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Oteil Burbridge: Long Live the Dead

Alan Bryson By

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"When you come from a jazz or classical background, it's all about chops, chops, chops. But with BB, he could play the same licks, but they would be different every single time. That's seemingly impossible (laughing) but it's not! It's never the same thing. He never had any blockage between what he is and his guitar. And his voice, you hear every bit of what you love about him, and all the hardship and adversity that he came from."

"We have a theme that just keeps coming up about the adversities of life, and I kind of learned it out of the Bible, but the metaphor or analogy of the wine-press, everybody loves the fine wine, but nobody likes being the grapes, (both laughing) That's what BB and all the greats are, it's just that fine wine that came from them being crushed. Everybody got to drink it and appreciate it."

The power of Son House

"If they had had an easier life, we might not have got that. I don't know, but I have a suspicion that for some crazy reason that was all part of the plan. Because you don't get the wine without the grapes getting' stepped on. Some people just embrace it, you don't necessarily have to be born into a hard situation as far as prejudice or race, or anything like that, but you might be born into an abusive family. Who knows what the situation is. But it seems when people overcome that darkness and don't let it kill their spirit, there seems to be some really fine wine that comes out of that."

Musical parents

"My dad did, but he didn't think he was good enough to risk making a career of it. He wanted a family more than anything and that's what he chose, thankfully for me, because I'm really glad that he was home. I just had my first child at 50, and I'm so glad I'm not on the road all the time that I get to spend this time with him. It makes me think of my dad so much, but he did play flute—which is probably how Kofi (Oteil's slightly older brother) played flute, (laughing) when he really wanted to be a keyboard player, although he loves the flute too."

Kofi's flute solos

"Oh my God, it's his first instrument, and I'm still trying to catch up to him. He knows so much musically. What a great gift that was to my dad, because they discovered at seven that Kofi had perfect pitch (laughing) so my dad was really psyched! That was a great confluence of events there, as far as my dad loving music so much, and then at seven finding out his son had perfect pitch. So he turned him on to all the greatest stuff, he had a huge library of music at the house. I obviously benefited from that too, from Kofi and my dad. I started playing the drums when I was five, I started playing earlier than that (laughing) but they got me drums so I would stop beating on everything else. I picked up bass guitar around 14, we all played piano at some point when we were young, and had piano lessons, and violin for me and my younger sisters. But Kofi had already taken off on the flute, so I don't think he ever had to do violin."

Acoustic bass

"It was always electric bass because I was into funk—well, I was into jazz on drums, and had studied it on drums. My brother Kofi actually bought the first bass guitar, and when he went away to school I picked it up. It was like Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelic , and Stevie Wonder was what I wanted to play. That kind of stuff was just ubiquitous when we were growing up. Like so much jazz too, so I might not know who was the drummer or keyboard player was on this or that session, but all that stuff is so deeply ingrained in my head—because we heard it everyday."

"My dad wanted me to get into jazz, and I think my brother kind of used fusion as a bridge to jazz. So it started with funk and Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire were a bridge that took me to fusion, which then took me to jazz. But I never wanted to carry around an upright, and that wasn't my first love. My first love was Bootsy Collins and Verdine White, and Larry Graham—it was electric bass. To this day I still don't play upright bass."

"I own a broken one that a friend gave me (cracking up) and I still haven't had it fixed. But I've played other peoples, and it actually hurt my arms because its a different set of muscles, like in my right arm and forearm. If I went long enough, I'm sure it would go all the way down my back. And the left hand spacing is so different and alien to me, and I've always played fretted instruments. I never pursued fretless because there were so many Jaco (Pastorius) clones that I just went in a complete other direction."


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