I would describe my bass style as simple and swinging. Slapping gives extra colouring to my playing, plus it is the sound that got me interested in string bass playing in the first place. Listen to the slapping of Bill Black on the early Elvis recordings and Marshall Lytle on the classic Bill Haley sides. On our recordings I usually don’t slap because of the integration with the piano player’s left hand, but we recorded a skiffle album last year where I could let loose with my slap technique. The secret of playing bass well is timing and rhythm, keeping the rapport in the music and driving the thing along.
I also believe that getting the correct sound is very important – the instrument should sound like an acoustic bass. My first bass was a German student model from the mid-80s, bought for me by my family for Christmas. They fooled me by wrapping up a tea chest at first. My favourite bass ever to date is my old 1952 Kay bass, sold to me while on tour in the United States in 1998 by a bass-playing friend in New York for $1000. It has a great tone and is easy to play with its thin neck. This is the perfect swing or rockabilly instrument. The greatest bass player that ever lived was Milt Hinton, with Cab Calloway. He played on more sessions than any other bassist in the 50s, including jazz, R&B and R‘n’R. Those early cats had big fat tones and so much drive. The Bill Haley Decca recordings always have great string bass sound. Far too many double bass players don’t seem to care for the real sound of the instrument. Either they pump up the volume too much, with too many pickups ruining the sound, or they just get onstage, plug in and think of the notes. The instruments sound thin and nothing like the natural sound. Surely, like me, they took up the string bass because of the love of the sound and feeling it gives. There’s nothing like it.