Planet Bass – The John McCoy Interview January 2006
John McCoy is a legendary bassist who is best known for his work with Ian Gillan and Mammoth as well as numerous other bands and sessions since the late 1960's. He currently plays in GMT with former Gillan/Ozzy guitarist Bernie Torme and Bruce Dickinson/Sack Trick drummer Robin Guy.
GMT's website is at www.gmtrocks.com (updates coming soon)
What inspired you to first pick up a bass and what were your first attempts at playing it like?
In the 1960s(!) I was in a working beat group whilst still at school (The Drovers) playing lead guitar. I wasn't that good but got by on Chuck Berry ,Pretty Things, numbers etc. In 1967 I answered an ad in the Yorkshire Post for a band touring Germany, went along to audition only to find they had just given someone else the job, but still needed a bass player. I auditioned on a bass that was there, got the job and went down the nearest music shop, traded my six string and AC30 for a Fender Precision and a Selmer Goliath Rig. The following week I was a pro musician .The band was called "Mamas Little Children" and it was different things to different gigs. On the U.S. bases circuit it was a soul review with gogo dancers playing a catalogue of Stax soul stuff, in the German clubs like the Star club Hamburg, we ditched the dancers and played a rock set of Who, Stones, Chuck Berry etc. It was pretty wild for the time, the band was run by the drummer one Charly Chuck who still crops up from time to time performing his bizarre humour! This went on during late 67 and into 68 when I had to quit because I'd been working illegally under age! Came back to Britain went to London and was lucky enough to land the bass gig with ex DRIFTERS Clyde McPhatter touring U.K. This was a serious gig for me and I had to learn quick and stay on my toes.
Who were your early influences and what did you learn from them?
My earliest influences were Philip Upchurch Combo, Donald "Duck" Dunn who was on most of the Stax stuff I was learning followed by, John Gustafson, John Entwistle, and the bass player with Blood Sweat & Tears who I think was called Jim Fielder.
Did you take lessons or are you
I'm self taught as far as guitar and bass are concerned but while at school was taught to play cello and trumpet. There weren't any guitar teachers around in those days!
What’s the most important bit of advice you were given by another musician?
Get a lawyer.
What’s the most important bit of advice you could give to new bassists?
Listen, play with people you enjoy, don't step on anyone's toes (musically) and work with the drummer to become a unit.
Where do you stand on the old fingers vs. plectrums debate and why?
In the middle, I swap from pick to fingers if the song needs a smooth approach but play mostly with picks (Fender extra heavy large triangles) because it allows greater precision and attack.
Do you play 4, 5 or 6 string basses mainly? Fretted or unfretted?
I play traditional four string fretted. I've had fretless basses and six string and eight string basses but found that these were useful for the odd number but always came back to four string.
How would you define your style of playing?
Ask someone else! I like to think that my playing is Loud, solid, deceptively simple, sensitive, reliable, melodic, unusual, unique, rhythmic, funny, complex, creative, right for the song, economical, all at the same time! Yes you've guessed, I'm bloody wonderful!
Tell us a little about the artists and bands you have worked with, and how/if you adapted to playing with each of them?
This answer could take a long time so here's a list of some artists/bands I've played with. The Drovers. Mamas little Children. Clyde McPhatter. Welcome. Curtiss Maldoon. Julie Felix. V.H.F. Scrapyard. Samson. John Du Cann Band. Francis Rossi. Andy Bown. Neo. Mike Hugg. ZZebra. Quadrant. McCoy. The Coolies. Curved Air. Atomic Rooster. Bernie Torme. Gillan. Colin Towns. Sledgehammer. U.K.Subs. Mammoth. Sun Red Sun. Joey Belladonna Band. The Split Knee Loons. G.M.T. etc etc plus loads of one off sessions. As you can see if you know any of these bands they do vary considerably in style from R&B to folk, from soul to heavy Rock, through Jazz and Jazz rock to melodic pop, and so on but it's hard to say how I've adapted my style specifically, I just always seem to make the same old rumbling racket!
Of the artists and bands you've played with who was the most inspirational and why?
I have to say ZZebra. This was a truly exceptional line up of musicians....spurred on by saxophonist/percussionist Loughty Amao who had previously been with Osibisa. We were experimental when it was still o.k. to be and stretched ourselves daily, exploring new areas to amalgamate into our performances. I learned a lot about feel and time signatures in that band and my playing improved noticeably (I think)
Do you warm up before a concert and if so how?
Depends on the situation, sometimes if I have enough brainspace and time.
Do you have any other last minute rituals or habits before a concert?
Not that I'm aware of.
What do you drink onstage?
Depends, anything from water, wine, Guinness...
Have you ever played while drunk or under the influence of drugs?
Yes of course.
What’s the biggest disaster you’ve ever had onstage, and how did you cope with it?
I was playing a festival in Genk, or was it Gent? In Belgium anyway, with my own band McCoy promoting my "Think Hard" album. We were into pyros and at a given point in the set our roadies would set fire to smoke pellets on the back of the cabs (very effective and cheap!).....Some Belgium crew decided they were up to no good and tried to stop them, a fight began behind the gear and quickly got out of hand, spread to the audience and soon there was a full scale battle going on in the place. For some reason I decided to do a strip (Not a pretty sight) centre stage while guitar and drums played "The Stripper" anyway it seemed to have the desired effect an we were able to continue. In fact I've had lots of disasters but I wont bore you further!.........
What’s the biggest disaster you’ve ever had in the studio, and how did you cope with it?
In the mid seventies I was very busy doing lots of sessions, I was lucky enough to get the bass job with a sixty piece orchestra, recording theme tunes and incidental music for Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame. This first session was for a show called "Space 1999" which is still rerun today, now I'm not the best sight reader and always struggled with complicated charts, anyway the drummer Liam Genockey and I had been out partying till 5a.m. and arrived on the sound stage late in a terrible state due to alcohol, cannabis, and LSD a few hours before! I was given my part which to my acid eyes was the proverbial incomprehensible dots moving around on the page. I went to the bathroom, threw up, dropped my parts down the toilet and passed out. Liam woke me ,we went back to the soundstage where 58 "proper" musicians were waiting impatiently and just busked it! Everyone seemed to like it and if I ever see the show the bass seems incredibly loud! Ahh...the folly of youth!......
What’s been your proudest playing moment?
Hard one, don't know............
What’s been the most fun playing moment, and why?
Has to be with The Split Knee Loons supporting Gillan at Liverpool Empire. The entire evening was the final of a band competition, and the Loons were right up there with other contenders, we went on played the Loons version of "She was a real egg timer" and brought the house down. One of the judges was Bruce Dickinson who must have been well confused as the lyrics we were singing were actually his! modified from Samson lyrics we had found laying around Kingsway recorders where we both recorded. Another judge was Rick Wakeman who later told me "John, you're fucking mad!"......
What’s been the least fun playing moment, and why?
Would have to be Wembley Arena 1982.The end of The Gillan "Magic" tour. For the last few days we, the band were sure that it was the end, and finishing that tour was very difficult having learnt that we had been ripped off in the most cruel and disgusting way, but that's another story............
What equipment do you use live and in the studio and why?
I've always used predominately Marshall in various configurations, I've also used Trace Elliot, but its a bit clean for my personal taste, I used to be more picky but now I'll use whatever's available and enjoy the challenge of adapting to it. Currently happy with Marshall 200w integrated amp driving 2x15 cab and a Marshall 100w lead amp driving 4x12 cabs
What one piece of equipment would you advise all bass players to own?
The best bass guitar you can afford....
Do you read music?
see question about disasters in the studio.........
Do you play any other instruments, and how well?
Yes, I play anything I can get my hands on, I'm quite good at guitar, drums, trumpet, cello, double bass and have a collection of weird and wonderful stringed instruments from around the world.....
Do you write or co-write songs and if so do you write on the bass?
Yes I have a couple of hundred songs published...I enjoy writing and in particular co-writing, that always seems to work best for me........
Do you sing? Do you feel it is important?
I can sing, but hate the sound of my own voice. I've always admired people who can sing and play good bass...John Gustafson, Phil Lynott, Glenn Hughes etc etc.....
If you could nominate one song that you’ve recorded to sum up your playing style and feel which one would it be?
Ask someone who knows......
What have you been doing recently?
I have a new band/project called G.M.T. imaginatively based on our names Robin Guy, John McCoy, Bernie Tormé. We've recorded an album and are just doing final mixes. It's a traditional British Rock 3 piece which has really inspired me to get back into my playing again.....I've been doing mostly studio production work for a while now and this is a really great line-up, its so good to working with Bernie again and he's playing like a demon. Robin is quite simply the best drummer I've come across in a long time, we work well together and he's quite mad which helps. We should be touring this year, check it out!....
Do you have a personal or band website? Or would you like to recommend any other useful websites?
.......try www.gmtrocks.com or www.Angelairrecords.co.uk