John Abbey

Know Your Bass Player Q & A with Joe Gagliardo & John Abbey


How/when/why did you start playing bass guitar?


I kind of started playing by “accident” when I was 13 or 14. Two of my older brothers play bass. One summer, my friends and I would hang out at my house listening to records and play air guitar along with them. One of my brothers was home from college, and on a whim one day, I pulled his bass out of the case and figured I’d play “air bass” while actually holding a bass. I guess the accidental part was this, he played left-handed. I assumed he had a left-handed bass but he’d learned to play upside down, and when I strapped on the bass it was “set up” for me and from that day on that was it.


 Any formal training?


At first no. I’d ask my brother(s) when they were around to show me some stuff. I bought Mel Bay’s Volume 1 bass book…learned the names of the strings, notes on the fret board but mainly just listened to records and tried to figure stuff out. In elementary school I played violin for a year, and in junior high, you had to be in the chorus, but I had no formal training. I didn’t take any music classes in high school at all, but by my senior year I wanted to learn to read music and understand theory etc etc…unfortunately none of the music teachers were interested in having someone who knew nothing join band or orchestra.


That summer, between senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I took a basic music theory class at a community college, and I ended up staying there for my freshman year. It was a classically oriented program and after a year I wanted to learn other stuff. I switched to SUNY Old Westbury. At the time it was one of the only jazz programs around. The head of the department was Ken McIntyre and faculty included Warren Smith, Charles Persip, Jack Jeffers, Dick Griffin, Jimmy Owens…super heavyweights, although at the time their impact was lost on me.


After that, I went to B.I.T and studied with Potter Smith, Bob Magnuson, and Jeff Berlin. I was there during a very transitional year for that was just starting to lean away from the jazz/fusion side of things and towards the “metal/big hair” of the mid-80’s. The guitar program still had Joe Pass and Joe Diorio on board and they were thrilled with guys that were into what they did vs what they thought was the “flash”


Bass players who influenced you… many!…Jack Casady, Bill Wyman, Willie Dixon, John Entwistle, Paul Chambers, Charles Mingus, James Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott, Duck Dunn, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller, Jaco, Rick Danko, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, George Porter Jr..I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch.


Summary of bands/years—and recordings…


Alright, let’s see I’ll probably be off by a year or two and I’ll skip the “early years”and apologies in advance for stuff I’ve missed and therefore omitted.


1984-85 Lauren Smoken-self titled debut record produced by Jack Douglas, 1985-1990?-Outback..came this close :-), recordings with Rob Fraboni, Lori Carson 1988-1990, Carolyne Mas 1989, Todd Kray 1990-1998?


Stevie Cochran 1985-1992, David Poe 1995-2003-self titled debut produced by T-Bone Burnett, The Late Album, Love Is Red, Dog’s Eye View-1994-1996(?) debut album Happy Nowhere, Amy Rigby 1994-97, Mike Errico 1996-Pictures Of the Big Vacation, John Cale-1996-1998, Ray Davies-2000, Hubert Sumlin and David Johansen 2004-2005, Amy Speace 1999-2002, Neal Casal- 1995-1997, Moe Tucker 2000, Mark Geary 1998-2001.


Current musical activity…


Let’s see-since 1998/99 I’ve been producing and engineering…so since moving from NYC to Chicago in 2002, that’s been a majority of my work.


Throughout my 20 years in Chicago, I’ve been playing (on and off in some cases) with Robbie Fulks, Steve Dawson, Sons Of the Never Wrong, and Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls.


Partial “recent” discography Producing/Engineering- Emily Hurd -her full discography, The Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook Volumes 1-4, Robbie Fulks-Revenge of the Doberman and 16, Funeral Bonzai Wedding self-titled, and Last Flight Out, Martin Lang-Bad Man.


Your go-to basses back in the day, and now…


These are the basses I used to have and play(very rarely more than one at a time)…that I regret selling; 1978 Fender Jazz Bass, Ken Smith 4 string serial # 109 (smh), early 80’s Steinberger, 1973 Fender P-bass-fretless, mid 80’s Tobias 6 string.


I had a GREAT late 18th century German upright bass that suffered a broken neck on the last day of a tour..after it was fixed, it was never the same and I sold it…still haven’t found an upright I like as much as that one.


In 1986 I got a 1966 Fender Jazz bass…it took about 6 months for it to get and stay in shape…that’s been my go to bass ever since. I also currently have a 1967 Guild Starfire (the bass I grew up playing courtesy of my bro!) a 1968 Vox violin and a bass made by a great luthier here, Bruce Roper. It’s a short scale hollow body based on Starfire specs. My upright is a German carved bass from the 50’s but made in Italian style..Oh almost forgot, I also have a Guild Ashbory.


 Describe your approach / style…


Hmm..another tricky one to answer.  I’d like to think that I always serve the song, stay in the pocket and react to what’s happening in the moment.


What are you up to when not playing bass?


 I am a Producer-Engineer (and Bass Player) at Kingsize Sound Lab and I have taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music.


Similar to how I started playing bass, I got into producing and engineering kind of by accident. A buddy of mine from M.I.T. days, Joe Carter III, a great jazz guitar player, said “You know all these singer/songwriter, rock guys..I want you produce a record for me.


I wrote a bunch of tunes on piano and I want to make a record that’s a cross between Tumbleweed Connection and Exile On Main Street.” 

Without skipping a beat, I agreed..and not knowing ANYTHING, but with the help of a lot of super talented people I started to learn and TJ Swan-Redemption was the result.


Fast-forward 12 years and a few random spaces in Chicago, Mike Hagler and I partnered up and got our current space together in 2010.


It’s a great set-up. We work independently of each other…but we share a huge live room, gear, etc.


A partial list of stuff I’ve been lucky enough to work on: Robbie Fulks-Revenge of the Doberman and Sixteen, Funeral Bonzai Wedding-self titled and Last Flight Out, Freakons-self-titled, Mike Allemana-Vonology, Martin Lang-Bad Man, Jonas Friddle-The Last Place To Go, Belle deLouisville, Use Your Voice


Emily Hurd-(pretty much everything) most recently- Underkill, Nightshades, Josh Berman-A Skip and a Hop….


John Abbey Sound & Vision…


“New Pony” live w. Robbie Fulks


“Oh Chocolay_Sons of the Never Wrong”


“Heart of Snow” Emily Hurd


“Reunion” David Poe


“Love is a Blessing” live w. Steve Dawson