YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Bass Player Stands Up to Any Style : Ventura musician Damon Jesse Kaye sets the pace whether the band plays surf, blues or rock.


People think bass players are the offensive linemen of rock 'n' roll. You don't really notice them; but without them, nothing happens. Yet, it seems about every band in limbo has just lost a bass player or is looking for one. The lead guitar gets the sizzling solos, the lead singer gets the girls, and the bass player (and the drummer) get to carry the stuff out to the truck.

Well, there's a little more to it than that, according to Damon Jesse Kaye, a local bass player, actually a stand-up bass player.

"The bass player's job is to drink," Kaye said soberly during a recent interview. "The drummer drinks, too. But besides that, bass players have a lot of soul, a lot of rhythm, and they need to have a good sense of timing. The bass and the drums are the core of the band. If you are a real bass player, you're not looking to be in the spotlight; but in reality, you're leading the band by setting the pace."

Now the difference between a stand-up bass and an electric bass is obvious. A stand-up bass won't fit in a Yugo, plus you have to be in shape to tote around an instrument that's bigger than you are. Kaye's bass is easy to recognize--it's got blues great Willie Dixon's autograph on it.

"One thing about the stand-up bass is that you have to play it harder," said the bass player. "And if you break a string, they're around $150 a set, and usually, they won't break a set for you. Also, the stand-up sounds better than the electric bass because it has its own distinctive sound. I dig Tom Waits, and he always uses a stand-up bass because it has that old sound. With a stand-up bass, I get some solos, but with an electric bass, what are you gonna do?"

This isn't some sort of hobby, either: Kaye doesn't have a day job. Just as Ward Bond seemed to be in every movie made between 1935 and 1960, Kaye seems to be in every local band because, apparently, everyone does need a bass player. Kaye was in Highway 33, then the Mighty Hornets, then almost J.D.'s Last Ride, Mojo Mind Rave in L.A., and now a couple of pickup bands, Buddy & the Tiki Tones who do Tuesdays at the Bermuda Triangle, and J & the Midnighters who do Wednesdays at the Midnight Hour, both Ventura venues. The Misguided Angels, yet another band, may take flight next month.

"I sort of became a bass player by default, but I realize now that I was always meant to become one," he said. "I was living--stranded, really--in Wrinkle City/Clearwater, Fla., around 1980 because my mom moved there. I think there were only about three bass players in the whole town. Anyway, my neighbor convinced me that I was a lousy guitar player and offered me a good deal on this bass if I played in his band for four months."

After moving back to California, Kaye gravitated to Ventura, where he formed a rockabilly band, Highway 33. Then he moved to L.A. and formed the Mighty Hornets, perhaps only half as "mighty" as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

"Highway 33 was sort of an acoustic/electric thing doing country and rockabilly," Kaye said. "The Mighty Hornets were playing around 1987-88. We ended up touring with the Stray Cats. We played a lot of shows with Billy Idol, also Little Stevie; one time, Bruce Springsteen sat in with us.

"We were about to do a deal with A&M as a trio, but our guitar player quit to join another band. We went through some other guitar players, but finally, I just quit and came back to Ventura.

"I think Ventura is the last bastion of Southern California. That's why I like it here. L.A. is too plastic--it's just a big ego trip. I mean, I like hanging out with musicians who are accomplished. The real ones have wisdom; they're artists. But when it comes to a rock star ego trip, who needs it?"

Kaye is always easy to spot. He must know Chris Isaak's barber personally, plus he has more tattoos than an average Hell's Angels chapter, but still with enough blank spots to avoid being The Illustrated Man on bass.

"If I wasn't a bass player, I'd probably be a tattoo artist," Kaye said. "Those guys always seem to be working. There's also a lot of work for a bass player, but you have to look for it. There's probably only two or three stand-up bass players around here, but maybe a few more in Oxnard playing in mariachi bands. Around the first of the year, I did a commercial for Revlon--I got to sing on it. I'd like to be making more money, but I'm really happy with my life."

As to Kaye's current gigs, the Tiki Tones features Buddy Smith on guitar. He's been around about a million years, once opening for Jimi Hendrix in Oxnard in the '60s. Jim Christie is the drummer. He's been around about 1,000 years as the drummer for the Bombers--soon he'll be off to tour with Dwight Yoakam.

"The Tiki Tones are going to do some R&B, but mostly surf music," said Kaye. "We want to bring back the surfer stomp."

J & the Midnighters is a blues band featuring Joe Warner, formerly of the Signifiers, on guitar; and Jon Lawton, none other than Little Jonny himself of Little Jonny & the Giants, a hot S.B. blues band.

Surf, blues, rock, whatever--Kaye will fit right in.

"When I was a kid, I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix and surf music, but when I heard Buddy Holly, it blew me away," Kaye said. "I like rock 'n' roll, and I like blues; but I like country, folk and punk music, too. Besides Tom Waits, I dig Keith Richards, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Elvis Costello, Willy DeVille, Link Wray, Dick Dale. And, Gram Parsons was God."

Los Angeles Times Articles