Ritchie's right hand
ROGER GLOVER of Rainbow is a man with a long history in the music business. Indeed, there are few heavy rock bassists around today who can match either his experience or talents. His economical playing has long been a key factor, first with Deep Purple, and more latterly with Blackmore's batallions.
Yet, like most people who end up on the bass guitar, it didn't come about due to some great design. "My first musical instrument was actually a folk guitar, on which I could play E, A, D, and a kind of G. I can't say I was good at it. Anyway, when rock 'n' roll got a hold of me through skiffle in the late fifties, I joined a school band. But, as there were two other guys in it with better guitar techniques than I had, I moved onto the bass - to me it seemed like an easy instrument to play!
"Now, that's a point I'd like to make at the outset. Bass guitars are relatively straightforward to play INITIALLY. But, they're also the most difficult to perform on with any degree of individuality - that's why many bassist tend to be so anonymous. Mind you, in hard rock terms this is no bad thing. There's no room for the likes of Jaco Pastorious in an HM band.
Glover's first bass model was - a Spanish guitar! "I took off a couple of strings and put on a pick-up." From there, he moved to a Hofner. "It was basically a Fender copy." In terms of amplification, he was forced into borrowing such as he could from any available sources.
"I remember on one occasion, Bert Weedon came down to see the school group, I mentioned before, play. You see, his son was with us, at the time. For that gig we only had one amp, a Vox 15, through which all the instruments and microphones went. You can imagine, it sounded terrible! "But the upshot was that Weedon actually lent me his personal Selmer model for a short time. So there I was, on-stage with an amp engraved with the name 'Bert Weedon' - that was a great thrill.
"Eventually, to save on cost I used to nip down to my local hi-fi store and buy a couple of Godwin speakers for about £15, then build my own cabinet to house 'em. I probably learnt more about carpentry from this exercise than electronics. But it did allow me to experiment with various ideas, and I continued to employ self-constructed cabinets right up until I joined Deep Purple.
"I believe that for a bassist, the hardest problem to overcome is continues over that of getting a good amp. When I first started, there were none built or designed for use with a bass, and this still is the case, although people are just beginning to get to grips with the problem."
Back on the guitar trail Glover's first, as he puts it, "real model", was a Fender Precision. "When I wasn't using it, I'd stand this in a corner, and just watch the thing for hours. I was so proud of it." These days, though, being a successful star, the man has a variety of instruments on hand.
"On the last Rainbow LP, 'Straight Between The Eyes', I employed a Hondo Longhorn, which is a really cheap Japanese job that nonetheless has a wonderful sound. But it doesn't give enough of a gutsy feel on-stage. So I prefer to stick to a Gibson Thunderbird or an Ovation. I've also invested in a New Fender Precision recently, complete with state-of-the-art elctronics."
But, on the strings front, Glover has little preference. "No-one has come forward to sponsor me yet. So, I go along with whatever my roadie gets for me. One thing, I will say about strings is that I'm not a person who likes changing 'em every week or so as a matter of routine. I prefer to work 'em in. That way, I find I get a proper feel and consequently a better sound.
"To be honest, though, I find it difficult to talk in depth about technique or equipment. You see, I really don't take playing the bass at all seriously. This may sound strange, but to me, it's FUN. The major side of my musical life lies in writing and producing."
All of which means that when it comes to giving advice to aspiring four-string bandits, Glover rather shies away. "I don't think there is much I CAN constructively say - it's all down to experience and learning from your mistakes. It's a bit like trying to tell a child not to go too near a fire as they'll get burnt - most kids won't listen to you anyway, and have to find out the hard way.
"To me, any musical instrument is an extension of someone's personality. Everyone will therefore play it differently - at least they SHOULD anyway. "But I will say this - regardless of whether you are a natural musician or not, a basic ground in the traditional western musical form is important, you know, the classic '12 bars'. I was rather lucky in that I had piano lessons for a year when I was seven. So, to me simple chord structures were second nature.
"However, there's one thing which, to me is equally as important as technique and application - never get carried away by your own talents. It's the easiest thing in the world for someone playing live to imagining the fans are cheering him personally. They're not - it's the BAND which gets the applause. "All too often I've seen musicians fool themselves into believing that they are far bigger than is actually the case. So, when they've eventually taken the plunge into a solo career, they soon come a cropper.
"Fame, like drugs and alcohol, exposes weaknesses in a person's character. If you allow it, stardom will turn your head. Always keep your feet firmly on the ground, and as I said earlier DON'T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY."
Sadly, Rainbow fans will have to wait some time before being able to once again witness one of rock's most astute (and, dare I say, it, underrated) bassists in action.
However, the man had found time to pen a booklet of explanatory notes on his musical approach. Available at present only in Japan (but hopefully due for wider release soon), the publication reproduce six of the most famous Purple/Rainbow songs associated with Glover, alongside which he's provided an insight into how and why particular rhythm lines were used.
This should nicely complement all Glover has said above, and is undoubtedly as essential purchase for anyone interested in the art of bass playing.
Malcolm Dome, Guitar Heroes January 1983
Photos by Ross Halfin