10 Questions With: Calvin Turner

(AbbiR | Posted 2010-02-16)

10 Questions With: Calvin Turner

For this installment of MGR's 10 Questions With interview feature, we spoke with Calvin Turner, a session & touring musician/producer/orchestral arranger based in Los Angeles, CA. Calvin has had the pleasure of doing sessions, arranging and orchestrating, and/or touring with artists such as: Raphael Saadiq, Joss Stone, Nikki & Rich, Marc Broussard, Jonny Lang, Toby Lightman, Michael McDonald, Amy Grant, Kirk Whalum,Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond, Landon Pigg, Nicole C Mullen, Israel Houghton, Q Tip, The Temptations, Leann Rimes, Sara Barellis, Gloria Gaynor, Josh Kelley, Anthony Evans, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Larry Carlton, Tommy Sims, Emily West, Bethany Dillon, Dr. John, Steven Segal, James Burton, Kenny Loggins, Paul Colman, Rachael Lampa, Joy Williams, Kirk Franklin, Mandisa, Taylor Hicks, Jay Joyce, Jeff Coffin, Sam Bush, Melinda Doolittle, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jimmy Hall, Eric Krasno, Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams, Julian Coryell, Dave Barnes, Matt Wertz, Shannon McNally, Griffin House, Jeremy Lister, Philip Manuel, Steve Masakowski, David Torkanowsky, Marva Wright, Ricky Sebastian, Christian Scott, Donald Harrison, Clyde Kerr, Jr., Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Kent Jordan, Nicholas Payton, and others. I’ve also appeared as a side man on The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Bonnie Hunt Show, The Saturday Early Morning Show on ABC, as well as appeared in music videos that have aired on VH1, MTV and CMT.

1) What are your current projects? Anything you're really excited about?

Well, in this line of work as a hired gun, it's kind of always up in the air as to what you are working on at any given time. I try to do my best to stay involved with people and projects that I think are cool, that way there is always the potential of being involved in something that I can get excited about.

2) Tell us about your current rig setup.

Currently, I dont have a specific setup that I use. It really just depends on the situation. I have a few different heads, but I have an Ashdown head that I take to most local gigs and a couple of Eden 2x10 cabinets that sound really good. That rig usually can get me through most things. On tour, I've used a bunch of things, but one rig I always sort of run back to is an Ampeg SVT w/8x10 cabinet. There's something really solid about that sound, and it's like "ol' faithful". No matter how far you go, when you come back, it still feels like home, ya know?

3) How do you adapt your gear/rig to fit the style of music or artist that you're playing for?

Generally speaking, my sound doesn't change all that much. I find that I still sound like "ME" on most any piece of gear. Any player's specific touch on an instrument shines through, no matter what the instrument or setup is, at least that's my experience. I usually use a pretty flat sound eq wise, with a little bump in the bass, depending on the axe I'm using. I also usually set the amps flat, but again, depending on the instrument, or the room, i will bump a little bottom end just to get some support. In the studio, you have the luxury of bringing several basses in to get even more unique sounds, and that's always really cool to experiment with. But live, you dont always have that luxury, so I really just depend on my hands to get the sound I'm hearing.

4) Any special techniques/strategies/adjustments with your instruments or gear that you've developed throughout your career?

I suppose this was answered in some way in the previous question. Growing up in New Orleans, I came up playing a lot of gigs and different styles, but playing them all on one bass that i owned at the time, and whatever amp was at the particular club or event I was playing, so I had to really depend on getting the sound I wanted with my hands, since the luxury of crafting a sound with personalized equipment wasn't really there. I think there's something special about having the confidence and wherewithall as a musician to be able to step into any scenario and hold your own. If you are overly dependant on your gear to get you through, and find you are not afforded the opportunity to have that specific gear setup, you'll find it more difficult to cope with your circumstances, which is a situation I didn't want to fall prey to.

5) Is there any specific gear that you would recommend every bass player to have?

Hmmm...that's tough. I suppose every electric bass player should at least own a Fender Precision Bass of some sort, vintage or new. I'd venture to guess that that is the most recorded type of electric bass in the history of the recording industry, and it will probably always have a strong place in the making and recording of music for years to come. No matter what new comes out, there will always be a need for a good ol', no frills Fender Precision Bass.

6) What are some things that you do differently live versus in the studio? (In terms of gear and playing.)

In the studio you have the luxury of being able to take time and craft something, because the performance is 100% based on what you are hearing, and there is no show, or LIVE performance with the studio experience. You can hear things over again, punch and correct mistakes, make adjustments to arrangements on the fly, things of that nature. Get the part RIGHT, and for the most part, take the time you need to do it. Live is a different animal. It seems to me that it's mostly about ENERGY and less about precision. I think the performers people enjoy seeing more often than not, are people who give ALL of themselves in the energy department, because it would stand to reason that people came to SEE a performance, and not necessarily to hear the CD replicated EXACTLY live. You could stay home for that! In my opinion, live music is 50% about being able to deliver something visually to the people, sometimes at the sacrifice of playing ALL the right notes, or playing a perfect performance with no mistakes. The other 50% is executing the music correctly, because it can't sound CRAPPY either! The Visual element, as well as the Aural, are for the most part equally important in the live experience.

7) You attended LA NAMM this January... Was there anything there that you were excited to try or that caught your ear while you were there?

I went for a little while on the last day of NAMM, but honestly, I'm pretty indifferent to it. I'm not as enthralled or enthused about new gear as some, mostly because i dont understand the way most of it works. Bass seems to be a generally simple thing at the end of the day, and especially with the way it is recorded and mixed these days, it seems even harder to tell most times what is happening specifically with the bass in regard to the actual sound of it (instrument, recording pre, amp or no amp, etc.). For the most part, I can't listen to songs released in the past decade and discern whether a P Bass was used, or a J Bass, or a Hofner, or a this or that, running through this or that, or whatever. To my ears, it just sounds like bass! That's my opinion though. Others may have a sharper ear when it comes down to it! I just have a bunch of gear that i like, and that i feel would get me through most circumstances without any complaints, and with a PLEASED CLIENT!

8) You recently moved from Nashville to LA... Is there any advice about the adjustment or about LA in general that you could give our readers?

Well, LA seems to be a bit more cutthroat than Nashville. Nashville's the South, so it's pretty easy going there. In general, there isn't TOO much competition when it comes to the scene, because it's a relatively small scene, with a smaller amount of people trying to participate in it. LA is a lot more fast paced. There's a lot of opportunity there still, but there's also a lot of guys trying to get those opportunities. Ultimately, I leave that part up to God. I just try to do the best I can, and be ready for any situation that I'm called for, and leave it to him to decide whether I am given those opportunities or not. I've been very blessed with the body of work I have, but you know, this whole music thing and being able to play for a living is just a blessing in and of itself. It can very easily be taken away from me, whether it be by a freak accident, or illness, or what have you. So I'm not caught up in identifying myself with my work. I play music, but that's not WHO I AM. I'm a husband, a brother, a son, and I try to be a good friend and a good man! I let the rest of it fall where it will.

9) What lessons about life/the business do you find most important?

Whatever you are doing, do it the BEST you possibly CAN. DON'T cut corners. Sit with guys more experienced than you and learn. Be a SPONGE! Embrace as MUCH music as you can. You can't know where you are going if you don't know where you have come from! So check out as much music as you can, and have a good attitude when you step on the stage. It's a blessing to play music, so treat it that way. No one deserves it, it is a priviledge and NOT a right!

10) And for the signature last question, If it is not gear that makes music important to you, what is it that draws you to make music such a significant part of your life?

It's a way for me to express a certain part of me that I wouldn't normally be able to express in everyday life. Different people have different talents. Some are great speakers, some are great teachers, some jump high, run fast, etc. Mine is music. I have a voice on the bass, and so far, I've been able to support myself with the expression of that voice. So I will continue to do it until I can't, or am unable to, or until it is time for me to move on and express that part of me with something else.

About Abbi Roth

Abbi Roth is a touring and session bass player, singer, and songwriter based in Nashville, TN. She has played for, recorded, and toured with numerous acts. Most recently, she was on tour with Bo Bice from American Idol this past summer, playing bass and singing background vocals. Currently, Abbi also writes for Bass Frontiers Magazine. She is a proud endorser of EBS bass equipment, Dean Markeley strings, and Gayle Winde Design guitar straps.

Abbi Roth

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