Throwback Thursday: Stanley Clarke at the Berkeley Community Theater 1979

Today’s Throwback Thursday is to a moment when I was younger that solidified my drive to become a bass player. I know that a lot of musicians of my era know who Stanley Clarke is. When I was coming up, he and Jaco Pastorius were legends but I had found Stanley first. I was so into Stanley because he was always winning best bassist awards, he was part of Return To Forever and he could play insanely fast. Perhaps unsurpassed to this day on electric bass. When I was young, I just wanted to burn like him.

Having been fortunate to have the hip older brother who lived for music, concerts and influencing his younger brother, my brother Carl told me “if you are gonna play bass then you better listen to the best bassist in the world and that is Stanley Clarke.” My brother was the coolest guy in the world to me when I was growing up. He was always going to concerts in the SF Bay Area where we lived, where he saw The WhoLed ZeppelinThe Mothers Of Invention and The Rolling Stones. He was also into the New Barbarians who had Keith Richards, bassist Stanley Clarke, former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste of The Meters. After seeing this group perform, Carl told me he had witnessed the greatest bassist in the world, Stanley Clarke, and gave me School Days.

The young me could not grasp Return To Forever but I did manage to appreciate Stanley Clarke’s solo records. So much so that I went to go see Stanley when he played at the Berkeley Community Theater on September 9th, 1979. My cool brother in law, Dennis, loved Lee Ritenour and he was going to see him open for Stanley Clarke and asked me if I wanted to go so I could see Stanley Clarke And Friends.

Having been somewhat familiar with Lee Ritenour’s music because of my brother in law, I was in my seat early and who does he have on bass? The incredible Abe Laboriel Sr! Lee’s set starts and I am floored by Abe Sr. All those fingers shredding the strings, I remember thinking I have to buy all of this man’s music! Just absolutely mind blowing.

In the intermission, I went and bought a Stanley Clarke And Friends baseball jersey (which I subsequently wore to every concert for the next 5 years) and I raced back to my seat to see them come on. The show started with a cartoon being projected onto a screen and it is, from what I can remember, a cartoon of basses flying in the air. You don’t see Stanley on stage but he is off to the right of the stage, burning speed clusters at the audience. I am flipping out, and looking at what this cartoon is all about. What eventually happens in the cartoon, is all the basses land on this mountain and at the top of the peak, an upright bass lands straight up and then it turns into a cartoon caricature of Stanley himself. His bass starts getting louder, and he is playing faster, and my jaw was wide open for the next two hours.

It doesn’t surprise me that I chose to be a bassist for the rest of my life. That show was a sign from the bass heavens that I better play bass and do my best to play it well. When I was teaching at Musicians Institute back in the 90’s I would always write out a Stanley Clarke exercise I learned in Guitar Player Magazine (because there was no Bass Player Magazine back then). To this day I still practice playing clusters of 5 notes over 4 or 7 notes over 4 probably because it is habit. I used this cluster idea on Racer X’s Scarified in my second solo break.

Though this video is not from that show, it seems Stanley came back a month later to the Bay Area (really?…not sure about that) but here is that era anyway!