18 Fretless Questions: Doug Lunn
1. FB: At what age did you start playing fretless bass, and how long have you been playing?
Doug Lunn: I got my first fretless in 1974 when I was 20 years old. I remember having to call Fender to place a special order. This was pre-Jaco and they didn’t exactly know how to react. When I asked for a Sunburst Precision bass with a fretless neck, the person at Fender’s reply was “you know, the frets don’t cost any extra”.
2. FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Doug Lunn: Most of the bass players that influenced me the most at that time were jazz upright players- Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, Cecil McBee, Miroslav Vitous, Charlie Haden, etc. I loved playing bass guitar but wanted a much more “vocal” sound. I also like the way people like Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin were using violin as a signature part of their sound.
3. FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Doug Lunn: I never took any instrumental lessons but went to college studying harmony, counterpoint, form & design, composition, etc. I also studied briefly (during 1975) with pianist Art Lande which mainly involved how to develop your own imagination and instincts into an individual and personal music independent of style, idiom, or what instrument you play. Art is a remarkable artist and remains a good friend to this day.
4. FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences?
Doug Lunn: Very few are fretless bassists. My primary influences are drummers, pianists, horn players, and composers. Music itself influences me more than a specific instrument like fretless bass. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Igor Stravinski, John McLaughlin, Ravi Shankar, Joe Zawinul, etc have all been much bigger influences than bass players. I’m also much more influenced by diverse musical cultures like African, Indian, and Eastern European musics. Also, many composers and music loosely classified as 20th century classical modernism.
5. FB: Who is your favorite fretless bass player and why?
Doug Lunn: Again, tough question to answer directly. There are so many players in so many styles. In contemporary popular culture I love players like Tony Levin, Pino Palladino, and Mick Karn. Historically, you have to love Jaco for being such a powerful force and the breakthrough archetype of the fretless bass player. That being said, there’s so much music and so many great players out now but no one player comes to mind.
6. FB: Do you play Stand-up, acoustic, electric, or all? Which do you prefer?
Doug Lunn: My primary instrument is the 5 string fretless electric bass guitar but I play all the others to some degree. I spend the least time playing upright bass violin probably because I have so much respect for so many bassists I know and love who play it as specialists (and so much better than I do). When I play upright, I always feel like the mirror image of those great jazz bassists who took up “fender bass” as a double but for whom it never became a primary voice.
7. FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it?
Doug Lunn: The 1974 Fender Precision bass I mentioned earlier. Yes, I still own it and play it. It’s a great instrument with a lot of personal history.
8. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass you’ve ever played?
Doug Lunn: My most played and primary bass is my 1991 Zon Legacy Elite 5 string fretless that I use for about 90% of the work I do.
9. FB: What fretless basses have you owned, which do you still own?
Doug Lunn: My 3 fretless basses are the Zon, the Fender, and a 5 string fretless assembled from a Carvin Bolt 5 kit and hand painted(in oil) by New York artist Jill Stasium. The only fretless I ever parted with was a Yamaha which was my first 5 string but was quickly replaced by my Zon.
10. FB: What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like?
Doug Lunn: On my Zon I use roundwound strings from Zon(40 to 125). On my Fender I used GHS roundwound(40 to 95). The Zon has a graphite neck that is indestructable. The Fender neck is rosewood and suffered some damage in the early years from roundwound strings until I had it repaired and treated by luthier John Carruthers.
11. FB: What playing styles do you use – finger, thumb, or pick (or other)? What do you like about those styles?
Doug Lunn: I’m primarily a finger style player but use thumb and/or pick when it’s the appropriate choice in a working situation(primarily recording). I used to play in a thumbing/popping style early on but have experienced that it became much less interesting and musically productive as my attention expanded from “playing an instrument” to “playing music” and “playing with(and for) other people”. I find that I’m able to play more expressively and blend phrasing with other instruments much more musically when playing finger style.
12. FB: What bands/projects have you played fretless bass in/on (list as many as you like)?
Doug Lunn: See Bio below
13. FB: What is your favorite song you played fretless bass on (studio or live)?
14. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass riff you’ve written (if different from above)?
15. FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Doug Lunn: Hard for me to say. Probably the most unique factors are that it’s not primarily modeled on other bass players and that I’m not a specifically idiomatic player(rock/jazz/funk/blues/etc) but a creative and conceptual player who plays in a manner that adapts to many different contexts while retaining the same essential character and identity.
16. FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Doug Lunn: Of course.
17. FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
18. FB: Do you have a web site address you would like to share?
Doug Lunn: http://www.artistdirect.com/
Doug Lunn is a multi-instrumentalist performer/composer who specializes on 5 string fretless electric bass. He has appeared on over 100 recordings with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Mark Isham, David Torn, Andy Summers, and numerous film and TV soundtracks. He’s been the bassist/percussionist and musical director with Peter Buffett’s multi-media show “Spirit-The 7th Fire” on it’s PBS special, CD, and 3 national tours. Doug was the co-leader and featured composer for the critically acclaimed band “Fire Merchants” with guitarist John Goodsall(Brand X) and drummers Chester Thompson, Chad Wackerman, and Toss Panos. He also toured Europe in 1997 with the trio “Subject/Object” which included drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and guitarist David Torn. Doug recently recorded music for the movie “Taladega Nights” with guitarists Wayne Kramer(MC5) and Tom Morello(Rage Against the Machine). He is a member of the group “Out Trio” with drummer Terry Bozzio and Austrian guitarist Alex Machacek. In the last year he’s performed in the USA and Europe with the Chad Wakerman Trio along with guitarist Mike Miller. They have a new DVD coming out on the Drum Channel.
Other artists/groups Doug has performed and/or recorded with include-
L Shankar, John Abercrombie, Paul McCandles, Don Cherry, Sting, Chaka Kahn, Steven Stills, Martha Davis/The Motels, Wayne Kramer, Mike Keneally, Reeves Gabrels, Empire Brass, Richard Thompson, Dave Liebman, Nels Cline, Kevin Gilbert, Buddy Guy, Art Lande, Axiom of Choice, Eddie Henderson, Tony Basil, Mick Farren/The Deviants, Patrick Moraz, Mike Clark, Brand X, Bette Midler, Ed Mann, Jimmie Spheeris, Brian Adams, Eddie Jobson, Michael Des Barres, Joey Ramone, John Sinclair/Blues Scholars, Tanzi(the musical-1984), Vida Vierra, Sylvia St James, Zoo Drive, Robert Mirabal, Armen Chakmakian, Left-Right-Left, Lyle Workman, Warren Cuccurullo, Podunk Nowhere, Gilby Clarke, Umphrey’s McGee, Lydia Lunch, Jerry Cantrell, Kofi Baker and numerous others.
Doug was a member of the house band on the late night “Dennis Miller Show” on over 150 TV shows in 1992. He was also a performer and musical director for the award winning “Friends & Artists Theatre Ensemble”(F.A.T.E.). Doug spent many years as the percussionist and music director for “Swing Brazil Dance Company” and was involved with the organization and production of the 3rd and 4th versions of the “World Festival of Sacred Music” during September/October 2005 and 2008 in Los Angeles.
Doug Lunn fronts his own band “Retrophobia”. His solo CD is scheduled for a 2009 release.
Fire Merchants-“Landlords of Atlantis”(1994)
Mark Isham-“Miles Remembered-The Silent Way Project(1999)
Mike Keneally-“Boil That Dust Speck”(1994)
Warren Cuccurullo-“Playing In Tongues”(2006)
Andy Summers-“Charming Snakes”(1990)
“The Golden Wire”(1989)
Bruce Springsteen-“Human Touch”(1991)
David Torn-“Door X”(1990)
Wayne Kramer-“Adult World”(2002)
Lyle Workman-“Tabula Rasa”(1996)
Vida Vierra-“Woman of the Waters”(2000)
Peter Buffett-“Spirit-The 7th Fire”(2005)
“Spirit-A Journey in Dance, Drum, and Song(1999)
Ed Mann-“Have No Fear”(1993)
Peter Maunu-“Warm Sound in a Grey Field”(1989)
Mick Farren/Jack Lancaster-“The Death Ray Tapes”(1995)
Martha Davis-“So The Story Goes”(2004)
Kicking And Screaming
In Her Shoes
My Life as a House
Fly Away Home
The Browning Version
The Sketch Artist
Made In America
No Small Affair
The Dennis Miller Show
Comic Strip Live
The Larry Sanders Show
“Spirit-A Journey in Dance, Drums, and Song”-PBS Special
Quotes and Comments
“Doug Lunn is ‘Music personified'”-Mike Keneally
“Doug is our band’s resident musicologist”-Mark Isham
“Bassist Doug Lunn is an artist, an intellectual commando and one of the wittiest mutherfuckers on this planet(not too shabby on the bass, either)”-Wayne Kramer(liner notes for his CD “LLMF”)
“It was lucky we met Doug Lunn at the Aligator, a bassist of subtlety and intelligence, or we might have exploded in raw sound”-Mick Farren(about the recording of “The Death-Ray Tapes”)
“Doug Lunn’s bass proved to be the band’s secret weapon, providing a rock solid foundation and soloing with agression and abandon”-reviewer in Helsinki paper about a Wayne Kramer concert
“Doug is our anchor. He cannot be moved”-Loga Ramin Torkian(Axiom of Choice)
“Doug Lunn is the character actor of the bass”-Ken Shinamoto(music writer/critic)
“Of all the musicians I’ve worked with in my life, Doug Lunn is definitely one of them.” Roger Houston(drums/loose talk/controversy)