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Old 01-03-2011, 07:34 AM   #1
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BPotM January 2011: Paul Simonon



'I didn't want the role of being Entwhistle or Bill Wyman, stuck in the background. That's too depressing and if that was what I'd been offered with The Clash I would've turned it down. Maybe that's the nature of the job, or has been in the past; the bass player as the one that held the fort, so to speak, along with the drummer, letting every body else go lunatic. But, y'know -- why can't we all be lunatics?'

The Clash were often hailed as the 'only band that matters.' They were the band that made punk real. It was the explosive combination of Joe Strummer with his overtly political songwriting, Mick Jones' raw musical flair, Topper Headon's unrivaled drumming chops, and arguably the most important part -- Paul Simonon. He was the epitome of poise. He gave the Clash their name and their image. It would be naive to say that Simonon hasn't changed the world, let alone bass playing.

Bio
Born Paul Gustave Simonon on the 15th of December 1955, he was raised in mainly in Brixton and Notting Hill, as well as various other areas of London. Areas that were home to London's Jamaican immigrants. Paul had been bombarded by Jamaican reggae music from birth, and his affinity with the genre is felt throughout all of the Clash's work. He was asked to join the Clash by the band's mastermind/manager Bernie Rhodes, based on his attitude and looks. At the time, he had never touched an instrument in his life. He joined the band with the idea that Jones would teach him guitar, but they gave up in a matter of hours, and Simonon was relegated to bass, because it only had four strings, and was therefore easier.

'To simplify it for myself, I painted the notes on the neck of the guitar. So if Mick said, "This song starts in D and then it's G and then it's F," I had it all there. I pretty much coloured the whole fretboard in. And after learning parrot fashion, it was only a matter of time before I could take the letters off.'


Jones wrote all of the basslines for their eponymous debut. However, I do not see this as any discredit to Simonon, especially considering that a little over a year before their first album was released he had never picked up a bass guitar in his life. He was taught all of the basslines by rote, and listening to the album, you can hear the rawness and precision with which they were played. A testament to the Clash's military approach to rehearsal.

By 1979, the Clash were recording their magnus opus, London Calling. By this time, Simonon was more than a more than competent bass player, and had developed his own style of playing, often melodic and contrapuntal, but always played with the reggae sensibilities that had been hardwired into him.




Gear
Simonon played quite a few different basses in his time with the Clash. His first bass was 'a cheap knock off,' famously splattered in paint a la Jackson Pollock with 'POSITIVE' etched into the upper horn. During the recording of 'The Clash,' Patti Smith gave him a black Rickenbacker, which he also covered in paint and wrote 'POSITIVE' on the upper horn, this bass was used for both the recording and touring of their debut. From then on, apart from the Wal JG used for the recording of Give 'Em Enough Rope, he almost exclusively used white Fender Precision basses. His main bass even today is the one he got in 1978, a white Fender Precision with white pickups and with 'PAUL' scratched on to the upper horn. The bass he is seen smashing on the cover of London Calling was another white Precision, this time with 'PRESSURE' on the upper horn, this was the bass used for the recording of London Calling. Simonon has said that he regrets smashing the bass, as it was 'his best sounding bass.'

Apart from his first rig, an unknown head and a pink 410 cabinet, Simonon has played Ampeg SVTs through Ampeg 810s exclusively.




"I always wanted to get a set of four legs and make the Ricky into a table, it was so flat."



Bass Playing

During part of the Sandinista! sessions, Simonon was absent shooting a film, and was filled in for by Blockheads bassist, Norman Watt-Roy. Simonon was never an offensively technical bassist; 'I remember Joe saying that the difficult thing was saying to Norman, "Cut all that fancy stuff out". I had to play them live and by that time I could do it, but it's just not my normal way of playing - I like to simplify it and strip away those fiddly bits.'

Whenever you see videos of the Clash performing live, you'll see why it doesn't matter that he never played like Mark King or Chris Squire. Simonon wasn't about bass solos or talkbass-like gear obsession (famously disregarding the custom Wal JG that producer Sandy Pearlman had given him to use during the Give 'Em Enough Rope sessions as it 'had too many switches'), he was a performer and an artist. He controlled the stage, he was disappointed when he was switched to bass because he wanted to be Pete Townshend, but in the end he was more than that; 'I swung my arms around just like I was playing guitar. I just took one instrument and treated it like it was another one - not musically, but physically.'


This was during the heyday of prog-rock, remember. Had it not been for Simonon maybe we would all still be standing in the shadows (what we might be playing like is irrelevant). Simonon showed that you don't have to just choose between being Townshend, the energetic showman; or Entwhistle, the underappreciated backroom guy. He showed that you can do whatever you want, how you want. And that is, after all, the mark that punk (and more specifically the Clash) left on the world.

Simonon mainly played with a plectrum, for the different sound and dynamics that it gave.'Train in Vain really snaps and that's because of the pick.' Although for the bands more reggae/dub influenced stuff he played fingerstyle. You can really hear Simonon's reggae roots on songs like Guns of Brixton and Armagideon Times. One of my favourite things about Simonon's basslines is the sense of counter-melody, a good example of this is Death or Glory. My favourite Simonon bassline is Stay Free, a great line consisting of arpeggios, octaves and chromatics.



Last edited by ScottB. : 01-03-2011 at 07:35 AM.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:34 AM   #2
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:55 AM   #3
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Great read!
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Old 01-03-2011, 09:40 AM   #4
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:20 PM   #5
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very good. but "too many switches"? that man has his priorities all wrong
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Old 01-03-2011, 05:20 PM   #6
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"I didn't want the role of being Entwistle or Bill Wyman, stuck in the background."

Eh?

Last edited by Ziphoblat : 01-03-2011 at 05:21 PM.
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Old 01-03-2011, 06:41 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ziphoblat
"I didn't want the role of being Entwistle or Bill Wyman, stuck in the background."

Eh?

I think he was talking in terms of stage presence. I don't know much about Wyman but Entwistle was a goddamn statue on the stage, he may have been outplaying the rest of the band by far but 99% will have been watching Townshend or Daltry. He's essentially saying that he wanted to be noticed by more than just other bass players and wanted to liven up the act, sounds kind of shitty but it didn't have a bad effect on his basslines!
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:12 PM   #8
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Wyman was also a statue. It was worse after his back injury.

I've always liked Paul's basslines and they fit the Clash well, driving the songs along like a engine. The Magnificent Seven is so simple, but iconic for example. Back then, being a straight forward rock band was revolutionary as was Paul's approach to bass.

I love the Clash and honestly, their music made my last two years of High School bearable in a very real sense.
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:56 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spaz91
I think he was talking in terms of stage presence. I don't know much about Wyman but Entwistle was a goddamn statue on the stage, he may have been outplaying the rest of the band by far but 99% will have been watching Townshend or Daltry. He's essentially saying that he wanted to be noticed by more than just other bass players and wanted to liven up the act, sounds kind of shitty but it didn't have a bad effect on his basslines!

exactly this
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:46 PM   #10
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Excellent BPOTM. Like I said when you picked Paul Simonon as your topic, I'm a huge Simonon fan. You've clearly done him justice with this.
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:11 PM   #11
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This kind of reminds me of the old Bass Rig of the Month..we should bring that back!
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:14 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by free4all913
This kind of reminds me of the old Bass Rig of the Month..we should bring that back!


You can sign up for it in the forum plan thread
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Dan

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I think after this relentless adding for the last 10 mins, that Dan is the coolest looking. Goddamn welsh people and my great etc etc etc etc etc granddad is welsh.
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:15 PM   #13
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we are. fatgoogle is doing one in February.
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:18 PM   #14
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Awesome! My rig isnt nearly as good as many of the ones that I have seen on here previously, so I would probably get laughed off of the internet..also, I dont know how to bring in pictures either..so, yeah haha.
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:20 PM   #15
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its easy, just upload to tinypic and then copy the code from that site. I think im gonna sign up for one once I get a whammy and a couple of DIY pedals.
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:24 PM   #16
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Awesome! My rig isnt nearly as good as many of the ones that I have seen on here previously, so I would probably get laughed off of the internet..also, I dont know how to bring in pictures either..so, yeah haha.


Your rig doesn't have to stadium tour level equipment, this isn't the talkbass forum, the purpose of that kind of thread is equal parts talking about your kit and getting involved in the community. It's not about who has the best, most expensive or rarest gear.
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Dan

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I think after this relentless adding for the last 10 mins, that Dan is the coolest looking. Goddamn welsh people and my great etc etc etc etc etc granddad is welsh.
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Old 01-07-2011, 07:44 PM   #17
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Thats cool man, thanks for the pep talk I guess it would be cool to get more involved with this stuff, seeing as I get so much information from you guys anyhow.
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Old 01-07-2011, 09:05 PM   #18
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I look forward to it, sign up in the forum plan to let us know when you plan to do it
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Dan

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I think after this relentless adding for the last 10 mins, that Dan is the coolest looking. Goddamn welsh people and my great etc etc etc etc etc granddad is welsh.
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Old 01-08-2011, 06:43 AM   #19
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I just wanted to say that this was better written, better researched, and more enjoyable to read than anything I've seen on the front page here in the past month.

Nice work!
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Old 01-09-2011, 06:22 PM   #20
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Awesome
I have 2 flatmates very into the Clash and they oft get spun on one of our turntables
good read, learnt some stuff I didn't know about a bassist I enjoy
so all in all:

Most Bodascious = ]

and good to see a return of BPOTM
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