New Orleans bass legend Tony Hall has worked with a host of top names over a stellar career. He’s been hugely in demand for his work from the likes of the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Maceo Parker, and Harry Connick Jnr.
His latest group project is the mighty Dumpstaphunk, a classic funk-fusion band that also features Ivan and Ian Neville, trombonist Alex Wasily, and drummer Deven Trusclair. Oh, and the small matter of another bass player – the storied Nick Daniels.
It’s a modernization of the Neville Brothers’ groove along with the ingrained old school R&B, rock and down-and-dirty New Orleans funk, and it is fantastic. Hall’s natural syncopation and elasticated swing playing are instantly recognizable, though of course he’s equally happy playing in the pocket when the material demands it.
Recently, Bass Player had the great pleasure of talking with Tony, using the magic of the internet, as he shared his insights into some of the records and recordings that have had an impact on his continuing musical escapades. There’s also a nearly-lost gem that may yet find itself emerging into the world after some 35 years – but more of that later. Over to Tony...
Must-Have Album: Dumpstaphunk – Where Do We Go From Here (2021)
“Dumpstaphunk is that rare thing, a band with two bass players; I wouldn’t say we play duelling bass, exactly, but there are two bass-lines that coincide with each other. Usually I play the main line and Nick will play a Mu-Tron line against my line, a counterpart, and sometimes one part will become two parts with us playing.
“He normally does more of the effects, like a Mu-Tron or octave divider – he has a whammy pedal too. We’ll also play in different octaves. I’ll play a line, he’ll answer the line, and it sounds like one bass. He uses the envelope filter a lot, and my bass is mainly straight. Sometimes I’ll play like straight bass and then in a certain line I’ll pop the envelope filter on, just on a certain little line and go back.
“It’s crazy – it just kind of comes together when we write these songs. It’s not like ‘You play this part, I’ll play this part’. We just all play and you know, we have to fine-tune some things, but it just falls in naturally without us trying too hard.
“When it comes to choosing bass guitars, I’m playing my new Spector Tony Hall custom model on here: It’s in production at the moment. For cabs, I have a Peavey 4x10: I used to have the TVX cabinets, but now I’ve been using a PVH cab.”
Worth Contender: Harry Connick Jr – Star Turtle (1996)
“I really like How Do Y’all Know on here. The bass is really, really soul funk—almost behind the beat. Harry would ask me at times: ‘So how do you play the head, fall behind the beat and be in time?’ I guess it must be a Louisiana thing.
“I’m playing a custom Peavey Dyna on there, and also on the Neville Brothers records. Having the right drummer is really important. It’s Raymond Weber drumming on here, and we always play good together. Raymond plays really well with bass players.
“He understands the instrument [and the interaction]. For example, he will play some stuff that’s really laid back and I’ll play against that, and we entwine with each other, but he also knows how to stay out of the way, and I know how to stay out of his way. So we’ll never clash: If he plays a fill I will play something that enhances that feel, or lay out until we finish and come right back in on it.
“My lines are pretty much clean on this record, same as the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon. It was all straight bass, with no effects at all. Real bass-heavy, kinda spooky, slow. I guess they were trying to capture a really serious, New Orleans-type kind of thing on the album. That record really gave me a whole lot of recognition.”
Cool Grooves: Daniel Lanois – Acadie (1989)
“There’s a song called The Maker on this album, on which I play probably five overdubbed bass parts. First, there’s the main line, and then there’s harmony lines together.
“We played, and we recorded the song, and then we were sitting there waiting to do some more stuff, so I was just there doodling. Dan was like, ‘Oh, cool, cool. We’re going to put that on it too. Give me some more’ – and he just kept adding parts to it.
“I have to say it came out really good. When I first met Dave Matthews, he was like, ‘You’re the guy from The Maker!’ because he played that song with his band. Emmylou Harris also recorded it on her album.
“With this, the Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan LPs that I worked on, we could spend one day on a song, and do like 23 different takes. It wasn’t your average recording where you turn the tape on, and you play the song and jump around and it’s okay, we got it.
“No, it was like, when you thought you had it, he was like, ‘Okay, let’s try this again, and this time. Let’s do this. So let’s play this register here. Yes. Try that. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Didn’t work too well. Let’s go back to what you did before’. Then you’d ﬁne-tune that one. That was just the way it worked on those records.”
Wild Card: Trombone Shorty – The Parking Lot Symphony (2017)
“This was a real fun record to play bass guitar on. Some of the stuff had a hip-hop feel, and some of it was funk – it was cool. There were a lot of nice changes to the songs. It was experimental in the way that some of the parts came together – everything was kind of written right there, pretty much on the spot.
“You know, we went in there and Trombone Shorty already had all these ideas about what we were gonna play. There were a few ideas that we got together and worked on beforehand. Mostly, though, we got there and he wrote them as we went along. It turned out really good, because he knew what he wanted and he had the right people to deliver the parts.
“The amp I was using was a Peavey. I’ve got a Peavey MiniMega: You get 1000 watts from this really small head that you can put inside a briefcase. It’s amazing how powerful that head is.
“But you know what, I don’t just change my bass gear because something new has come out, though. It has to ﬁt me, and when I find something that works for me I tend to stick with it. These days I also have Deep Impact and Future Impact pedals, and an ABS envelope filter, plus an Octave Divider and an Octave Divider 2.”
When things go awry... Tony Hall – Unfinished Album (1985)
“We were going up to Alexandria, Louisiana to record with a friend who has a studio up there, and on the way the fuel pump went out on the car, in the middle of nowhere. We decided we’d just push the car and keep going down the highway. It was before cellphones, so we had to find a phone somewhere.
“Eventually we found this house and the lady who lived there made a phone call for us. We stayed out there all night, parked in front of her house on the highway, and slept in the car. It was really crazy. The next day, we hitched a ride to a parts place, bought the part, and the car was fixed, so eventually we continued our journey.
“We laughed about it, because we were kids – we just joked all night until we fell asleep in the car. You know, we were young musicians, trying to make it. Getting there was a nightmare, but we did get there. We did wind up making it to the studio and we recorded some good tracks.
“My plan is to try to finish those songs – transform them from two-inch tape into Pro Tools and work with them. Sadly, both of my friends that were with me are deceased now. One of them, Gary Clemens, was the first guy who ever believed in me and cut some songs with me. We had some fun times together.”