Several years ago a very good friend of mine asked me to play bass on a gig and learn what he said was the best disco song ever. I looked at him skeptically and he quickly pointed out that the song was in fact a really good song, period.
He also said it had a great bass line.
The song in question was Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and after listening I had to admit it was a very good song. And I liked the bass line and bass tone so much I wanted to know who was the bass player on the track.
A search on the Talk Bass forum revealed that the player in question was Henry E. Davis, the bass player for LTD and the same person that played the great bass line on “Back in Love Again.” I decided to contact Henry and ask him about how he got his great sound and groove.
Here’s what he had to say about his sound and approach to the Thelma Houston song:
I was influenced by Larry Graham, the Godfather of Thump. As a matter of fact, he was the first bass player that I was aware of that played walking octaves. I had no idea that he played with his thumb when I first heard him with Sly and the Family Stone, but I liked the lines he played so I incorporated his lines into my arsenal of riffs, practiced it until his lines felt comfortable in my hands. The Graham-influenced style of playing was first explored with my own group. LTD, and then “immortalized” first with Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover”, and then on Thelma Houston’s record. A lot of producers on subsequent sessions wanted that “Love Hangover thing” on their records. I complied but didn’t really feel it because those songs/sessions didn’t have all the same elements that the Love hangover sessions did; i.e. the song, the musicians, the studio, the time we recorded, the studio, the joking, the overall mood, etc. Musical performance is a “thing of the moment” that takes in to account everything involved in that moment; what’s happening influences what happens.
We exchanged more e-mails, discussing basses, strings, pickups, and his excitement over LTD getting back together, as well as a promise to give me a bass lesson when the tour got to New York. I also pointed out to him that he had achieved a type of immortality in that the recordings he made in the 1970s were being enjoyed 30 to 40 years later by an entirely new generation of listeners.
Sadly, Henry died last year and I never got to meet him and take that bass lesson. But I am very glad I got to tell him how much I enjoyed his work and how much it had influenced my playing. Indeed, I’ll be playing at least one of hist bass lines at The Top Shelf’s upcoming performance at The Cutting Room on March 22.
In the meantime, I leave you with two great Henry E. Davis bass performances. Enjoy.