Metallica's Trujillo buys Jaco's 'Bass of Doom'

(Dave Molter | Posted 2010-07-07)

Metallica's Trujillo buys Jaco's 'Bass of Doom'

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo has purchased Jaco Pastorius's "Bass of Doom," three years after it surfaced in a New York City music store after being stolen almost 20 years earlier,ending a three-year legal battle between Pastorius's family and the bass's owner.

The Pastorius family was electrified to learn in December 2007 that the 1962 Fender Jazz Bass (defretted by PAstorius) that had been stolen from a park bench in Greenwich Village in 1986 — had actually surfaced in a small music store in Manhattan’s east side. Although the instrument had Jaco's full name inscribed on the back of the headstock, the shop owner paid a mere $400 to the stranger who walked in off the street after possessing the instrument for over 20 years. Attempts were made through a family representative to recover the long-missing instrument by offering a handsome reward, but the store owner was unwilling to return the instrument, and the Bass of Doom quickly became the epicenter of an extensive legal battle.

Having become friends over the years with bassist David Pastorius (Jaco’s nephew) and Jaco’s eldest son, Johnny, Trujillo only learned of the legal battle surrounding the Bass of Doom from Pastorius’ lifelong friend and fellow bassist, Bob Bobbing, during a meeting about the making of a documentary on Pastorius’ life.

“While visiting Bob at his office in Florida, a call came in from the New York attorneys handling the lawsuit, and later Bob filled me in on all the details,” recalls Trujillo. “My first response was 'What can I do to help?' Not being a collector, I just wanted to right a wrong and help squash the ongoing and costly legal proceedings.”

Trujillo supported the family by making available to them the funds necessary to resolve the matter. The case was settled in late March in New York, and Johnny and Felix, armed with Pastorius’ original double Anvil touring case, soon traveled there to reclaim their father’s bass.
,br> Although Trujillo currently owns the instrument, the Metallica bassist agreed in writing to relinquish the instrument to the family at any time for the same purchase price. According to Bobbing, the family corporation’s liaison to the law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton, Trujillo additionally made several other warranties in the purchase agreement rider that completely established that he had the best interests of Jaco and of the Pastorius family in mind. “I’m never going to single-handedly feel like I have the ultimate right to it,” says Trujillo. “I feel like myself and the family share its voice in a way. Ultimately, I think we all agree that we’d like to see this legendary bass in a museum.”

Pastorius transformed his bass -- $90 pawnshop find -- into the stuff of legend may yet be the topic of a future documentary film. Nicknamed by Pastorius himself, the Bass of Doom was a stock 1962 Fender Jazz Bass, purchased at a pawnshop in the early 1970s. Pastorius originally removed the frets with a butter knife, filling the slots and missing chunks with “plastic wood” and covering the fingerboard with several coats of boat epoxy. This “customized” bass would be the only fretless instrument Pastorius would ever record with. “Jaco played his fretless like a surfer rides a surfboard,” says Trujillo. “He became one with his instrument — gracefully navigating through the unknown. I think where he shines most brightly is with that fretless voice. Just the mere fact that he ripped his frets out of the board himself to get that growl shows he was actually committed to the art of the fretless bass. He was a pioneer; an innovator; and he took that melodic voice on the fretless bass to incredible heights. There’s not a bass player on the planet that would not respect or acknowledge that.”

While its future resting place has yet to be determined, for now, the Bass of Doom is under lock and key in a vault in Northern California. “I call it Fort Knox,” says Trujillo. “It’s got a triple alarm system and the whole nine yards. I’m not a collector, but my bandmates are and they’ve got a lot of very important vintage instruments, so the Bass of Doom is in good company right now.” Trujillo is impressed with its sound. “It’s amazing,” says Trujillo. “The neck plays like butter. After nearly 50 years with all its trials and tribulations, the on-and off-stage adventures, it still speaks. It actually growls when you play it — the neck growls. It’s got a lot of kick to it, too, for a fretless. I’ve played it onstage already and it didn’t disappoint. It’s just such an amazing instrument.”

From a press release.

Write a user review