This article about me in Bass Player
magazine is from the October, 2000 issue.
Thanks to Thomas Wictor for doing the
interview and writing the story.
Arthur Barrow - Celebrating Diversity
by Thomas Wictor
Arthur Barrow's career would make any bassist envious. The San Antonio native is probably best known for his stint with Frank Zappa, but he's also toured, recorded, or cowritten songs with the Doors, Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, Billy Idol, Berlin, the Motels, Janet Jackson, Nina Hagen, and Oingo Boingo. His soundtrack credits include Scarface, Metropolis, Top Gun, The Breakfast Club, several documentaries and TV shows, and the re-released Greta Garbo silent film "The Torrent", for which he scored almost 90 minutes of music. Producer, arranger, engineer, and session musician at his Los Angeles studio, Barrow has still managed to put out three solo albums and complete more projects than there's room to list here. So what's his secret?
"The one thing I'd say to young bassists is, 'Diversify!' Every musician needs keyboard skills to really understand music. I play bass, guitar, and keyboards, so I can cover a lot of ground-and I can recreate other instruments with synthesizers and samplers. Now that I've got a CD-ROM burner and a printer, someone could walk in with a song and walk out with a finished CD. You couldn't do that with vinyl records-no one had a mastering lathe in their studio." .
A multi-instrumentalist from an early age, Barrow studied composition at North Texas State but didn't pick up the bass until he was 21. "1 was a huge Zappa fan, and I decided I was going to play with him. At that time he played guitar himself, and I was never going to be as good as George Duke on keyboards, so I started playing bass, entirely in the hopes of being Frank's bassist someday. When I got the audition in '78, 1 played the melody from his song 'Saint Alphonso,'which was very fast and complex. Frank always pushed his musicians, asking you to do things you didn't think you could. He really stretched you."
In the '80s Barrow hooked up with disco producer Giorgio Moroder, an experience that taught him the workings of the music business. "I learned a lot about making pop records-what's important and what isn't. I was working so much and we were under a lot of pressure, especially with all those movies. I learned to work with inflexible deadlines."
As a bassist Arthur concentrates on the Three T's: tone, time, and taste. "I also need to play in as many styles as I'm aware of. I never did thumb-slapping, for example, until I worked with Zappa. I prefer to play with my fingers, like a 'real' bassist. When I play rock, though, I use a pick because it gives the sharpest attack. With Frank, I'd play with two fingers and palm a pick with the other two so I pop it out when I needed it.'
For amplification Barrow uses an SWR SM-400S stereo head powering a Goliath III 4x 10. His three basses-a Music Man StingRay 5, a fredess'77 Gibson Ripper, and a Fender Jazz he bought used-have one thing in common: weight. "Bass guitars need to be made out of really heavy wood. If they don't hurt your shoulder after 15 minutes, they're too light. It's physics. You wouldn't have a speaker cabinet made out of balsa-it's the same with a bass. You want a solid mass so the body stays in one place while the string vibrates. That's what gives you sustain."
For his solo work Barrow likes to write pieces with "fast, funny, angular little melodies that go all over the place." But he also sees music as a pyramid built from the bottom up, so he's perfectly happy just playing a groove. Arthur knows major record labels aren't looking for diversity these days, so he's joined the growing number of musicians who exploit the Internet. "The basic rule is an album should have a consistent sound so you can tell which band it is. That's okay, but one of my favorite records is Sgt. Pepper's, which goes all over the place. I break all the rules with my music, too; I like jazz, rock, fank, and techno, so my records are a mixture of all that stuff, with definite Zappa influences. You can't be a professional musician without fans, though, so there's hope for the future in the internet. It's an end around the whole music business."
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