No 20 May 2005

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Tony Senatore
Lord of the Sub-tones! An in-depth talk with Bassist, Songwriter and Musician Tony Senatore about his powerful new solo project, ‘Holyland’.

Tony SenatoreTony Senatore has done a most unusual thing…

He has produced an album of truly fine songs on his first outing as a solo artist and bass player. Many bass players, particularly when they are given or take the opportunity to produce their first solo project, often go right over the top. Take away the democratic control of working with other players in a group effort, remove the music director in a project, a soundtrack, a jingle and the bassist often goes the route affectionately and somewhat sardonically called by Tony, a ‘wankfest’. Some are still doing that after 5 or more albums!

It has to be remembered than more often than not, the bassist in fulfilling his ‘role’ as musical supporter and rhythm enforcer and when given the chance to step forward and show what he or she can do, does what any person would do. They go nuts! ‘Finally someone is listening to ME. After all, I paid for this!'

Tony or ‘Senny’ as his friends call him, went the opposite route. Though the lessons he has learned through his many years working as a session player, he has discovered how to craft a song that picks a theme, whether it be an emotional statement, or a melodic one, and he explores it from front to back, and does not feel the need to use the song as a crucible for his ego.

He is a genuinely decent guy and like a lot of gentle souls, he has been thoroughly tread upon by musicians and others in his life. The jerks of the world always confuse kindness with weakness. He found out the hard way (but perhaps the best way), who his true friends are.

But like the gutsy s.o.b. that he is, Senatore took the crap that life and people can dish you and used it as a catalyst to put out a stunning musical tour de force. His foray into the world of bandleader and soloist offers us 13 songs, with only one of them, (an extremely well done nod to Lennon, McCartney and Harrison), longer than 4 and a half minutes.

This album, entitled ‘Holyland’, is of such a calibre, that if the gods and we mortals have the wisdom to perceive, it could propel Mr. Senatore into some serious success. This is no ‘wankfest’ but an album that will appeal to people who just love good music. That in fact, was his primary goal, and he succeeds righteously.

It is filled with songs that can make you laugh, make you smile, remind you of loves and beliefs lost, yet at the end of the day, remind us that we are all only human, that all of us have basically the same problems. Perhaps that, as presented by Mr. Senatore in this powerful and integrity driven album called ‘Holyland’, is not such bad thing after all!


Bass Inside: We will start with some of the usual questions and move into more depth as the interview unfolds…So do you still teach Tony? When we spoke to you last in 2000, you had 15 students. Are you still as heavily involved that way and if so are any of the 15 people from 5 years ago, still students of yours?

Tony: I actually had stopped teaching in January, 2003 when I started recording HOLYLAND. Now that my CD is out there, I am teaching again at a place called the School Of Rock, which is based on the movie of the same name. The emphasis of the School is to get the kids out there and jamming, even if they are not quite ready.

Bass Inside: Do you see any exceptional people in this current crop of students? Any naturals?

Tony: It's a little early to tell. Everyone seems to have problems with pitch and meter. I try my best to address these problems by stressing ear training, and playing with them with a drum machine. It’s not foolproof, but it's a starting point.

With Holyland being as it is, it could stand a considerable chance of catching fire and that may force you to consider taking it on the road. When last we spoke, you were fully involved in the care and raising of your niece. This was something you took very seriously. My question is: Have you thought about what you might do to handle your current parental responsibilities in that eventuality and how will you balance this?

I still do all of the things that I always did for my niece. I have raised her for 11 years, and she is my biggest priority, however, should a situation arise, such as a tour, I am ready to deal with it, and so is she. Everyone in my family is stepping up, and my niece is becoming more self-sufficient too.

You had mentioned to me that is was in fact your ex-wife that you had to thank for bringing you to the point of doing this album? Do you feel comfortable talking about that?

I would like to tell a lot about that actually. It was through meeting my wife, and the eventual actual breaking up with her that is the whole reason my record is out there. The truth is, that before I met her, I was resting on my laurels. I was just content to be an eternal sideman for anyone who would hire me. That’s all I wanted to do. I was always looking for a gig. I was just always reticent to really step up to the plate and do something that was really me.

The thing is my ex-wife was and is an attorney. Though she didn’t know much about the music industry, she would say to me, “If you are as good as you say you are, why don’t you just do your own project? Something with your name on it?” I realized the work it would entail and I wasn’t really sure if I had anything original to say. But meeting her was the catalyst for everything because instead of her telling me I should be working 8 hours somewhere doing this day gig, she would tell me, “Go upstairs and work on this record. You need to do it.”

I started to see what she meant. This would be the way I wouldn’t have to depend on anybody, to really take the bull by the horns. So I realized that I had better start coming up with some ideas and concepts. Then another vital thing was eventually meeting Dann (Glenn). I have to say that for all purposes I have only known Dann recently. I can’t say I knew about him when I was 18 or in my 20’s. I had seen him in your magazine at the time (Global Bass- http://www.globalbass.com/archives/may_2000.htm) and some ads I saw with him for Mackie. I knew he was some kind of character and I liked that he was really brash. I just sent him like a very nice email asking him if I could be on his links from his site. I approached him from a position of respect and it was through that, he opened up to me a little bit. One thing led to another and he started sending me some of his CD’s.

Before, hearing them, I had lost interest in bass CD’s a long time ago, they bored me, but his were totally different than anything that I had heard. (Editor: That I can vouch for too, Dann has an approach like no one else).

He is not like anyone else, there’s no Jaco, no slap solos, it was really ‘out there’, I felt. I got really interested in it because here was a guy who is doing what he wants, kinda like Percy Jones. Doing his own unique thing, you know.

But back to my wife, I wanted to show her I had something different to say, but I was a little scared. But once I started really thinking about what I wanted to do. I decided that what I wanted to do was to take the players, the 70’s kind of players, the Jack Bruce’s, all the guys I grew up listening to, I wanted to make a record that showed how important those people were to me. And also to show how the inspiration that I got from them had manifested itself in my own original music.

The last time we talked you said you felt good that you have been able to carve out a respectable living doing sessions, but that you were aware that some opportunities had dried up. That interview was five years ago. How have things developed since then?

I was never a part of the big NYC session’s scene. I always made a living creating my own opportunities. Through the 90's, I did well, made a decent living, became a homeowner, etc.. Right now in 2005 as I see it-- there really is no NYC session’s scene. Everyone, including me, is playing lots of live gigs.

So where does the situation stand with regards to jingles, movies, sound tracks, other folks projects, studio work in general? If you had to, is there still sufficient work out there for a versatile player like yourself do make ends meet?

Tony SenatoreThere are a select few NY guys that still command a lot of money for their expertise, but I really don't know anyone that can make a living doing sessions anymore. The big craze in New York is subbing on Broadway. I know players that spend all their waking hours learning the book (the score) for 5 different shows. This is something I am not interested in.

When we talked the other day, you said that this was now a time of looking to new friends, new associates, new allies. That the ones you thought would be there for you from days of old are no where to be found. Is that a valid assessment of what you meant?

I have met a number of new people that have restored my faith in human nature. New acquaintances like Dann Glenn, Ken Dashow, Jon Pomplin, Paul Adamy, Andrew Rothstein and Keith Hannaleck have helped me in ways too numerous to mention.

With the larger labels failing apart more all the time and cost-cutting even with the smaller labels, do you still think the Internet can be a good place to make a moderate living?

I am selling CD's all over the world because of the Internet, and I am still largely unknown. I feel honored that people are taking a chance on me. It's incredibly exciting for me.

Thinking with a positive mindset, lets envision this album goes really well. A tour can be a strong consideration, there are interviews, articles, decent sales…is there still the creative juice to do a follow up at some point down the time line? Are there songs left over from this album that are looking for a home in the next project?

There isn't a ‘next CD’ in my future plans. I really feel that with this CD, I am portrayed the way I have always wanted to be portrayed. It's my ‘Pet Sounds’, my ‘Fish Out Of Water’. I really don't think I can top it. My future plans include producing some talented new artists, young or old, and perhaps forming a touring band comprised of some of the musicians that played on my CD. I am always interested in playing on other people's records-- I am doing a gig next week in New York for a young artist named Jason DellaValle. He is a young cat that has a great future, and he has hired me, the old pro, to bolster his chances of getting signed-It's all on the line for him. I live for things like this.

I realize that one of the motivators for this current album was the need to put some great pains to rest and to heal. Also so that you in your heart could say, ‘I made a musical statement that will be around for a long time to come’. Is that reasonably on the money and where there other reasons as well?

The primary reason I did my CD is exactly what you said. I wanted to make a musical statement that paid tribute to the music and musicians that inspired me, one that will be around long after I am gone.

Are you doing live gigs of your own material at this point or sometime soon? Will some or all of the folks on this album be joining you as their schedule allows? Have they expressed interest in working with you on future projects?

Definitely. I have already spoke with Van Romaine, and he is interested in getting something together. All the musicians that played on my CD are some of the most respected names in the industry, and they are all quite busy, but I hope that it becomes a reality.

I know that Jack Bruce was and is a major influence on people from our generation. What do you think of this forthcoming reunion with Jack, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker? Will you be there?!

The short answer is no.

The long answer is this…When I finally released my CD, I reached out to some of the guys that profoundly influenced my life. For the most part, I was rebuffed or ignored, in some cases disrespected. From this point on, I plan on conducting myself like a peer, and not just a fan, and I won't spend my hard earned money on people that are too absorbed in themselves to open up to me. I do admire Jack and his solo CD's after Cream were the finest work he's ever done- especially the writing.

Tony Senatore

You had a phenomenal collection of basses when last we talked, (over 30). Do you still have them all and what have you added since then? I am aware of the Guitarron, and as to the Carl Thompson bass, am I right in saying that you had some recent customizing done on the bass. What did you have done?

Andy Rothstein does all my guitar work these days. I had Kent Armstrong build me special passive pickups to replace the active ones. I ripped out the preamp, and Andy built a custom Varitone. At this time, I am working on the design of a special set of Flatwound set of strings specifically designed for Carl Thompson basses. They will be available on my website soon.

As well, you mentioned that when the house was sold you treated yourself to some basses! What were they?

I bought a 1991 Paul Reed Smith, and Ovation Magnum, and a Vox Constellation. I am a huge fan of 100-dollar cheapo basses that sound better than 3000-dollar custom made ones.

You have mentioned an fondness for the ‘old school’ of analog over digital in recording with your work at Visionary Studios. We you able to stay true to that preference in the recording of Holyland?

Initially, I wanted to do an all Analog CD, but my Engineer Frank Fagnano convinced me to at least try Digital, and I am so glad that I did. I would say that my CD is a combination of vintage gear recorded with the latest Digital technology.

I know you have some definite thoughts on what passes for talent these days. How these television shows build bands like they would a prefabricated house and with as much passion and vision and caring as a post-war row house. They make the record labels seem like paradise. How do you feel about the statement that these are nothing more than glorified Karaoke and that most of the time the ‘contestants’ should confine their ‘talents’ to the Karaoke bar or the shower?

I grew up on Sinatra, Martin and Lewis. Singin In the Rain, Citizen Kane, and the best that the entertainment world had to offer. I really don't know how else to put it other that the music and shows and ‘stars’ that are out there today are pure, unadulterated shit. They have not one ounce of any talent.

As to endorsements, many people heavily follow that path. So far it seems that you only have worked with GHS. If the album starts bringing companies out of the woodwork, will you talk to them?

I welcome any company that believes in me to get in touch with me. A company that will listen to me, and work with me. With all of the basses and equipment that I own, I feel qualified to work hand in hand with any company looking to create a innovative product.

Are there songs that didn’t make it to the cd and what where the guidelines you drew to make the difficult decisions as to who stays-who goes? I know songs become as children so it isn’t always easy. So are there songs on the drawing board that you wish now you had included?

I did everything that I wanted-I wanted to expose the younger players of today to the stuff I came up on--- The Jamerson- Bob Babbitt concept (Scorpio) the 70's power trio, fuzz bass styke (Apostrophe) and of course Shapla, which pays tribute to the most important music of my life, the Beatles. In retrospect, maybe I would have included a few more of my original tunes, but in truth, I am very happy as is.

Where so you stand with the band Mary’s Magnet you were involved with for some considerable time?

Mary's Magnet is long gone- but Andy Rothstein the guitarist of the group, has remained a close friend and ally. He co-wrote much of the material on Holyland, he updates my website on a sometimes daily basis, and as I said before, he works on all my basses.

You chose that great picture of you holding your much loved 12-string for the front cover. Now this is a bass you have had for a long time, isn’t it? Would you go the route of another 12-string at some point if money allows?

Tony 12 stringI bought the 12-string bass that I used on Holyland back in 1995. That thing turned out to be my ‘voice’. When I took that thing out of the case for the first time, I was immediately inspired to write music on it, to come up with a style of my own on it.

At the time, it really was the only one available. I included the name of the company all over the liner notes in my CD, hoping that they would take me seriously as an innovator, and work with me to create a better instrument, but instead, they blew me off. Before the 12-string however, I had a 6 string and while it’s great and I love it, it didn’t hit me like a 12-string. The 12 was my sound, it was just me.

Is it difficult to wrestle with, to overlook its difficulties in tuning, string changing,and limitation of speed with so many strings in such a relatively small area, the need for a lot of attention to accuracy when plucking the notes…

The 12-string is a bitch in all respects. It takes forever to change the strings, and takes forever to tune-- it's tough to record, especially when there are guitars on the tracks, but I got around that problem by having very little guitar on HOLYLAND, and the very best recording engineer in the business, Frank Fagnano.

You are not that interested in other extended range basses, this 12-string is in effect a 4-string with the sympathetic octaves. To control all of these octave strings, have you developed a particular technique to damp them when you are not playing them?

I play my 12-string bass fingerstyle, which to me makes for more interesting possibilities. I detune the low E string to D, and then play against the drone, creating a Sitar effect. I would have no interest in an instrument that had 12 fundamental strings--not for me...

So your ‘voice’, this 12-string has brought you a lot of satisfaction then?

Without sounding like an egomaniac, I really feel that I have taken the art of 12-string bass to a new level. I am the only 12-string bassist that has received a review from Bass Player Magazine. In truth, my CD is getting incredible response from non-musicians, fellow bassists are not getting it,because they are more caught up in gimmickry rather than writing. I made a point not to include fast slapping, tapping, or BeBop riffing, because I wanted my CD to be more than a ‘bass players’ record. I did not create my CD to live up to or measure up to anyone else's criteria on what a bass CD should be like.

What set the tone for you with this album?

Another big force that help me understand the kind of album I wanted to make was that all these that I mention on my CD (Editor’s note: Bob Babbitt, Dann Glenn, Tito Puente, Tony’s father, Allen Woody, The Beatles, Barry Oakley, John Entwistle) that as each day passes by, they are becoming more and more forgotten. People my age know who they are, but kids today, they don’t have a clue! And the way things are, they never will learn about these guys. Theirs is such an emphasis on mediocrity now it’s like it doesn’t even matter! I felt I had to make a record to show how important these guys were to me.

This is not a religious record, but with a title like HOLYLAND, people are gonna want to know why it was entitled this…or does it have to do with a musical holy land?

When I tell people, they don’t really realize that this is really the truth. When people hear the name HOLYLAND they think I am trying to say that I am walking in the spirit of legends. That it is about the past and musical history. I am the first to admit that I am very humble about the guys I respect. I will never think that I am on that level. I am not an arrogant man, this is about respect. But really it had to do with the timing of the end of my marriage. Things were really bad. She would come home from work and go directly to bed. I would think, “Did I do something wrong?”

So I had a gig up in Waterbury, Connecticut, about 120 miles away from my home in New Jersey. I was driving up Route 84 East to get up to Waterbury. So in the distance I saw this big cross and I didn’t know what it was about or for, I had never seen it before. I thought that when the job I was heading for was over, on my way back I am gonna find out where that cross was. On my way back, wouldn’t you know it, at 1 o’clock in the morning, this cross is illuminated. It was on the end of like a cliff. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen, it was so eerie.

So I was just there, looking at it. I didn’t know what it signifying. It had a sign that said ‘Holyland, USA’. So then I went on home and went to bed. Before I went to sleep I gave my wife a kiss, she was sleeping. The next day, she went to work and she called me. She told me that she wanted to separate, that she wanted to sell the new house. She said, “I don’t think I wanna be married anymore”. I agreed but I was devastated. Within a week of seeing that Holyland, USA cross I knew that everything was over. No religious connotations meant but I felt that is was really bizarre that right at the time I came across this place that my marriage ‘popped’. Because of that turning point, I knew then that this would be the title of my record.

So did this album do for you what you needed it to do when it comes to putting yesterday behind you? Do you see some brighter days because of Holyland? Was and is it an emotional catapult to your future?

I drove down myself to pick up the album when it was done and when I first held the CD in my hand, I knew that if I never played another note…If I were to quit music altogether, I could do it because I was so proud of what I had created. I knew also that that record was everything I had ever talked about and felt about music was there. That this record WAS Tony Senatore. The bass sounds that he likes, tribute is made to the guys that he likes as players.

I have no intention of stopping playing, but it was so good to know that because of HOLYLAND, I can move on with my life. My (now ex) wife was the reason I got off of my lazy ass. She provided for me the environment to get me focused. It took 2 years to record, but it's here now, and no one can take it away from me. I know now who my friends are, and who is on my ever-growing shit list. I feel that I have created something special, and I know this in my heart, regardless of what anyone says.

Well, time will truly tell if this really is the last solo project for Senny. Why not treat yourself to an extremely well-written and played album instead of just another 'whankfest' and order Tony's new CD? One never knows, if he sells a few hundred thousand, he might reconsider. That would be doing us all a favour.

Tony Senatore

Get more info on Tony Senatore from his website.

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