I would probably teach science because I worked in a scientific field before I was a musician and enjoy helping students learn to think and solve problems.
TR: Much simpler than solving musical problems, like trying to explain to the drummer why the lead singer gets paid more. Which segues nicely into the following question: Which bassist do you think is the best vocalist?
TISHA: It's challenging to sing and play bass and I admire people who do both well. Jim Ferguson is one of my favorites. He lives in Nashville, too, and I try to hear him as often as I can.
TR: Tell us some of the musicians/singers you've performed with.
TISHA: Since 2006, I've been the bassist for Brian Ashley Jones. I've been a freelancer doing one-nighters for most of my career, so I've worked with a lot of musicians! Here are a few in each style I play:
country - Eric Heatherly
folk - Judy Collins
Americana - Darrell Scott
bluegrass - Roland White
singer - songwriter - Sara Hickman
orchestra pops - Columbus Symphony Orchestra (Ohio)
classical - Murfreesboro Symphony
contemporary chamber - Orchestra Nashville
jazz - Sarah Morrow
rock - Ron Keel
pop - Neil Sedaka
blues - Richard P. Boals & the Soals
Latin - Rolando Matias' Afro-Rican Ensemble
educational - Paul Reisler's Kid Pan Alley
Christian - Steve Green
TR: TR members and visitors can't get enough technical stuff. With that in mind, what's your modus operandi regarding equipment?
TISHA: I tend to be a "less is more" player when it comes to gear. It saves room in the car and on the stage, reduces set-up and tear-down time, saves money on purchases and maintenance and reduces the infinitesimal number of things that can go wrong in the signal path.
TR: What's your preferred studio set-up?
TISHA: I'm prepared to do whatever the artist/producer/engineer wants. On electric bass or electric upright, I usually go direct. On string bass I like to have two tracks - one with a great sounding mic and one direct. My primary studio basses are the same basses I use live - a 1930s era German-made carved upright, a 1978 Fender Precision with active EMG pickups, and a Yamaha Silent Bass electric upright. I also have a Fender Jazz fretless bass with EMG pickups, a Tacoma Thunderchief acoustic bass and a Music Man Stingray 5 that I use primarily for studio work.
TR: I take it that differs from your stage gear?
TISHA: Most of the time on stage I play in a two or three piece group at a fairly low stage volume. On string bass I usually run direct from my Underwood pickup through a Fishman preamp. My Yamaha and my P-bass both work well direct with no preamp. When I need an amp, I use a Gallien-Krueger 150S112 MicroBass Combo or a Gallien-Krueger 800RB head with an Ampeg PortaBass PB212H cabinet. In the very rare situation where I need to be really loud on stage, I'll rely on the venue to provide backline and request a bigger Gallien-Krueger or Ampeg head and a Hartke 4x10 or Ampeg SVT 8x10 cabinet. I don't use any pedals or effects. One thing I try to avoid is compression because it can rob the subtleties of what you're doing with your hands.
TR: How about just rehearsing?
TISHA: Unplugged if possible. Keeps the neighbors happy and saves your hearing.
TR: Do you have a preference in strings?
TISHA: For string bass, I use Thomastik Spirochore Medium Tension Orchestra Tuning strings ("Red Wraps") because they have a pure bowed sound, a clean pizz attack, a clear tone center and great growl and sustain. I use Dean Markley's Blue Steel electric bass strings because I like the way they sound and feel. I prefer a heavier G string so I use the .050-.105 gauge. I admit that I don't change any of my strings very often - once or twice a year on electric bass and every five years or so on string bass. To date, I've been lucky that I've never broken a string.
TR: When it comes to laying down the rhythm in popular music, the bassist is only half the equation.If you could play with any drummer in the world (past or present), who would you pick?
TISHA: I'd love to play with Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones because he has such a great backbeat.
TR: I like him, too. I like all the Stones...they make me feel young.So do the pyramids. I'd like to ask him this question, but since he's not here, I'll ask you: what do you know now that you wish you'd known when you were first starting out in music?
TISHA: I wish I had known how important it is to appreciate the things you can do well as a player at every stage of your learning.
TR: Which is much too pithy. We want something we can get our teeth into: describe your worst gig in lurid detail.
TISHA: I'll leave out the details to protect the innocent (and the guilty): the event promoter, several other performers and some audience members got arrested…we only played half the show…we were stuck at the gig on the bus for several days…the band leaders didn't get paid. The good news is that nobody got hurt and we did manage to have some fun while we were stranded there.
TR: Several days on a tour bus. I take it "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" wouldn't register among your favorite songs then? (Which begs the question, how does one affix a bottle of beer to a wall, but that's another article...)
TISHA: I always have trouble with these "favorite" questions because my answers tend to change. But right now, I'll say that my favorite song is Take It to the Limit by the Eagles. I've always liked bassist Randy Meisner, who co-wrote and sang lead on the song. It's one of those songs that I'll put on and play over and over because I like the way it sounds and because it takes me back so strongly to a place and time.
TR: As long as we're going back, what's the best bass tip anyone ever gave you?
TISHA: My percussionist friend Barbara "Wahru" Cleveland is fond of saying: "Shut up and play!"
TR: My mother would always say "shut up" in French, because it sounded nicer. If you could relive one day of your life, what day would it be and why?
TISHA: Not that I haven't had some great days, but rather than reliving something from the past, I think I'd rather keep moving forward.
TR: Okay, back to the present, then: on a scale of 1 - 10, where do you rate yourself as a bass player?
TISHA: On days when I am playing the bass, maybe a 7. On days when the bass is playing me, maybe a 3. Most of the time, I hope it's somewhere toward the high end of the middle.
TR: Since we're waxing lofty and philosophical, what do you hope to achieve in your life?
TISHA: Does "to figure out what I hope to achieve in life" count as an answer?
TR: Absolutely! However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to tempt you along the same path: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it be?
TISHA: "Don't just stand there…do something!"
TR: Speaking of being alone. What kind of music do you listen to when you're alone?
TISHA: When I'm alone, I usually just enjoy the silence and the ambient sounds around me. If I'm in the mood to give music my full attention, I'll choose something I haven't heard from one of my singer - songwriter friends. Sometimes I listen to the Eagles station I created on Pandora or put my iTunes on shuffle and just let it surprise me from my own collection. I have a lot of CDs - rock, country, blues, folk, jazz, R&B, Latin, and classical music. At the moment, Jefferson Ross' "Azalea," Bernie Leadon's "Mirror," and "Eric Heatherly's "Swimming in Champagne" are CDs that I find myself coming back to again and again.
TR: Would you encourage young women to take up the bass?
TISHA: Definitely. I encourage young women (and men) to play bass because it's fun, bassists are in demand, you can play bass in many different styles of music, and the skills you'll learn as a bassist will translate to other areas of your life.
TR: What advice would you give someone - male or female - who is just picking up bass for the first time?
TISHA: Listen to good bassists, both in the style you are playing and in other styles, and try to play their bass lines. Do some focused practice every day.15 minutes every day is better than a few hours once a week. Keep your practice time balanced between learning technique and learning songs.
Practice with a metronome. Good time is the most important skill a bassist needs.
Play with others!
TR: What teacher had the most positive impact on your life, and why?
TISHA: My high school band director, Daniel F. Nawrocki, has had the most positive impact on my life because he is a skilled musician and a dedicated teacher. I graduated from Reynoldsburg High School near Columbus, Ohio. We were known for our excellent music program. Mr. Nawrocki taught musicianship, professionalism and commitment. And, of course, we had fun, too! He was a constant in my life during the sometimes turbulent years of high school and he helped me stay on course. The skills I learned from him have given me a competitive edge as a player, especially the ability to sight read and to work with others in an ensemble. I've stayed in touch with him and his family through the years. I was very happy to see him and his wife recently when they came to one of my shows.
TR: Turbulent years? In high school? Who ever heard of such a thing?! On to less painful topics, what's going on in your life professionally at present?
TISHA: I've focused on playing for most of my career, but I have done some songwriting and some writing and arranging for orchestra and big band. Nashville is a creative place to live, so I'm feeling inspired to get good recordings of the pieces I've already written, and possibly to do some more writing. My 50th birthday is looming on the horizon, so I've set that in my mind as a target date. I've got a few years, so it seems like a reasonable goal. Stay tuned!
TR: Meantime, you've reached that stage in life when musicians become less - self-focused, shall we say? Do you have a favorite charity?
TISHA: I donate money regularly to The Ohio State University because I received many scholarships when I was in school and I think it's important to "pass it on." I make donations to other organizations when I can. As a performer, I've played many, many benefit concerts, donated recordings for fundraising CDs and recorded public service announcements. My support tends to lean toward education, disaster relief, humanitarian aid, health, arts, public radio, and animal welfare. I support large organizations that have a broad range of influence, but also like to support smaller, local organizations that involve people I know. Some favorites include the American Diabetes Association, the American Red Cross, the Nashville Jazz Workshop, National Public Radio, Orphan World Relief, and Sojourn wolf dog sanctuary.
TR: Great interview, Tish. Thanks for your time. We all look forward to hearing more of your music.
TISHA: My pleasure. My regards to everyone on Thunder Row!
Tisha Simeral endorses the Yamaha Silent Bass
Messina Covers instrument bags