Mark Meadows: The Cat in the Hat
Bass Player Magazine
Published May, 2001
For Mark Meadows, a self-proclaimed "preacher's boy from Kentucky" whose formative experience with bass was singing the lowest parts in his boyhood church choir, perhaps it was only fitting that his first Japanese tour would end, during the opening show, with his bandleader, blues/rock legend Johnny "Guitar" Watson, dying literally at his feet.
"We started the first song, ‘Superman Lover,' and he came in and...was on the second verse. It starts out, ‘Faster than a speeding bullet!' The band does the Dragnet thing: ba-da-da-dah. Right then, he just grabbed the mike stand and collapsed and just slid to the floor." Mark then recalls poignantly, "Unfortunately, being a preacher's kid, I've seen death. And he had exited the building. Elvis was gone."
Things came around for Meadows, but not without paying some serious dues. A bit overwhelmed by the "all heavy-duty bebop" music curriculum at Indiana University, he left early to earn his live wings the hard way in the underrated Atlantic City casino scene, playing everything from show tunes to ballads to piano trio to "full-on Top 40." Then came the inevitable pilgrimage to LA in 1989 and years of learning the ropes from his musical mentor and "big brother," guitarist Reggie Boyd, Jr (The Roseanne Show, The Staples Singers). Soon after the searing Watson experience and a stint with the acid-jazz Brian Auger Oblivion Express, he landed the bass chair with the now-infamous "bitch," Meredith Brooks. Two tours - one as musical director - and an album later, he realizes Brooks as the door that opened others.
"I owe such a great debt to Meredith Brooks," Mark explains, "because most of the things that have happened for me in town have come through connections made as being part of Meredith's band."
Such as hooking up with Dweezil Zappa and Lisa Loeb for recent and current recordings. Says Meadows, "In the middle of the ‘Bitch' tour for Meredith, we were out doing a lot of these radio shows, the [kind with] fifteen bands on it, the ‘Y100 Spring Fest' or whatever. We were in Kansas city, and a bunch of bands were all sittin' around in the lobby of this hotel waiting to leave for the next shows. Somebody mentions golf. And Dweezil and I both turn around at the same time, and we just looked right at each other ‘cause we both play golf." And you thought it only worked in the corporate boardrooms.
Dweezil has also been Lisa Loeb's sometime producer and guitarist for a couple of years, so naturally Meadows ended up recording several tracks for her release on Geffen Records due out early next year. According to Meadows, it was an interesting group experience. "We were all doing it at the same time. Lisa would have her vocals, Dweezil would make sure the parts were slammin', but didn't get in the way of her vocal thing. I would throw out ideas and they'd say, ‘Oh, yeah,' and then we just ran them together. So it was this great, three-way collaboration on the parts."
As for Dweezil himself, his first solo release in nearly ten years is entitled Automatic [Favored Nations]. Meadows is showcased on two tracks, one of which is a typically Zappa-tweaked reworking of Boris Karloff's original rendition of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch." The preacher's boy turns nasty with a distorted buzzsaw tone in the choruses, which he innocently describes as "just a five-string, an octave box, and my Eden Navigator. It's a soft-sided distortion...you can overdrive the tube a little bit." And he does. A lot.
Meadows is primarily a Lakland loyalist, choosing a 55-94 5-String Standard as his main axe. He also owns a fretless 4-94 4-String Deluxe and a Joe Osborne Signature Model, as well as a pair of Carvin AC40's acoustics (a fretted and a fretless), and finally an old Yamaha BB300 modded with Seymour Duncan pickups. For amps he uses the Eden Navigator Preamp and WT-1000 power amp on the road, run stereo into two Eden D-4x10T's. Around town he'll strip down to Eden's WT-800 head, usually bridged-mono into one D-4x10T and sometimes bringing along a D-2x10T if necessary. Pedals include the Boss OC-2 Octave, a Tech21 CompTortion, a Boss Stereo Chorus, and a Boss Reverb/Delay for when he wants to get into "those melodic, fretless Jaco things."
He does that often on his self-titled, 4-song original fusion CD. Citing additional influences like Alain Caron ("so beautiful and tasteful, yet so technique-filled at the same time"), John Paul Jones ("the Jamerson of the rock world"), and Stanley Clarke ("he is bass"), Meadows drew on some unusual inspiration for songs - and titles.
Take "Too Loose Le Trek," for example. "I was practicing some things, and I was into a Jaco and Alain kind of mood, just playing some sixteenth-note patterns. I actually started playing the Star Trek theme [sings Star Trek theme]. And it's just fourths going straight up and down the fingerboard. I started messing around with a little [sings the line featured in How'd He Do That below], you know, a bluesy lick." But it's not so much Star Trek gone fusion as it is Jaco gone Meadows.
"The one thing I draw from him the most," says Meadows, "is that whatever I'm doin' I hear subdivided sixteenth notes constantly. And it just makes the feel that much stronger."
Meadows dares to go where increasing numbers of artists have gone before in terms of distribution - the internet. You can download the samba "Did You Know That..." for free at http://stage.vitaminic.com/mark_meadows, and the above-mentioned "Too Loose" will run you a cool 99 cents. Eventually all four tracks will be posted at www.mp3.com, and links from either site will get you to Mark's personal page, where you can buy the physical CD. And he's not afraid of the big, bad Napster, where he put a couple of songs so he "could get it out there."
"I kind of agree with Courtney Love," Meadows declares, "in that the record companies have been rippin' off bands a lot more than anybody at Napster's ever going to, so what's so big about that?"
Lest you get an image of Meadows as too hardened by his ten-plus years in Los Angeles, think of the hat. He wears it not only on his head, but on his arm as well, in the form of a tattoo. It's a simile of a side-profile head-shot his late father took of him wearing a cowboy hat at age nine. The preacher's boy is still in there, hat in tow, singing bass on his instrument to this day.
"You always want to try and keep the kid alive," says Meadows, smiling. "That's the fun part."
Reprinted with permission from the May, 2001 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit http://www.bassplayer.com.