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Fretless Questions: Percy Jones
FB: How long have you been playing fretless bass?
Percy Jones: I started playing fretless when I was about 24 years old, I had been playing a fretted bass for about 6 years before that. I first started learning how to play electric bass in about 1963 when I was 16 years old.
FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Percy Jones: My main inspirations in the the late 60’s and early 70’s were upright players but I really liked the attack and volume that was attainable with the electric bass. It seemed logical to switch to fretless so that I could get something of the lyrical quality that had only been avaliable from the upright. Charles Mingus was a very big influence from the upright community.
FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Percy Jones: I am a self taught musician. I grew up in a fairly rural part of Central Wales and there were no electric bass teachers around in those days…
FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences or favorite players?
Percy Jones: My biggest influences were upright players mainly in Jazz but Alphonso Johnson and Jaco Pastorius certainly showed what could be done with the fretless. I can’t honestly mention one person who is a favourite above all others. The two previous names are certainly on the top of my list. A player I recently did some shows with was Michael Manring, I was very impressed with him and the record that he had just done at the time.
FB: Do you play upright, electric, or both? Which do you prefer?
Percy Jones: I played upright for a while when I lived in England. For about 18 months I tried quite hard to get proficient on it. I had an old bass with a crack in it that I bought from a rehearsal studio for 40 quid. I actually used it on a couple of Brian Eno albums (Music for Films)and one track on the first Brand X album, along with electric, but I was never happy with my standard of playing, My arco playing was nothing short of horrendous. It’s a very different technique to electric, another instrument really.
FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it? Have you had or played others?
Percy Jones: My first bass was a second hand Vox Clubman which I got as a birthday present. I honestly can’t remember what happened to it, it disappeared years ago. Wal basses are probably the best to date. I still have two Wal basses, a fretless 4 and a fretless 5 string. I also have two Ibanez fretless 5 strings, the latter one being an Ergodyne on which I only use the piezo pickups.
FB: What types of strings and fingerboards do you prefer?
Percy Jones: I like a dense rosewood fingerboard though ebony is nice but can sound a little hard at times. I like roundwound strings of a fairly heavy guage. I use D&R at the moment with a .125 low string tuned to a C instead of B..
FB: What playing styles do you use?
Percy Jones: I use 3 fingers and the thumb occasionally.
FB: What bands or projects feature you playing fretless bass?
Percy Jones: Brand X, Soft Machine, Nova, Brian Eno, Roy Harper, Susanne Vega, Masami Tsuchiya, Elliott Sharp, Paranoise, Tunnels, Sarah Pillow, Liverpool Scene, Big Jim Sullivan, to name some.
FB: Do you have a favorite song you played fretless bass on or some notable songs or experiences?
Percy Jones: I really can’t name one song as a favourite. “Sky Saw” (Eno) was memorable, “Ghost of Mayfield Lodge” (Brand X) was another, and also “Manifest Destiny” (Brand X).
FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Percy Jones: It’s very hard to be subjective. I’ve always strived to make the bass sound unusual and I’ve always tried to be as expressive as possible through the instrument.
FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Percy Jones: Yes, I still play fretless bass (only).
FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Percy Jones: If you feel that a fretless bass is the best instrument for you to express yourself on then get stuck in and work hard with it. Strive to get your own “voice” out via the instrument and learn to differentiate between positive and negative criticism. Last but not least, watch out for the Sharks who permeate the music industry.
FB: Do you have websites or social media sites you would like to share?
Percy Jones: www.percyjones.net.
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