Buell Neidlinger: From Taylor to Zappa to the Carpenters
BN: She is an amazing artist. You know, she never practices, never warms up. She just opens her mouth and the most beautiful voice I think I’ve ever heard... the three most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard have been pop or whatever kind of music you want to call it, and they were her, Karen Carpenter, and Billie Holliday. Now when I worked with Billie she had no voice left at all; it was like ‘sprechstimmung’... it’s a singing technique devised by Arnold Schoenberg where instead of singing the notes she spoke them in a whispered way. There’s a little bit of pitch to them, but not very much. And that’s the way that Billie was singing towards the end of her career. Those are real voices. I still hear Karen; I made a lot of records with them too [The Carpenters]. I go to airports or supermarkets or whatever, and her voice comes over the loudspeakers, and the fuckin’ hair goes up on the back of my neck – you can hear why, the same with Barbra. My wife and I were in the orchestra that opened the MGM Grand Ballroom with Barbra, I think it was New Years’ Eve 1993. My wife’s a bassist too – I don’t know if you know that...
AAJ: No, I didn’t know that.
BN: She’s the most recorded bassist of all time. She plays on the flipside of “We Are the World,” although now they say I’m the most recorded bassist ‘cause I play on the Eagles’ greatest hits album, which I believe has now surpassed the Lionel Ritchie effort.
AAJ: Are you still doing much studio stuff?
BN: I do quite a bit; but I can’t talk about it because I do all non-union work... I won’t go into it, but I stopped working in LA in August 1997. That was my last session there; after that I resigned from the AFM, and ever since then every bit of work I do is cash. I don’t feel that I can name the people that I work for, ‘cause most of them belong to the union and I would get them in trouble. You’d be amazed how many people belong to the union, and big film companies that are signatories to major contracts with the union are just falling all over themselves to get up here to Seattle, or out in Nashville or wherever they can go, to get their product for between 39 to 50 percent cheaper. So that’s the kind of work I find myself doing; I collect a pension check every month from all the work I did, a huge [royalty] check once a year from all the union work I did, and now I’m doing non-union work exclusively.
AAJ: Well, do you ever find any disadvantages to having your hand in so many pots over the years, as far as concentration or direction?
BN: No; I didn’t’ play ‘cello for 25 years and then I got one, and now I play almost as exquisitely as I did when I was eleven or twelve. So whatever you do keeps going no matter how long you don’t do it for I guess... I saw early on that there was no way to have a career in [jazz], without being out of town all the time and living in cheap hotels, starving to death, and so I was determined to learn to do every style I could and it’s put me in good stead. I think every musician owes it to himself to learn to play in every style that’s possible.
Let’s look at these musicians. Let’s look at the bass players – Paul Chambers, Jimmy Garrison. They’re dead, man, you know, long before it was time for them to die. Why was that? It was because they couldn’t get work anymore. They destroyed their physique through using drugs and trying to compete with loud drummers. And we could name a bunch of other bass players too, and many players of other instruments. I didn’t want a life like that. I wanted a home if possible, children, stuff like that. So I had to learn what to do.