Bass Player LIVE! Tribute to Geezer Butler

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Each year, Bass Player LIVE! magazine hosts an awards show/concert that recognizes noted bass players from various musical genres. The 2013 edition of this event was to honor legendary Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. With an all-star lineup, it promised to be a rare opportunity to see and hear some of the top musicians in rock playing in a small venue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe evening started with an award to Stray Cats bass player Lee Rocker. After accepting the award, Rocker took the stage, and with a supporting cast of fellow musicians belted out a fine set of rockabilly tunes, including signature songs Stray Cat Strut and Rock This Town.  At one point there were five—five!—standup bass players on stage.

Next up was Tal Wilkenfeld, who was presented with the Young Gun award.  Wilkenfeld is best known for playing bass with Jeff Beck. She’s 27 years old, but could easily pass for 17. That image makes her formidable jazz/rock chops on the instrument seem even more remarkable. Those who only knew her as a bass player were also introduced to her talents as a lead vocalist.

Every edition of the show pays tribute to a deceased bass player. This year, the tribute was to bluesman Willie Dixon. Explaining Dixon’s legacy was Rolling Stone’s bassist Darryl Jones, and accepting the award in Dixon’s name was his grandson. Following the award was a jam session on some of Dixon’s most noted compositions, led by Jones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, the most anticipated event of the evening was the tribute to Butler. In keeping with the schedule of the event, the audience expected Butler to come out, receive the award, and go onstage to play. However, the organizers of the event mixed it up nicely to build anticipation for Butler’s eventual appearance.  The curtain rose, and the crowd was treated to the sight of drummer Charlie Benante (Anthrax) and guitarist Chris Broderick (Megadeth). The bass and vocalist positions would rotate—first up being bassist Billy Sheehan and King’s X bass player (although he wouldn’t pick up a bass tonight) Doug Pinnick on vocals. Broderick kicked things off with the opening riff to Supernaut.  (Broderick had clearly done his homework—had had Tony Iommi’s guitar solos down cold on all the songs he played).

Sheehan was replaced by Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson for National Acrobat.  While Broderick stuck closely to the recorded versions for his guitar parts, Pinnick took creative liberties with the vocals—sort of a hybrid singing/spoken word approach. Pinnick gave way to vocalist Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) for Children of the Grave. Taylor clearly relished singing the classic Sabbath songs, and was on top of his game, enjoying every minute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext up in the bass player merry-go-round was John (J.D.) De Servio of Black Label Society, who joined the group for Push The Needle In, followed by Rex Brown (Pantera, Kill Devil Hill) for Hole in the Sky. After that was Frank Bello (Anthrax). Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde came onstage, but instead of his six-string, he had a harmonica, which could only mean one thing—one of the all-time classic Sabbath songs, The Wizard, and Wylde nailed the harmonica parts! Great rendition of the tune.

Taylor took a break from singing, yielding the stage to Sebastian Bach (Skid Row). Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Queensryche) replaced Bello on bass. Bach introduced the next song by mentioning the late, great Ronnie James Dio. Heaven and Hell would be the only song this night that was from the post-Ozzy era. Now, Bach has a reputation for being a flamboyant free spirit, so to speak, and he did his best to live up to that rep. He was a little shaky on the vocals (though filling Ronnie Dio’s shoes would be tough for anyone). At one point he spontaneously grabbed a rose from a flower arrangement that was onstage, put the flower in his mouth and spit out the petals. At the dramatic ending of the song, Bach decided on his own to do one more round of the signature “Whoa, whoooaaa whoa whoa” line, much to the amusement of the other musicians, who had stopped playing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Bach’s moment in the spotlight, he retreated to the shadows, and Taylor returned to the vocal mic, joined by Jason Newsted (Metallica, Newsted) on bass. Wylde returned, this time with guitar in hand to play a rousing version of yet another Sabbath classic, War Pigs. After the song was over, the stage lights dimmed, and everyone knew it was time for the great Geezer Butler to finally make his appearance. A man of few words, he accepted his award quickly and then took his place on stage, a moment the audience had been anticipating all night. Butler, looking (and playing) as good as ever, rocked Fairies Wear Boots, followed by NIB, with Wylde handling the vocals. And then it was over.

The event certainly lived up to its billing—a true supergroup, if only for one night.

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