Remembering Ralph Ameduri
Friends recall a dedicated musician who helped shape the local scene; plus Lou Barlow on the role of bass guitar in music
Published: February 5, 2014
Although Ameduri was proficient on both guitar and bass, he was most prominently recognized as a bassist. At Jessie’s Lounge, his bass is memorialized in a mural that’s 40 feet wide and 15 feet tall, painted by artist Mark Hannah.
“He was a really solid bass player, and that’s probably the best thing you can ask of any bass player,” Sterling says. “And he was happy to be a bass player. So many people want to be the star of the show, and that’s not how the bass player should be.”
This year’s Ralphfest is the first time the event has pulled in a national headlining band. Sweat chose Sebadoh because he wanted a band that Ameduri liked – and it’s no surprise that the impressive local bass player dug a band that (according to Sebadoh songwriter Lou Barlow) considers the bass guitar equal to the lead guitar.
“I never really understood why people didn’t think the bass was as interesting as the guitar,” Barlow says. “It’s like, take the Beatles, Paul McCartney’s bass playing is a huge part of that band. And in the ’60s, it seemed like there was a lot more songs that had louder bass. It seemed like over the years, production style really just pushed the bass to the edges of the mix, which I never really understood. Punk rock, to me, that was when I thought, well, the bass could have a chance to come back here. This could happen.”
Sebadoh was an important part of an emergent core of bands in the ’90s, along with Pavement and one of Ameduri’s other favorites, Guided by Voices, that pioneered a new style of lo-fi music made on four-tracks. Sebadoh became the principal vehicle for Barlow’s songwriting after he was ejected from his role as bass player in Dinosaur Jr. His style of playing bass treats the instrument as if it were a guitar and is wildly physical, which he says is in part to achieve more volume but also necessary to pull off the chaotic bass lines he comes up with.
“Because the way that I strum it, it’s not just about hitting it as hard as possible,” Barlow says. “It’s getting a kind of roar from the strumming and then picking notes out in there, and also in some ways, trying to fill a traditional bass sound in the lower parts but also create a lot of overtones with chords and things. So I think, actually, the physical part of it kind of has to happen, too, in order for me to really have those dynamics.”
So the spastic look of it really isn’t just for show. In the past, Barlow has toured with his Dinosaur Jr. bass, a Rickenbacker 4001, but when it became too unpredictable to use on tour, they went to the backup – the really cheap ’80s Fender Squier bass that Sebadoh’s Jason Loewenstein used when he originally joined the band. That’s what he’ll be playing at the Beacham for Ralphfest.
“Every time I play a Sebadoh song, I’m like, ‘OK, this is the time I’m gonna play it good. The other times are bullshit. This time I’m gonna really, really do it right,’” Barlow says. “That’s part of what makes it fun for me. And with Sebadoh, for sure, when we first started making records and going in the studio, we always made sure the bass was an equal part of the mix. The bass is real important for Sebadoh.”
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