An Interview with the legendary bass player Chuck Rainey: Music has not changed my life - it is my life.

"I dream of peace and release of all suffering and non-attachment to unethical behavior."

Chuck Rainey: The Guru of Music & Life

At one time tagged as the hardest working bass player in America, Chuck Rainey's bass playing on successful television shows, motion pictures and recordings illustrate his well-known and legendary style, feel and concept for the instrument and its role in organized music. His unique bass lines accent numerous commercials and are an integral part of today's music across many music viewing and listening fronts.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio as Charles Walter Rainey III, Chuck boasts a native 'son ship' of Youngstown, Ohio, where he was actually raised and educated. His arrival in New York City during the spring of 1962 coincided with the beginning of a new era in American commercial music. After a 3 and a half-year stint with legendary FT. Worth sax man King Curtis in New York, Chuck began an illustrious career as a 'sideman' in the recording studio along with Bernard Purdy, Eric Gale, Richard T., Donny Hathaway, Paul Griffen and Herb Lavelle to name a few. Without any argument, he is the most recorded bass player in the history of recorded music and is the most imitated by bass players as a whole.
 During the period 1963 thru 1971, Chuck toured and/or recorded with some of the most prominent artist of that era. They include King Curtis, Sam Cooke, Etta James, The original Coasters, Jackie Wilson, Harry Bellefonte, Al Kooper, The Supremes, Labelle, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Quincy Jones. Of special note; as a member of 'The King Curtis All Stars', the second Beatle Tour of the US took him to Los Angeles where he made a commitment to return as soon as the Universe saw fit.

The 'Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame' yearly inducts the legends of Rock music. As of 2003, Chuck Rainey's bass lines and rhythm influence are the documented backbone of the original hit recordings of the following artist and the year they were inducted: Aretha Franklin (1987), Marvin Gaye (1988), The Jackson 5 (1997), The Rascals (2000), Steely Dan (2001).

Interview by Michael Limnios

Mr. Rainey, when was your first desire to become involved in the music?

It would have to be around age 2 or 3. My parents and their family members were all surrounded by and involved in music, either religiously, popular interest, listener, active players of an instrument or singing. I was Always surround by music.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

It will be difficult to specifically single just one or two or more - I have had many. For this interview I will cite a few that come to mind at this moment.

One of my many ‘best moments‘are memories playing as a member of ‘The King Curtis All Stars’ band. During my early years in New York City. That stint was for 3 years (1964-7) during which we opened for the Beatles on their 1965 Tour of the US . The other band members were Cornell Dupree/guitar, George Stubbs/piano, Ray Lucas/drums, and the leader King Curtis. Also at a moment during that time, Jimmy Hendrix was a featured performer before he arrived in London and began his solo career.

Another ‘best moments‘ are memories playing as a member of Harry Bellefonte‘s band (1971-2). Other band members recalled were Cornell Dupree/guitar, Kenneth Rice/drums, Ralph McDonald/percussion.

I do not recall ‘worst moments’, in that a gig is a gig and sometimes things go well and sometimes they do not or even sometime not at all. The music business is what it is and that means hanging in there and getting the job done and then press on hoping for the best.

What characterize the sound of Chuck Rainey? How do you describe your philosophy about the music?

A good clean and round ‘traditional’ bass tone - traditionally referring to the sound and feel of an organ bass or upright bass in popular music during the 50’s, 60’s & early 70’s. In particular, the sound and feel of the organ bass in gospel music in the late 40‘s up thru to the late 80‘s (either with the left foot or left hand bass execution. Then of course there is the sound and feel of the upright bass in traditional ‘Jazz’ of the 40’s up thru to present day - both instruments are combinations of how I hear and feel the bass as an electric bass player.

My philosophy; Serve and assist the situation at hand with respectful listening - it’s all about the music and your instrument is your responsibility and it’s place in the overall mix of things must cooperate with the scheme of it all.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does JAZZ offered you?

The ‘Blues’ traditionally and culturally described Black Music in the US beginning around the mid 20’s up thru to the 60’s. The nature of the subject in these songs were words, with melody, mainly describing lost love, cheating love, bad luck, etc. That was and is a genre of so called ‘blues music’. One does not necessarily have to be down trodden, rejected by love or feeling blue to perform or enjoy ‘blues music’. To me it’s only a specific style in popular music having it’s roots in the Afro- American/black living environmental stresses.

Jazz offers me an ability to reach farther into the many networks and extensions of harmony, rhythm and music theory. It challenges memory, execution, improvisation skills and an ability to maintain the role of my instrument.

Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the recording time?

Again it will be difficult to specifically single just one or two or more - I have had many. For this interview I will cite this particular one that comes to mind at this moment;

I was recording the bass in s session with Gary McFarland in New York back around ‘69’ or so and I was having trouble following the chord chart of a particular tune. Although sometimes a bit complicated, Gary was always specific and very clear in his recording charts and I assumed that for some reason or another I was not understanding something about the time signature and/or chord progressions.

No one was having a problem but me and since the format of the tune was fairly simple or easy to memorize, I did not bother Gary with my problem until it was obvious that something was wrong. So from my chair in the room and his place at the conductors podium we painstakingly took time and went over the music and I made the corrections on my chart. By now everyone was assuming that the copyist made mistakes on the bass chart.

The tune was recorded and everyone was satisfied. During the break, Gary and I began talking about people not paying attention to their job, referring to the copyist who incorrectly prepared the bass chart. We actually spent the whole break talking negatively about the copyist.

Break time was over and as the band assembled, Gary called out the next tune to rehearse and record. I could not find it in the bass folder and Donald MacDonald, the drummer, came over to assist - the folder did have a lot of charts in it. We could not find it until Donald looked at the two tunes that we had already completed and I had turned over as a habit of doing if the song was finished.

The tune that we were looking for was in that pile and also just happened to be the tune we had just finished - the one I just had so much trouble with. I was embarrassed to say the least for not have paid attention to the song title which was clearly visible. The changes and general format of both tunes were somewhat similar and everyone concluded that the copyist had just made a mistake.

 I often recall that particular time when I caused a negative conversation about an innocent person, the copyist, because of my inability to pay general and basic attention in an organized and professional recording session.

What is the “think” you miss most from ‘60s - ‘70?

I basically don’t miss much from those years. Although they were my prime time productive years, they were also at the same time hard working and hustle years. Of course I have fond memories and respect for the path I took along my musical journey. Live music was also much quieter and I think that may well be what I miss most from the ‘60s - 70s’.

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had? What’s the best jam you ever played in?

Other than the afore mention of being a band mate with King Curtis and Harry Bellefonte, I do have fond memories of gigging with ’The Rodney Johnson R&B Band’ during my early years living in Dallas (1985 - 90). What a treat - although musicians changed from time to time, we always had a good band with a good following.

Recently I have been involved in annual ‘Billboard Live’/Japan mini tours with Marlena Shaw and a rhythm section referred to as ‘The Dream Team’ (Harvey Mason/drums, David T Walker/guitar, Larry Nash/keyboards and Chuck Rainey/bass. I am very fortunate to be in such a special group of musicians referred to as ‘The Dream Team’.

I have played in so many music situations, including ‘jams’ that I can not recall any particular one at this time.

With such an illustrious career, what has given you the most satisfaction musically?

The most musical satisfaction of my career is being successful in functioning in organized and unorganized playing situations - including most popular genres of music. Also, having an ability to function with and for individuals who did not particularly care for my presence or vice versa. The job has to get done and taking things too personal can spell disaster the project.

These things did not happen ‘over night’; it took a reasonable time spent in different situations of the same nature in professionally dealing with adverse situations.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?

Every musician and artist that I have ever heard live or on a recording has had an influence on my thoughts and feel for playing music. Even the musicians and music that I may not have particularly cared for promoted a listening and learning.

Having favorite musicians and music adds another energy that promotes listening and enjoying who is playing and what is being played.

I have learned the most secrets about the music from all the others that I have heard. I think that by just being involved/experience, helpful and aware of whom is in charge and what needs to be professionally achieved is the real teacher.

How has music changed your life & what do you learn about yourself from music?

Music has not changed my life - it is my life. It supports my ability to ethically communicate, listen, support and successfully engage in a profession that supports my life.

Difficult question, but who of the people you have worked with do you considers the good friend?

As time goes by and the older I get, I am slowly losing very good friends. Last year I lost two very good and close friends, Cornel Dupree and Ralph MacDonald. Currently I am very close friends with David T Walker and Larry Nash to name two. I can not name a specific individual because there are many.

Some music styles can be fads but the soul, blues & jazz are always with us. Why do think that is?

Soul, Blues & Jazz styles are relatively new styles of popular music when compared to earlier much older styles like Classical and Folk categories. Classical and Folk categories have lasted from their beginning up through time and presently still have an active art form and an audience to appreciate it.

Soul, Blues and Jazz styles are primarily ‘dancing music - music to dance by. The feel of the concept in these art forms comes from a very spirited, rhythmic, creative and environmentally resource of people adapted to improvisation by necessity - the music reflects the way of an environment.

Soul, Blues and Jazz will always be with us but only the far away future will know for sure.

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again

I am completely satisfied with the way things went in the past of this life. The past has led me right to where I am now and I have no regrets or changes I would make if it could be done again.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD people?

It’s nice to be thought of as good people. Before I left home to be on my own, my mother and father were my teaching examples and hero’s of ethical behavior and ethical thoughts in general about other people.

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

On the surface it’s basically the same ethical and unethical exploitation of talent for profit and fame. The Internet has made it possible for the unknown artist or musician to take the first to market themselves or a project and create a fan base without using to jump start an interest from a record label, lawyer, management or a public relations agency . Depending on the success level of the project or musician, there comes a time when legal advice, management, distribution, booking agent, etc., become necessary.

The main change in the business since I first started is that today’s musicians and artist can do more for themselves in exploiting and promoting what they do via the Internet. It is best for a musician or artist to do the best they can on their own before attempting to acquire management, etc. Industry personnel basically will get involved quicker with someone who has already done the foot work in their own behalf.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

The most interesting period of my life was between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. Those were the years that I expressed my interest in organized music playing a few different instruments and I also gained a habitual and ethical foundation different art forms of music. The experiences from that period are a sound platform that supports my career.

Are there any memories of all GREAT ARTISTS you meet which you’d like to share with us?

Meeting Count Basie, Harry Bellefonte, Lena Horn, George Harrison, John Lennon and Jimmy Smith was very special. I grew up in my teen years playing big band orchestra music as a trumpet player and the music of Count Basie’s big band was a part of that experience. Upon meeting him and him expressing knowledge of my career in recorded music, I could not have been more elated and excited to actually be personally in his presence and in conversation.

Harry Bellefonte’s popularity among my parents age group was tremendous and I personally liked his calypso style of music and was further being of him because he was also a star in motion picture movies. Playing in his band was as good as it gets - very professional, well paid and he had a personal relationship with all his personal band members.

While touring with The King Curtis All Stars on the 1965 Beatle Tour of the US, I met and socialized with George Harrison and John Lennon. They both were very congenial and always expressed an interest in having a one on one conversation. During the tour they both were very involved as you can imagine, but always took time to hang with the rest of the acts on the tour.

Hearing Jimmy Smith on his 1959 LP recording entitled ‘The Sermon’ was the main catalyst that instigated my thoughts and feel of possibly being a bass player. I enjoyed meeting him many years later and being able to spend some one on one time when we both were band members in different groups touring with The Playboy Jazz Festival. He was a member of ‘The Playboy All Stars’ and I was a member of Herbie Mann’s ’Reunion Band’.

Meeting, working with and personally knowing Lena Horn was as good as it can get when it comes to having musical relationship with national icons. She was a delightful person to be around and never used her ‘stardom’ in the industries of music and film as something special around the band - she was indeed very pleasant and ‘real’ - not snobbish or egotistical. I could go on and on, but these are the few that first come to my mind.

Why did you think that Chuck Rainey continues to generate such a devoted following?

It’s nice to know that someone thinks of my career in that that way. I appreciate all the love, respect and attention that I receive and enjoy as I go through my career. I trust that my excitement, love and respect for music and the bass instrument shows in my playing how much in love and devoted I am to being a service to all through music.

I will also add the fact that I am an ‘old school‘traditional player. Everything musically done today is an extension of yesterday‘s platform. However the bass instrument has basically all but disappeared from the and feel of popular music recordings.

I don‘t play a keyboard bass nor do I use sound pedals with my electric bass - I always play the instrument to sound, feel and support the music from the 60‘s point of view. Of course my playing attitude attempts to keep up with current styles, but even then I approach the instrument in a sound and feel from the 60‘s.

My trust is that I represent the original foundation era of current popular music with a traditional approach to the bass.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

If you really love what your attempting to do in music, do as much of it as you possibly can. Your love will be tested over and over as you go through the different experiences waiting for you. A true love for music and what you are attempting to do in it will protect you from suffering in situations that are trial ed and full of tribulation as you go forward - press on and enjoy the acts of pursuing and preparing yourself.

If you have talent, understand that you will be exploited but do not take it in a negative way. Everything in life that is worth anything becomes something of value by being exploited. Exploitation has two sides to its activity; One side is ethical and the other is un-ethical - both sides are equal in that they both promote you in the media used to market what you are a part of and thereby exposing what you do to the environment.

If you are attempting to pursue a career similar to mine for any other reason than love - you’re going to be miserable and will grow old quickly.

I've heard two sayings about the blues, which are a little bit confusing. One is "Blues is a healer". Another one "You have to feel blue to play Blues". If it’s supposed to be a healer, why should it make one feel sad?

Firstly, the word ‘blues’ basically describes the mood of a depressed feeling. So the phrase ‘having the blues’ is a somewhat common thing to say when a person is sad for any reason. The word became synonymous to black folk music has unusually slow tempos and melancholy lyrics of mental pain and suffering.

The blues is a healer because a blues artist said so and it sounds good to say something real cool about ones music. It actually is a healer to some performers and listeners, in that music does help clean out or ease pain, and suffering to those who like, play and/or listen to music.

You do not HAVE to feel blue to play the blues. The blues is just a style among the many styles of organized music. The person that said that was just personalizing their feeling about what blues music means to them.

Why do you play BASS, what were your favorite bass backing then & in which songs can someone hear the best of your work?

After having formal training on most instruments in an orchestra, the sound, feel and role of the bass was more interesting and the easiest instrument to play.

My first bass was a 1961 Fender Precision and I played it as my main instrument up until 1990. It can be heard on 90% of the music in my discography, most notably to me are Soul Saxes/Shirley Scott, Summer In The City & Along Came Betty/Quincy Jones, What A Wonderful World/Louis Armstrong, Aja/Steely Dan, Till You Come Back & Rock Steady/Aretha Franklin.

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……

I am a yogi practicing different forms of yoga. I am a certified meditation teacher and practice thru the Hindu tradition. I dream of peace and release of all suffering and non-attachment to unethical behavior. For me happiness is self realization and enjoying a path that continues and extends that happiness as I grow older.

I spend several days a month with my wife at a yoga ashram in Boulder, Colorado where I study and practice yoga and meditation disciplines. While in the area I also sit with private electric bass students.

Make an account for current realities of the case of Chuck Rainey’s career

Because of the length of my activities and experiences in music as a player, performer and writer, I can best show account for the current realities of my career in my Internet web site at my official website and .


Chuck Rainey's official website

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