An Interview with bassman Bill Stuve, was fortunate to have played and met with the great Blues artists

"The whole reason that stuff back then sounds so cool, even on the records, is because you can hear the wood of those old guitars & basses and the reeds of those saxophones. It was all about the approach. The feel!"

Bill Stuve: Let's Hard Swing Swingin'

Born William Carl Stuve III in Alameda, CA. August 1, 1951. Bill has played music all his life. Being blessed by a very supportive family, Bill also scored by having a grandfather who was an artist, as well as a drummer & stride piano player. It wasn't long before Bill was playing snare drum, along with his grandfather at the piano, entertaining family & friends at all holiday functions.This relationship opened up that great big world of music for young Bill.                                       Photo: A Gardner Production

Old school 78' records by Fat's Waller, John Phillip Sousa, Sachmo and others, soon ignited his musical passion. From there he was marching with baton swingin' young ladies, in a drum corp called "The Mt. Eden Marshals". This experience allowed him to get a taste of band discipline and success, as well as life on the road.

His family moved to San Jose, CA, where his first band "The Warlocks" was formed, with Bill playing guitar. Many bands followed and it was during this time, now playing electric bass, that he hooked up with guitar man Junior Watson. They developed a musical relationship that evolved into a group in 1975 with "Harlem Globetrotter" Nate Branch. That led to playing the casino's in Las Vegas & Reno. From there, through a Watson connection in 1977, "The Mighty Flyers" were formed. That band then featured band leader Rod Piazza (Harp), Junior Watson (Guitar), Bill Swartz (Drums), Honey Piazza (Piano) and Bill Stuve (Upright Bass). 

Interview by Michael Limnios

Bill, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues music?

I was very fortunate to have a grandfather who was a musician. He was a drummer and also played some stride piano. He got me interested. I got started on one of his old snare drums. We would listen and play along with Big Band, Fats Waller, and John Phillip Sousa marches. It wasn't long before I was in a drum corp at 10 years old marching and competing in parades. That actually gave me a taste for performing and life on the road. Next came the British Invasion. This was 63' 64'. I had heard Blues played by my Grandfather and Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard even Slim Harpo on the radio, but all of a sudden there was this giant change. And being 14 years old it spoke to me. I soon was playing guitar in a band and whether we knew it or not we were singing & playing R&B & Blues tunes. The Stones, Beatles, Them, Kinks, Yardbirds. As I would listen to these records, I would notice the writer credits. There I would discover Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed & Robert Johnson. That opened a gigantic world of knowledge and discovery.    

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

Because of the Blues, I have been fortunate to have met, recorded, and traveled the world with the who's who of great Blues artists. They have taught me the respect and the proper approach to playing this great music form the Blues.

(Photo: Bill with his 66' Fender Jazzmaster / Bill Stuve Collection)

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

It's hard to state exactly the best moment of a career. When I first started playing the bass it was a Fender Precision Electric. As I got more and more involved in Blues, Jazz, R&B & Americana. I was more and more drawn to the Upright Bass. I had to get one and I did. A great moment came in 77' while in studio recording tracks for an early album for the Mighty Flyers, "The Chicago Flying Saucer Band". I'd only had the bass for a few months so using it on a few tracks and realizing how well it sounded was a life changing moment. From that moment on I have used the Upright Bass almost exclusively on the road and in the studio. 

         I have been extremely lucky not to have had any terrible incidents or accidents happen along the way. As always the death of a fellow musician or a friend gets critically ill it's a hard thing. And as I get older this seems to be happening far too often. Also a few instruments have been stolen and there is no getting over that!

What characterize the sound and progress of Bill Stuve? Do you remember anything fanny or interesting from the recording time?

My sound can be heard on my 3 CD's, Big Noise, Say Man, & Flyin' Right, recorded for my label Upright Allnight Prod. These 3 CD's express my deep love for the music of the late 40's early 50's, especially Jump Blues. It was a time when the lines of Rock and Roll,R&B,and Jazz all blurred. The use of swingin' upright bass, a honkin' wailing horn section, fat swingin' guitar licks, boogie woogie piano, and solid finger snappin' swingin' drummer is what I used to create my sound. I was blessed when recording these records to have such great players available to me. The great Lee Allen, who recorded on everything from Fats Domino to Little Richard, played down his great tenor tone on my first disc Big Noise. Big Jay McNeely, known as the Deacon of Tenor Sax, played on my Say Man CD. Jr Watson, Alex Schultz, Rick Holmstom, Joel Foy, Henry Carvajal, all great guitarists, all were there on various sessions. Steve F'dor on piano did a hell of a job for me. Johnny Dyer and James Harman were there when some howlin' harp was needed. On drums, I had nothing but the best in LA. Jimi Bott , Richard Innes & Stephen Hodges. Hodges is also responsible for the great production of the Flyin' Right CD. All these great players were all on the same page creating a vibe which allowed me to sing my tunes & make my sound.

     I attribute my "Dog House" upright bass style from listening for many hours to Willie Dixon, Big Crawford, Pops Foster, Ransom Knowling, Milt Hinton, Larry Taylor & a lot of Jazz. I've had instruction on Drum & Guitar with some High School & College Orchestra. All of that has helped in my ongoing development & style on both electric and upright basses.

"A great moment came in 77' while in studio recording tracks for an early album for the Mighty Flyers, 'The Chicago Flying Saucer Band'." Rod Piazza and Bill Stuve. Photo by Mark Weber

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

I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled and played so many venues all around the world. Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, South America, Mexico, Canada as well as the USA. Just recently I was invited to play on the LRBC with a reunion of The Mighty Flyers. Rod Piazza, Honey, Alex Schultz, Jimi Bott, along with Rods current lineup were all on board this fantastic cruise which sailed the Caribbean for an unforgettable week of music.

Which memory from Mighty Flyers makes you smile?

I will never forget the first tour of Europe we did with the Flyers. It was 84’. We were treated almost like US Ambassadors of the West Coast Blues. At the time no one was playing the type Blues we were creating. It mainly was the soul of Chicago Blues mixed together with a king sized helping of swinging Jump Blues which made for a powerful yet sophisticated sound . The 90's really saw a gigantic resurgence of the Blues in the United States. We hit the road and we hit it hard. 6 or 7 tours a year along with our extensive club work, we played for a lot of fans.

What is the “think” you miss most from the original Jump Blues era?

If only I could have been there! To have seen Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown all the early Basie, Ellington bands, Muddy, Wolf and hundreds more all in their prime. Man, to me that would have been heaven . One major thing I miss from those glory days is the volume everyone played at. They used the acoustics of the room to amplify their sound, mainly because they didn't have the loud amps that they have now. Something has gone terribly wrong with the way everything gets miked and spiked. The whole reason that stuff back then sounds so cool, even on the records, is because you can hear the wood of those old guitars & basses and the reeds of those saxophones. It was all about the approach. The feel! Unfortunately, that is hard to find these days.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?                                              (Photo: Bill and Pinetop Perkins)

I was lucky to have met and played with some of my heroes before they passed on. First I got to play some concerts in Johnny Taylor’s band. Getting to play songs like Who's Making Love and I Believe was magical. Then when I started playing with Rod in 77', we did a lot of great shows through the years backing George Harmonica Smith, Shakey Jake, Smokey Wilson, Hollywood Fats, Joe Liggins, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, Pee Wee Crayton, Little Willie Littlefield, Floyd Dixon, Mickey Champion Johnny Dyer, Al Duncan, Katie Webster, Earl King, Snooks Eaglin, Big Joe Turner, Pinetop Perkins, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Little Milton, Jimmy Rodgers, Larry "Texas Flood" Davis, Joe Houston. Willie Dixon. Some of these people we recorded albums with. These Blues Greats were my idols. I couldn't believe it. They welcomed me like family. Just being on stage with these guys. There are no words to describe the feeling they projected on stage. It was something that I had never felt before. It was like they allowed me in. The feeling!   

       One of the great things along with playing with these guys is the down time. Hanging out back stage, traveling. You really get to know em ' !

Why did you think that Bill Stuve continues to generate such a devoted following?

As of late, I've been nominated again for the 12th time for The 2013 American Blues Awards for “Bass Instrumentalist". I've been doing a lot of club dates here in the LA area with a lot of the great talent & line ups. My band, Big Noise, I try to work with as much as possible. One memorable show I played on not long ago was with Junior Watson, Linwood Slim, Fred Kaplan, Sax Gordan, & Richard Innes. Did a 10 date tour with my buddy RJ Mischo and his great band. There has been a Mighty Flyers Reunion Tour, that I talked about earlier, that has done a handful of festivals and has been a big success. There are discussions on going and hopefully we will do more of these. I was also asked to play on 7 songs on the award nominated "Double Dynamite" CD by The Mannish Boys for Delta Groove. And I love doing as much recording studio work as I can get. 

         I'm blessed to have been able to sustain my career for as long as I have. It's been almost 40 years. There's probably a lot of reasons why. I think passion plays a big part. And a natural born talent. I have my health. And people seem to enjoy what I do. 

I take what I do very seriously. I try to bring it 100%. Like Thelonious Monk said "If your swingin' swing harder!" I like that !

What is the difference between the upright bass and electric bass about the “blues” feeling and groove?

Upright & Electric Basses can be both very useful in creating groove and feeling. One major difference is the pure tone of the upright. It's a bigger sound. Like Charlie Musselwhite told me once. "You can feel it coming up thru the floor!" It creates a different vibe to any given song. You can start off playing a song on electric and change to upright. Play the same notes & pattern and the band will completely change their approach to the same song. I like having both instruments at my disposal. I use a 66' Ampeg AUB-1 Fretless Electric or an Eastwood EUB-1 Fretless Electric. Both are set up as close to an upright as possible. So on the road or fly ins I can get my sound without having to rely on a rented upright or have to pay for the shipping my upright.   (Photo by Hiener Hass)

Bill Stuve - Official website

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