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December/January 2014

by Rob Burns

Deep Thinking: Getting Funky Fun With Flea

by Rob Burns

Deep Thinking: Getting Funky Fun With Flea

Some funky fun this time from a bass player much admired in rock and funk circles – Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Moving forward in time from NZM’’s 25th anniversary focus, I have taken a few bars from three of my favourite tracks of theirs on an album that dates back to 1991, ‘’Blood Sugar Sex Magik’’.
This band, for me, was one of the first to combine hard rock drums and guitar with Bootsy Collins- (and others) inspired bass and a rock/soul vocal style that was often borderline hip hop. While Flea often uses the familiar Mixolydian (major scale with a b7th) and Dorian (Aeolian scale with a major 6th) that we are used to in much ’60s and ’70s funk, he also adds a lot of chromatic passing notes that are, to an extent, reminiscent of James Jamerson and Jaco Pastorius.

deep thinking 1 nzm152The first example, four bars from the end of the second verse of Sir Psycho Sexy, has a Bb (third note in) rising to a B followed by a C# rising to a D, suggesting a half/whole tone diminished scale. These notes are, however, part of Flea’’s familiar use of passing notes. Also, Flea always picks firmly with an element of staccato (represented by the dots over the notes), often to the point of overdrive. This track features the use of an envelope filter, which apparently had a weak battery, adding to the overdrive and which would have been touch responsive – the harder the picking, the more effect.

deep thinking 2 nzm152The second example, taken from the opening of Naked In The Rain, can be played easily with the fourth string, open E, detuned to open D.

The F to G on the fourth string is therefore played on frets 3 to 5 with the octave G in its usual place at fret 5, string 2. The entire riff is played staccato and is a favourite among slap players. Again, there is a hint of overdrive in the sound.

The final example, Funky Monks, can be played between frets 1 and 4, with some open notes on strings two and three. It is played with a swing feel and it is basically B Dorian (B,C#,D,E,F#,G#,A,B). It is taken from the final bass solo at around four minutes 35 seconds. The arches across the notes represent slides or hammer-ons with the G# sliding onto A on string one followed by a hammered open D to E on string two. Notice the further use of chromaticism with the E to F (a passing note) to F#.

deep thinking 3 nzm152The riff is almost the same for the first three bars, Flea just gradually adds more syncopation to make the funk line varied. The final bar, however, has three hammered E, F, F# phrases played as semiquaver triplets with fretting fingers 1, 2 and 3.

Have fun! See you next time.

(Dr. Rob Burns is an Associate Professor 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 of 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.)

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