Rob Wasserman has died. The bassist – predominantly playing acoustic and electric upright bass – was a prolific session musician and composer. He toured with many of music’s big names, he was co-founder of RatDog, an outlet for The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and there’s a good chance he’s on one of your favourite albums even if you didn’t know it, given he recorded with Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Bruce Cockburn, David Grisman, Stephane Grappelli, Brian Wilson, Willie Dixon, Brandford Marsalis, Lou Reed and many, many others.
I first heard him because of Lou Reed – because of my devotion to Lou Reed’s music at
an early, important age; in particular the magical New York album – in particular this stunning live-concert recording of the entire album.
That’s where I first found out about Wasserman.
I was sold.
And then I started seeing his name popping up in albums I already owned, in albums I hunted out. I was a big Rickie Lee Jones fan and loved his rendition of Autumn Leaves with her on the acoustic/unplugged set, Naked Songs.
He had this lovely, loping style – always a huge warmth and spirit in and to his playing. He could be the voice that rode alongside the main vocalist or he could sit back in the (more) established role of bass player. He seemed to seek out new territories for the bass without ever being a flashy, over-the-top soloist. He wasn’t chops-galore and showing off, but he was no slouch, shrugging down over the upright bass, giving it his all.
I hadn’t thought about Wasserman for a while – beyond listening to Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss (the other really important Lou Reed record in my life) and of course New
York and that great concert performance. Any time I think of those things or listen I am reminded of Wasserman. Now and then I go back to his debut solo set of recordings, a set of solo bass performance. The Duets record is magical, just hearing the bass carrying the tunes behind a diverse cast of vocalists and instrumentalists.
But I’m reminded, hearing this sad news, of not only a great player – one capable of fitting
in and around so many diverse players and voices and talents – but also of the power of that playing and what it means; the impact, that you then go and seek it out, look for the name in the credits, find anything and nearly everything connected to that player, anything and nearly everything that worked because of that playing.