Growing up in Cincinnati, Chris Sherman, the young man that once aspired to be a magician, was exposed to the underbelly of the low-end. With bass legends like Bootsy Collins and the legendary record company, King Records — the company who helped launch the career of James Brown, amongst others — calling his city home, the boy that would become Freekbass became a product of his environment and his initial magical aspirations; thereby becoming a magician bassist, if you will… and a Freek was born.
Today, he is widely known as a wizard and master of the bass guitar and other enhancing gadgets, and the minds’ who witness the creative onstage personification of his instrument are nothing short of consistently blown. Fortunately for those who either want to A) relive the mind-blowing experience over their car stereo or B) get a first glimpse of the “freekshow,” it all shines through brilliantly on his latest album, Concentrate.
Freekbass took moment away from a Cincinnati Reds game to sit down with Honest Tune for a conversation that ranged from the art of collaboration to his opinion of what a bassist’s primary role is and the surreal nature of having one of his idols (Bootsy Collins) as a player on his new album.
Honest Tune: Why the name Freekbass?
Freekbass: It is a kind of funny story that I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version of. When I first started working with Bootsy [Collins], I would go in his studio for a recording session and it was right when he first met me and me and a guitar player were over there. My birth given name is Chris and the guitar player’s name was Chris. So [Bootsy] would just be like “hey, Chris bass, come over here and do this” and “hey Chris guitar, go over there and do this.” So it started there with the bass thing and then he began pulling out all of these effects that he wanted me to use – a lot of stuff that I was already familiar with — and I just started going crazy with it and doing all this crazy stuff with them and he was like “you got that freaky bass going on over there, this freak bass thing happening. Then after awhile, they just started shortening it and calling me Freekbass. Next thing I know, everybody in the studio is calling me Freekbass. Then I would go out and play other studio gigs and because Bootsy had called me that, it just stuck. Now, my mom has even slipped up a few times and called me Freekbass.
HT: Prior to your professional relationship, my understanding is that you were a Bootsy admirer of sorts. Is that correct?
FB: Sure. You know, Bootsy is from Cincinnati, I am from Cincinnati and Cincinnati has always been a huge hotbed of funk. It’s kind of bizarre because it is kind of a conservative city, but funk and bluegrass have always been really huge here. You can’t grow up in Cincinnati and not know who James Brown is. Even though James Brown isn’t from Cincinnati, King Records was here which is where he recorded many of his songs. So me being a bass player and funk fan, Bootsy was always someone that I was a huge fan of. Â The way we actually met was through one of his [Bootsy’s Rubber Band] singers, a guy named Gary “Mudbone” Cooper was doing some demo stuff for a funk & soul [record] label in Japan and they were doing a Jimi Hendrix Tribute Record and [Cooper] and a guy named Michael Hampton (P-Funk) were doing a track and he asked me if I would play bass on a track.Â So I was like “Yeah, of course!” and I was very excited about it. So I asked “where are we recording it?” He was like “we are recording it at Bootsy’s.” I was like (makes a lip quivering noise), like a nervous cartoon character. After that, [Bootsy] called me and was like “we should do some stuff together,” so that is how it all started.
HT: And now, Bootsy is a contributor on your latest album, Concentrate. You talk about going into his studio where he was in control of what was going on musically. I am wondering what it was like to see the roles sort of reverse this many years later?
FB: It is very surreal. It is Yin and Yang in a lot of ways. You know, Bootsy is the one who took me under his wing when I was still a kid — showing me my way around the studio — how to work a board, how to sample.
So obviously having him playing on my record is a huge honor. It has been an exciting thing, not just as a bass player, but as a musician, songwriter and most of all, as a person.
HT: In a recent conversation with George Porter Jr., he was talking about what he feels is the bassist’s primary role and he said that he thinks it is to be “the guardian of the groove.” In another conversation, he talked about how he feels that as a bassist, it is his job to “tie himself to the drummer.” What are your thoughts on a bassist’s primary roles when in a band?
FB: Well, you know, those are great quotes and I agree. The foundation is the cake and it has to happen before you can even think about putting any icing on it. One of my favorite bassists ever was James Jamerson, the guy who played bass (uncredited) on most of the Motown records. Some of my favorite bass lines that he did were two or three note lines. It wasn’t a matter of playing rapid machinegun fire or “let me show you how great my chops are.” It was foundational. It all starts there, with the groove and after that, you can take it to whatever level you want to.
HT: It is interesting to hear you talk about the studio because I don’t think a lot of people think of you in the studio when they think of you due to the constant live touring that you are involved with. It sounds like that is exactly where you started (in the studio). What was it like for you to now come back into the studio and buckle down for the recording process with Concentrate or your previous record?
FB: Right. Well, when I first started out, even the idea of putting Freekbass out on the road, a lot of my stuff was kind of conceptualized in the studio and I didn’t know how I was going to take that on the road. To me, that is what is so exciting about the whole electronic scene right now. There is that element of it where you are doing the (studio) creation work but you are doing it live. And that is so exciting because things like working with my drum machine or looping my bass — all of that stuff was stuff that I learned in the studio, so doing that in a live setting was like the best of both worlds. And that is kind of where Concentrate‘s calling card was.
HT: One of the things that caught my attention when listening to the record was the samplings of Morgan Freeman’s Lean on Me character, Joe Clark, where it repetitively goes into his vocal of “concentrate.” Was there any particular reason why you chose to go with that line? It obviously had an influence all the way to the title of the album itself.
FB: It just fit. Me and Tobotius (DJ, the other half of Freekbot) are both fans of the film and we were listening to that track once it was almost completed and it just had that intensity to it and it was actually [Tobotius] who was like “I’ve got these samples of Morgan Freeman from Lean on Me that I think will fit for where I see the direction of the record is going.”
HT: Well it worked out well. You surround yourself with other virtuosos of their instruments: Skerik (saxophone), Mike Dillon (vibraphone), Steve Molitz (keys), Mike Gordon (bass), DJ Logic and many more.Â What goes into the decision for you in regards to which cats you opt to join on stage or in the studio?Â
FB: Well, almost everybody that you mentioned, it was a very organic kind of situation. It just happened naturally. For example, with DJ Logic, he and I had been on a few of the same festival bills together and we were on a bill in Pennsylvania and I have always been a huge Logic fan and his set was right after my set at the festival and he said “hey, why don’t you come up here and make some noise with me?” Ironically, Steve Molitz was there as well. So the three of us came up on stage and I thought it was just going to be a five or ten minute jam and it ended up being an hour and a half later and we were still up there rocking out. So that was actually the birth of Headtronics.
With Mike Gordon, I was doing this thing for Bass Player Magazine and they had a thing called “Bass Player Live” up in New York City. This was probably four or five years ago. They had different clinics and they had me up there to do one of the bass clinics, it was a funk clinic. Long story short, Mike was there, we talked, exchanged numbers and then for a long time we would just text back and forth. A lot of bass players — and it may be this way for all musicians but it seems like bass players especially — sit around and talk about gear and other bass geek stuff. So Mike and I would just go back and forth in that capacity. Then on my last record, Junkyard Waltz, I was kind of joking with Mike and said “hey, I am doing this new record and I would love for you to do a track” kind of tongue in cheek — not really thinking that he would be able to do it. He called me right after he had finished up his set at 10klf and he said “I have got a couple of days off, I am going to come down there and do that track.”
Getting back to the initial point, I mean obviously as a musician, you always want to try and play with every single person and the music scene is really not that big. It’s like one degree of separation for pretty much everybody.Â So most of the time, collaborations are sort of born out of the curiosity of wondering how your sound might sound with somebody else’s.
HT: Along those lines, do you have a preference in regards to whether you play with a group of people or would you rather be known as a soloist?
FB: With all the stuff that has been going on over the past few years, sitting in with different people, it just feels right. You know, as crazy as I look as a bass player with all of my crazy stuff, I really just like to suit and groove with people.
All of the people that I looked up to were those types of musicians. So I always want to get in with people and add my little thing to whatever it is that they have going. Like Bernie Worrell, he would be playing on a Talking Heads record one minute and a P-Funk record the next. He is one of my favorite musicians of all times because when he adds his thing to a track, you know it’s [Bernie Worrell] but he melds into whatever that person’s or that band’s thing is while still keeping his identity.
So if my whole career ends up being that way then I will be more than a happy camper.