Bob Daisley's CV reads like a condensed history of rock. Having been a member of Rainbow & Ozzy Osbourne’s band, he went on to work with Gary Moore and Steve Morse. Steve Harvey asks the questions.
When did you first start playing?
I was 13, and living in Sydney where I was brought up. A door to door salesman from a local music school came knocking on the door asking if anyone would like to learn an instrument. Whilst musical, my parents didn’t play at all although my mother suggested having lessons. I initially started learning guitar but a little later down the road a four-piece band came to do a concert for the school. It was the first time I had seen an electric bass. I just loved it – I knew there and then that’s what I wanted to do. I went home and told my mother who purchased my first bass; a Futurama and a 20-watt amp. I spent hours and hours learning basslines by listening to my older sister’s rock and roll records, playing along with McCartney and Wyman.
It must have been an exciting time to be getting involved in music?
It was, it was pioneering, it was ground breaking, it was fantastic. By the time I was 14, I had my bass and I knew in my heart and my mind exactly what I wanted to do. When exams came along, I used to get annoyed because school was getting in the way of my music – I wanted to practice.
I eventually got kicked out of school for not cutting my hair! I had always had a rebellious personality and wanted to look like a Rolling Stone with the high heeled boots, tweed jacket and hair like Keith Richards. The headmaster didn’t take to kindly to it all and sent me packing. When I was kicked out, a local reporter got wind of the whole affair and I made page nine of the national newspapers – my first taste of publicity!
Did you study music theory at all?
During the classes at school I learnt the basic rudiments such as time signatures, key signatures and chords such as minor, major and sevenths. I think that anyone who wants to play, needs to learn these basics. These days there’s so much information available through books and the internet that you can teach yourself. I personally don’t think it’s necessary to be able to read sheet music. I remember reading an interview on Louis Armstrong and somebody asked him, “Have you had formal training in music?” and the reply was, “I had some, but not enough to mess me up” and he was obviously one of the best trumpet players ever! Relying too much on theory and sheets can result in people not being able to think for themselves or feeling the music. It also depends on what you want to do. If you want to write your own stuff and put your heart and soul into the music, then I would say just stick to learning the basics. But if you want to be a session player, you’d need the whole training regime.
Having been on both sides of the auditioning procedure, what advice would you give someone going along for an audition?
There are always three criteria in getting a gig. Firstly you’ve got to be a decent person. You’ve got to be able to get along with everyone else. I’ve auditioned some very talented players but they are complete arse-holes and you wonder how you’d get on and tour with them. You’ve got to be easy to get on with. Secondly, you have to look the part and that would mean different things for different bands, and lastly, you’ve got to have some talent and be able to give the music and songwriting some input. Also, make sure that you’ve rehearsed the stuff and practised thoroughly. Being prepared can give confidence which is crucial in an audition setting. A little nervousness is OK, it’s natural, but if you are well rehearsed, it will stop you getting too flustered.
Looking at the list of who you’ve worked with, it reads like a Who’s Who of rock. Presumably you’ve had to be very adaptable to each situation you’ve found yourself in…
Yes, it’s important to get on with the people you’re going to be working with. You can very quickly feel what’s needed. For example I went from one band called Widow Maker - that was a very democratic situation - to Rainbow, which was Richie Blackmore’s band. He was the big name; he’s pulling the strings and calling the shots. So it was a case of head down and get on with it. In a situation like that you can’t be too mouthy. The interesting thing in Rainbow was although we weren’t ‘yes’ men, I really learned a lot and it was a great experience.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
Rainbow was a highlight, mainly because it was my first experience of an arena performing band and it was my first taste of what you might call the big time. There were times it was entertaining for me to be on stage with him. I’d just look across and watch him play – enjoying it as much as the audience. It was made all the more special because it was a project that I really respected myself. Mungo Jerry was good because with the hit records it was a taste of fame although musically it wasn’t very satisfying to me.
Another highlight is the album I did with Steve Morse; the band was called Living Loud. The project was one of the best and most satisfying projects that I’ve been involved in because it started out as an idea to put different people on different tracks. Gary Moore and Steve Vai were lined up to do a couple of tracks for example. But when Steve, myself and drummer Lee Kerslake first got together within the first hour it was all feeling and sounding great. It was at the point that we thought, “We don’t need any other players or singers; this is working so let’s just leave it as it is.”
How do you see the role of a bass player in a band?
Well there aren’t any set rules, but in my view the bass should be a link between the percussion and the melody. I’ve always liked to have melodic basslines that compliment the song, but not get in the way – don’t try to be a star. If your lines are melodic – almost like adding notes to the hits on the drums – they will enhance the vocals or guitar parts; just look at people like Jack Bruce and Paul McCartney. Their lines were so melodic and memorable but never got in the way of the song. I feel that sometimes people like Stanley Clarke or Billy Sheehan almost need a bass player themselves. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with they are doing because if you entertain people, that’s great. But not everybody is entertained by flashy bass playing.
Do you still enjoy touring after all these years?
I did a lot of touring from the late sixties through to the mid eighties. I used to enjoy it more than I do now. I guess it’s an important way to promote your products. You can definitely gain a lot of musical and life experience by touring.
Can I ask you about your collection of basses?
I’ve been a collector for a long time. My favourites are a 1954 Fender Precision Bass and a 1962 Olympic White Precision Bass – that was the one that I used on the Living Loud album and a couple of tracks on some of the Gary Moore albums. All the basses I have are stock – I never change anything on them. The earliest ‘P’ I have is a ’53 which has the slab body, before they contoured it.
How does a player go about creating a style?
I’ve never tried to copy anyone’s lines, which is really stupid. I thought that if you learnt other people’s basslines then you wouldn’t get your own style but in fact all that happens is that you don’t learn the instrument.
You obviously love collecting…
Absolutely, especially basses that have had an interesting past. Sometimes you can feel its energy. Occasionally, you can pick up a bass and feel that there are some songs contained within it. I really enjoy drawing those songs out of them.
What do you take on tour with you?
The workhorse is a 1961 Blonde Precision. It was originally a Sunburst, but it was the fashion at the time to sand them down once the paint had been chipped. I was talked into doing mine, but I wish I hadn’t now.
Are you cable or wireless?
Generally and more recently cable but back in the Ozzy days when there were a lot of special effects I was using a wireless – although it always feels weird to me not using a cable.
Pretty much throughout my career I’ve used Vintage Ampeg SVT’s and 8 x 10 cabs and sometimes a combination with an Acoustic stack. The Acoustic stack I have I bought from Boz Burrell of Bad Company in 1973 – he did the first Bad Company album with it. For the latest Gary Moore album, I was using a Gibson EB-3 and they match best with Marshall amps, so in the studio I used a 50-watt Marshall guitar head through a 4 x 10 cab and on stage I used two 4 x 10 cabs and one 100-watt Marshall head and that was mic’d. I don’t ever use DI – I just don’t like it, it’s too clean and polite, I prefer a bit of grit in there. If you listen to Living Loud, it’s all amp sound.
Not really, only a bit of chorus on ‘Parisian Walkways’ with Gary Moore. Occasionally I’ll record a riff in two octaves, and to reproduce that on stage, I’ll use an octaver.
You have a nice collectable that has an interesting story…
I picked this Zemaitis up not more than a month ago, complete with its original case. Tony Zemaitis was an English guitar maker in the late sixties, but sadly died about four years ago. When I was about 20 I saw The Faces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane was playing this bass. I remember thinking that I would love a bass like that – I must track down Tony Zemaitis and see what sort of money they cost or see if could get one that sounds like Ronnie’s. Eventually I did track him down and he made me a bass in 1992 and it was great – I had asked him to make it sound like Ronnie Lane’s but for some reason it didn’t quite although it is a nice bass and very collectable. I became a member of the Zemaitis Owner’s Club and was sent the magazine every couple of months. In one of the issues early this year there was a collector who said that he had Ronnie Lane’s Zemaitis bass. I made contact with him and parted with a lot of dough! There’s only one of this type in the world. Tony Zemaitis made a guitar version for Ronnie Wood and a bass for Ronnie Lane - and it’s that bass that did all the early Rod Stewart and Faces stuff.