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April/May 2013

by Rob Burns

Deep Thinking: Frank Prestia – A Tower of Power

by Rob Burns

Deep Thinking: Frank Prestia – A Tower of Power

As mentioned in the last issue of NZ Musician, we are going to look at a couple of bass parts from Frank ‘Rocco’ Prestia, the bassist from Tower of Power, a funk/rock band from Oakland, California. The 10-piece ensemble has been together since the early ’’70s, with some original members still playing in the band. I had the pleasure of hanging out with them in 1997 and attending rehearsals (music lessons in the extreme!). 

Prestia anchors the rhythm section with quite busy lines that draw on the 1960s boogaloo period, as well as on George Clinton’’s and Parliament’’s funk styles. He also uses ‘dead’ notes, which are played by picking a note but not fretting it. This style creates a hard ‘thump’ sound with the bass drum. I have notated these dead notes with an ‘X’ in my transcriptions. A ‘make it funky’ tip is to pick by the bridge in order to get a hard ‘middle’ sound. You may also want to boost the mid–range on your amp EQ.
 
The first tune transcribed is What Is Hip, one of the band’’s hits, although I have given you the chorus section, which has more syncopation than other parts of the tune. You will notice that, between bars 1 and 6 Prestia uses a lot of octave phrases as a means of driving the tune along.
 
When we get to bars 7 to 10, the dead notes are featured and are tightly meshed with the drums. The rest of the part’’s phrases pre-empt the horn stabs and provide more funk than is going on in the rest of the band.

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The second transcription comes from first vocal section of There Is Only So Much Oil In The Ground. Another busy line with a few octave figures, you will notice the use of a dead note in bar 4. 

Both these tunes feature Prestia playing 1/16s (semiquavers) and 1/8s (quavers) as he drives the bass and drum part, although you may also want to listen to another of the band’s tunes, Squib Cakes in which the bass part is very sparse but still very funky.
While you are looking at Tower of Power, have a listen to a Dundee act called The Average White Band. Simpler bass lines, but just as funky. See you next issue.
 
Dr. Rob Burns is a senior lecturer in music at the University of Otago in Dunedin. As a former professional studio bassist in the UK, he performed and recorded with David Gilmour, Pete Townsend, Jerry Donahue, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, James Burton, Ian Paice and Jon Lord, Eric Burdon and members of Abba. He played on the soundtracks of many UK television shows, such as Red Dwarf, Mr. Bean, Blackadder, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. Rob is currently a member of Dunedin bands Subject2change and The Verlaines.