(J. J. Cale)
From the J. J. Cale album Naturally
Tulsa native J. J. Cale was nothing if not efficient in his songwriting. Particularly early in his career, his songs often utilized a minimum of lyrics, chords, melodic patterns, etc. Many of his songs did not have a bridge or chorus, but were instead constructed by alternating between a verse and a simple instrumental break. Radle’s understated bass lines were perfect for Cale’s stripped down approach to songwriting. It seems a shame Radle did not play with Cale on more recordings. (He played on five tracks on Naturally, and three on his 1979 album 5).
This song provides a good opportunity to practice several specific aspects of your playing: 1) sight-reading, 2) improvisation on a basic pattern, and 3) “feel.”
1. Sight-reading. Playing this song note for note is a good sight-reading exercise, particularly if you are not a very experienced reader. Get comfortable with the pattern above—this will serve as a good starting point. Everything else in the bass line is just a variation of this pattern, so as you’re reading, you don’t need to worry about major changes. You can focus primarily on Radle’s slight alterations to this groove. (When using this as a sight-reading exercise, try to avoid looking at the tablature.)
2. Improvisation. The simplicity and repetitiveness of this song offer a good platform to practice improvising on a basic pattern. After you have played through Radle’s bass line, you will of course notice that his variations of this groove are quite minute, and they often involve taking notes away, rather than adding more notes. Play through the song and add your own embellishments. Start off with very simple alterations to Radle’s basic groove. How busy can your bass line be without losing the laid back feel of the song? How simple can your bass line be without losing the groove? Because of the simplicity of the chord progression, begin your improvisations using only notes from the A Dorian scale: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G-A.
3. Feel. In most musical situations, a bass player’s feel is infinitely more important than the notes he or she plays. A simple groove like this is a good opportunity to practice your feel. Once you are comfortable playing the notes in the bass line, play along with the recording and really focus on locking in with Radle. Try to match his time and articulations. Notice not only when he is attacking notes, but when he is cutting them off. If you can work on your feel with simpler grooves like this, you will improve your feel in more difficult bass lines.