Interview with TONY FRANKLIN
- How many instruments do you play?
I have played many instruments over the years including the drums, piano, clarinet, oboe, flute, bagpipes, xylophone, glockenspiel, recorder, upright bass, guitar, organ, and of course the bass. So how many is that? I don't play all of these instruments now, probably half of them.
- You started playing bass at the age of 11. Who was your main influence as a player?
At that time I listened to and played many styles of music including big band, jazz, orchestral, pop, dance music and rock. Later I was influenced by John Deacon of QUEEN and Paul McCartney, but my biggest bass influence was Jaco Pastorius. It was him that turned me onto the fretless bass. After I heard him I didn't really listen to many other bass players.
- What bass do you prefer to play and why?
My main and favourite bass is a fretless Fender Precision. I bought this new in 1978, and have used it ever since. I've used others as well, but I've always come back to this one. It's like a good friend to me. I know it really well and I can express myself completely on it. I don't collect or use many basses, I haven't needed to.
- Why fretless?
I can express myself so freely on the fretless. I don't even think of it as a fretless bass, it is simply the bass to me. The frets get in the way. (Laughs) Can you imagine what a singing voice would be like with frets? That's how it is for me on the bass.
- Which of the contemporary bass players you reckon as real masters?
- Why did it take so long for you to come up with a solo album?
I wanted to make a solo album ten years ago and I thought I was ready to do it then. But when I look back, I realize that I was not ready. I believe that everything happens in the right time and place. There were a lot a circumstances that came together that allowed me to make this album, the right songs, the right engineers, the right business contacts. Ten years ago I realized that I needed to strengthen my voice, so I saw the best vocal coach I could find and I sang and sang and sang! Then finally everything was ready and the situation came together for me to make my solo album! Don't get wrong, there were times when I was frustrated and wondered why it was taking so long, but in hindsight I know that everything went just perfectly.
- The album's called "Brave New Tomorrow". Could you explain the title?
It means to BRAVEly face whatever NEW challenges TOMORROW may bring us. In our lives we all face challenges that require courage and faith for us to face them. From the very beginning of our lives, learning to walk, going to school, doing a job interview, going to college, getting married, having a baby and so on... these are all big steps that we must face bravely. We each have our own "Brave New Tomorrows" and one of them for me was putting this album together and becoming the front man instead of the side man. The album reflects these journies through life. I'm happy with how it turned out.
- Is it the first time you sing lead on a record?
I have sung some lead parts before, but not to this extent.
- Why did you choose Gregg Bissonette as a drummer for the album?
I have played on many albums and sessions with Gregg. He is an amazing and versatile drummer. I knew that he would be perfect for the album.
- Carmine Appice told me you're his favourite bass player. But who do you like the most to make a rhythm section with?
Thanks Carmine! He's great and we make a good rhythm section together. Each one brings something different to the rhythm section and it depends on the style of music and the situation. Carmine's probably my favourite so far, and there's also a good friend of mine called Ray Mehlbaum who is an amazing drummer. We will do some things together in the future, soon, with my new songs.
- What about favourite guitar player?
Jimmy Page. I also like David Gilmour.
- How did you get involved with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers?
Through Roy Harper, the English folk hero. He opened for ZEPPELIN on their early tours and was a big influence on Jimmy's folk guitar playing. There's a song on "Led Zep III" called "Hats off to (Roy) Harper", he's great. I did a number of albums with Roy and through him worked with Jimmy and that led to THE FIRM.
- How they were to work with?
We had our ups and down like any band, but all in all they were professional, talented, creative and experienced... a true pleasure.
- Whose ideas you found more interesting, Paul's or Jimmy's ones?
Each person brought something unique and special to the mix and I think they complimented each other well. I think that Jimmy was the more adventurous of the two musically.
- I guess, there was quite enough original material. So why did you decide to re-record "Live In Peace" from Paul's first solo album and the RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling"?
As far as I know there was never any shortage of material. "Loving Feeling" was on the first FIRM album and "Live in Peace" was on the second. "Loving Feeling" started off as a piece we jammed on in the rehearsals for the first album. It turned out so well that we decided to record it and it stayed. We had included "Live in Peace" in the live set from the first tour as it was such a good song. It was always a favourite of the crowds when we performed it so we decided to record it for the second album.
- Why there's only one your composition, "Dreaming", on two albums?
Jimmy and Paul were the main songwriters. They brought in most of the material and there was an unspoken understanding about that. They were the main cornerstones of the band. I did not even submit any material for the first album, all the material was completed anyway. I brought in two or three tunes for the second album and they really liked "Dreaming" so we recorded it. I was very happy to have Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers perform one of my songs!
- Was it hard to play with Chris Slade famous for his staccato drumming?
I was not aware of Chris's staccato drumming. He always seemed like a dependable, creative hard rock drummer to me. He and I locked in together immediately, no problems.
- What did THE FIRM play live?
We played most of the songs from the albums, plus some tunes from Jimmy's "Death Wish 2" soundtrack album, some tasteful cover songs like Muddy Water's "I Just Want to Make Love to you", and some others. It was a high energy exciting live show, with nice lights and some cool effects. We had an incredible response at every performance we played.
- Is there any stuff left off THE FIRM albums?
- How did you do this John Paul Jones' trick of playing live both bass and keyboards? Was it Page's idea, not to have a keyboard player?
No, it was my idea. There really wasn't too much keyboard work on the album, so I thought it would be crazy to bring a keyboard player for just those small parts. Paul also played keyboards on a couple of tunes - "Live in Peace" and "All the King's Horses", so I started to develop a technique to be able to do both at the same time. Sometimes I played keyboard bass with the left hand, while playing regular keys with the right. Sometimes I would play open strings on the bass with my right hand and regular keys with my left... sometimes I played hammer-ons on the bass with my left hand... it got tricky and I had be very aware of what I was doing, but it seemed to work.
- Your hair-cut while in THE FIRM... Were you obsessed with punk, eh?
I'm smiling now! No, I wasn't into punk!!! The hair thing just seemed to happen. My hair went that way very easily, so I just let it happen. People seemed to like it, so I kept it.
- Your memories on work with Roy Harper?
Fond memories. He's one of my favourite songwriters and lyricists. He has had a profound influence on my writing. It took a while for me to truly appreciate Roy's writing because it is so deep. He and I have a very special friendship, I care for him and respect him very much.
- It's well-known how did you get into BLUE MURDER. But what did you think of John Sykes at the time?
- How it was to play with Cozy Powell? Could you compare him to Carmine Appice?
Cozy, God bless him, was the ultimate straight ahead hard rock drummer - solid, dependable, loud and proud! Carmine is too, but his drumming has a more of a funk influence to it. My bass playing has the same kind of funk to it also. They are both amazing drummers.
- You played with Glenn Hughes - on his "Blues" album and on QUEEN's tribute. How did it happen?
Glenn asked me to play on his "Blues" album back in '92 which was a great thrill. The QUEEN tribute was put together by Billy Sherwood so I didn't know that Glenn sang on it until later! We layed down the rhythm tracks first and at that point it wasn't decided who was going to sing on it. When I heard that Glenn had done it, I thought it was a perfect match up. He did a great job on that song.
- Why, on your opinion, Glenn didn't want to play himself? What do you think of his style?
Glenn is a fine bass player, very tasteful with the funk edge like me. But I think of him as a singer first, and, of course, he is an amazing vocalist. With the "Blues" album I think he wanted to have some different input from the bass. He played half of the album himself and I did the rest. We have a deep respect fo each other. We also both came from districts in England that are close to each other. Sometimes it's good to have a break from your instrument as well, so I was honoured that he asked me to play on his album.
- You composed one song with Hughes. Was it interesting writing it?
I really only added one small part to the song. I wasn't involved in the main writing of it, so it didn't actually feel like we'd written a song together. Still it was nice to be credited as a songwriter with him.
- Did you know that Glenn was supposed to play in BLUE MURDER at the early stages?
Yes. John and Glenn have been talking about working together now for years! But it just doesn't seem to have worked out. We'll see what happens.
- What do you think of Joe Lynn Turner? You played together, yes? Very under-rated guy, isn't he?
We were on the same album together - I don't even remember which one now - but we never actually met. To be perfectly honest, I haven't heard much of his work.
- I don't think new age is your cup of tea. So how did you team up with CELESTIAL WINDS? Was it your first experience to play upright bass?
Many people will be surprised at the different styles of music I have played - orchestral, jazz, folk, new age, latin, pop. Of course, I am mostly known for my work in rock music, but I have played and enjoy playing many styles of music. I have played the upright bass for many years starting off when I was 13 or 14 playing in orchestras. CELESTIAL WINDS was the first time I've ever done a recording session on the upright bass. I also played upright on a song on my album called "Peace Boulevard".
- You toured with British blues legends Paul Rodgers, Eric Burdon and Alvin Lee. Are you into blues? Which of those tours you liked the best?
Yes, I like the blues, though I prefer to play it rather than to listen to
it! My favourites are the old blues players - Robert Johnson and Muddy
- What's the thing it was you played at with Kate Bush and David Gilmour?
It was a one-off event that was filmed and made into a video called "The Secret Policeman's Third Ball". I've heard that it is still played on English T.V.. We played two songs, Kate's "Running Up That Hill", which was a big hit for her and a cover of THE BEATLES' "Let it Be". The rehearsals were fun and David and myself got along well.
- You were invited to tour with PINK FLOYD, yes?
Yes. This offer came shortly after the show with Kate Bush. There was a short list of three bassists, Tony Levin, Pino Palladino and myself. I couldn't do the tour because I had just signed a contract with BLUE MURDER only three days before!!!
- Who are Donna Lewis and Gary Hoey you worked with?
Donna Lewis is a long time friend of mine. We have made music together for
many years. In 1995 she signed a contract with Atlantic Records. I played on
her album. The following year she had a huge worldwide hit with her song "I
Love You Always Forever". It went to number one in just about every country
in the world. She is a very talented writer and singer.
- How did it come to your appearing in WHITESNAKE? Your impressions of David Coverdale and Adrian Vandenberg?
I met David Coverdale in 1985 when I was with THE FIRM. He would have liked Chris Slade, THE FIRM's drummer, and myself to join WHITESNAKE at that time but we still had to finish our commitments with THE FIRM. We stayed in touch and it worked out that I was able to do the final WHITESNAKE tour in 1997. David and Adrian are both really nice people. It was a pleasure to work with them. They are both extremely talented.
- Tell, please, about new Coverdale's album with you on.
I played on one song called "Don't Cry" ["Don't You Cry", - DME]. I played it on fretted bass, which isn't my usual thing but it was right for the song. The album sounds good. The WHITESNAKE fans will be happy, and David is happy to be going in a new solo direction.
- Will you tour with David again?
It is possible. There are no plans yet.
- Some words, please, on the band called PEARL.
PEARL was an interesting band put together with the intention of blending the unique sounds and styles of the East and West. Carmine Appice and myself were the West and Naomi 'Sho-ta' Tamura and Kenny Kitajima were the East. Kenny (guitar) and Sho-ta (vocals) are both successful artists in Japan. We made two albums together, released only in Japan. The first one went platinum over there. We played some exciting live shows too. Maybe we will get together again, I'm not sure.
- Do you like to play with THIN LIZZY?
It was great to play those classic tunes! Unfortunately we rehearsed for two days and then the tour was cancelled! I think the record company wanted the same line up that appeared on the just released live CD, to tour and promote the live CD. It's a shame, it was sounding really good!
- Do you think that's right to call Lynott-less band THIN LIZZY?
I'm not sure. Ultimately that decision has to be made by the existing members of the band. Of course, Phil Lynott was such a big part of THIN LIZZY. It will never be the same without him.
- Marty Friedman, the MEGADETH guitar player - ain't a strange choice for you to work with?
I don't know. As I said earlier, I have played so many different styles of music. All music from the heart is good.
- Which of the bands you were in you loved the best?
Wow! It's impossible to answer. I have been fortunate to be in many fantastic bands and to have played with many gifted musicians. They were all special to me in different ways. It is impossible to say which was the best.
- Are there any interesting stories from your career you'd like to share with us?
There are so many special moments that stand out in my career, from realizing my dream to play at Madison Square Gardens (with THE FIRM), where for ten minutes I was the only person on the stage as I performed my bass solo: the place was sold out and the crowd was going crazy, I'll never forget it. And also meeting my bass hero, the late great Jaco Pastorius. I was lost for words to say to him, but it was an honour to shake his hand and to see him play. He is sadly missed. And also to have played with some of the greatest musicians in the world. And also to have made my own solo album - this is long time dream come true. I have been truly blessed in my career. And through this I have learned to be thankful for all the good things in my life. I have also learned that good things can come and go very quickly, so it is important to always keep moving forward, to always try to improve myself and be better each day. It is easy to get comfortable and lazy. I think that life is too short to be lazy. I still have SO much I want to do. In many ways I feel like my career has only just begun!
- There's a quote from John F. Kennedy on your site: "We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth". Explain this from your point of view, please.
For me this is a reminder that making music or creating anything artistic must be an expression of love and not for other reasons, like fame, money, greed etcetera. I feel that when I keep my music and my creativity pure, then magic happens.
Photos courtesy of Tony Franklin