Gail Ann Dorsey is a top session bassist and vocalist
with an eclectic, impressive career spanning two decades. She has also received
critical acclaim and notoriety as an international solo recording artist
with her 1988 WEA debut album The Corporate World, and her 1992 Island Records
recording Rude Blue. Gail has performed and recorded with an incredibly diverse
collection of distinguished artists including Bryan Ferry, Dar Williams,
Tears For Fears, The Indigo Girls, Jane Siberry, Khaled, Skin, and most notably,
her near decade as touring bassist/vocalist for the legendary David Bowie.
Recently, Epiphone's Don Mitchell was able to chat with Gail Ann.
EPI: I hear
you are quite a wonderful guitar player and singer in addition to
your obvious skill as a bassist. Tell us about your early
days as a musician....what got you interested from
GAIL ANN: I think my appetite and aptitude
for music came with me when I was born. I can remember asking for a six string
guitar when I was five. I finally got one on my ninth birthday. It was a
present from my Godmother Edith who lived next door.
I've always loved music and singing. My older brother
used to tape me singing Otis Redding's Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay on
an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and play it back to me. I never got tired
of singing into that microphone and listening back to my voice!
My first guitar heroes and heroines were Mark Farner of
Grand Funk Railroad, Tony Maiden of Rufus, Neil Young, Terry Kath of Chicago,
Joni Mitchell, Brian May and the ultimate Jimi Hendrix. Later I discovered
the extraordinary acoustic guitar of Joan Armatrading, and my favorite
of all-time, the sublime Nancy Wilson of Heart. Playing bass was definitely
an unexpected turn for me. I always wanted to be a great guitarist. I wanted
to express myself through the acoustic and electric guitar.
was your inspiration to pursue music as a career?
GAIL ANN: Funny enough, I think that my main
inspiration for pursuing a career in music was going to film school! I was
certain that I wanted a career in film and television as a screenwriter/director.
I attended California Institute of The Arts, School of Film & Video Live
Action for three semesters. Basically, I discovered that music was much more
suited to my creative temperament, at least at that time. I refocused my
career plans to music, because at least with music, the rewards for your
labor are more instantaneous. Movie-making is a long and arduous process.
Playing music for an audience is the moment! Aside from the circumstances
of my film school experience, I have always believed that my life's journey
was meant to be a musical one. I believed this as a child, and so far it
has been my truth. I am blessed and humbled by that truth.
EPI: Would you
describe yourself as more of a schooled player with all the
correct scales and notes flowing through your head or
more of a "seat of the pants" groove player?
GAIL ANN: I am without question a "seat
of the pants" everything player! I did have music lessons for the clarinet
when I was about ten but I could never seem to apply what I learned
on the clarinet to any other instrument. I taught myself to play guitar,
bass, and drums by imitating stuff from my favourite albums. I still cannot
read music very well, if at all. I don't even know the notes on the neck
of the bass or guitar above the seventh fret without counting or having to
think very hard about it! Over the course of my musical life, I have picked
up tidbits of info about theory, reading, and chord progressions from other
musicians that I have worked with so I guess they have been my
teachers but I think the experience of performing is the greatest teacher
of all. I keep putting myself on the line and I learn. That's what
EPI: What was
your first encounter with Epiphone and what was it that made you
GAIL ANN: The first bass I ever owned was
an Epiphone! I bought it at a tiny music store in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
across the street from the infamous Tower Theater. It was second hand, sunburst
with a white pick guard, and I believe it cost me about $150! That was a
lot of dough in 1976! The bass had black (nylon) strings on it. I had never
seen that before and thought it was really cool. I gave the bass to a guy
in my neighborhood when I left Philadelphia for film school. Sadly, I don't
know what ever became of it, and to this day, I still have never seen another
like it! I wish I knew what the model was. One day I must check the Epiphone
My second Epiphone was a six string electric guitar I
named "Golda" because of all her shiny gold trimming! I bought "Golda" second
hand from a music store in Bryn Mawr, PA. I saved up a whopping $110 for
this guitar! (My mother bought the bass!) I still have "Golda". I played
her in my first ever music video for the single Wasted Country from my 1988
Corporate World album. I use her occasionally in my live shows when I play
Joni Mitchell's The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey from her 1978 Mingus album.
The song requires a very odd and hypnotic tuning. "Golda" is perfect for
the job! She never had a proper guitar case, but she has remained in my guitar
collection since 1978. She is my oldest and dearest Epiphone guitar.
I always wanted an acoustic-electric bass in my collection.
I had my eye on a Martin, but when I saw that Epiphone made a 5-string
acoustic-electric, I was curious. I went for the "El Capitan", and I have
back. I used this big, gorgeous bass on the 1998 Jeffrey Gaines album Galore.
I was just about to embark on a 10-week tour with folk music diva Dar Williams
in 2000 and the "El Capitan" was the perfect addition to my bass arsenal
on that tour. It worked so beautifully with her music, and as a bass, it
was deeply satisfying to play. The tone is so fat and rich! You can hear
it on the song Iowa on Dar's Out There Live CD from that tour. Beautiful,
the way it fills the space and makes a warm bed for the other instruments.
I love this instrument!
I now have a new
Thunderbird bass in my bass arsenal. I can't wait to break that out!
There will be photos of my Epiphone collection on my website---coming soon!
EPI: In a male
dominated industry, you are a great example for other strong,
talented woman pursuing their dreams. Who inspires you
to be the best you can be and why?
GAIL ANN: My Mother Ruby has always inspired
me to be the best person I can be. Her unconditional love and support has
held my hand through many storms. She does not understand this crazy music
business I exist in at all, but her pride in my achievements has made my
successes all the more sweeter. Ruby is my marker for strength, endurance,
and the courage required to succeed in anything.
It truly was a male dominated industry when I was a small
girl starting out, but that has changed, and women will continue to make
a very potent and relevant imprint in popular music of all sorts. There are
so many more female bass players and guitarists and drummers in the big arena
now. Bassist and composer extraordinaire, MeShell Ndegeocello, Rhonda Smith,
bassist for Prince, and Yolanda Charles who plays bass in the Robbie Williams
band. There are also the pioneers who have fought and forged their way into
female musical history like bassist Sara Lee of The Indigo Girls, Gang Of
Four and The B-52's, guitarist Wendy Melvoin, and Johnette Napolitano of
Concrete Blonde. So many more accomplished women instrumentalists come to
mind for me now than in the 1970's or even 1980's. I am proud to be a part
of that legacy. So very proud!
For me, Nancy Wilson of Heart, Joan Armatrading, and the
great Joni Mitchell still represent the standard by which I measure musical
excellence. I still have plenty to strive for, and that is good!
EPI: Playing with
David Bowie is a dream gig for most musicians on the planet!
How did you hook up with David? How long have you been
working with him?
GAIL ANN: Believe it or not, I actually got
a telephone call from David himself, completely out of the blue! I was in
the middle of recording what would have been my third solo album. It was
some time in May of 1995. I thought one of my English friends was playing
a trick on me! Apparently, David had seen me performing as a solo artist
on British television during the time I was promoting my first solo album,
The Corporate World in the late eighties. I must have done something very
impressive on that TV appearance, because it was nearly six years later that
he asked me to join his band!
Yes, it is indeed a dream gig for just about any musician!
I am still amazed that I will always be able to say I played bass in David
Bowie's live band for nearly a decade! I am incredibly in awe of the whole
EPI: Tell us all
about your new CD "I Used to Be..." and where it is available.
GAIL ANN: I Used To Be... is my third solo
release, and the first solo album I have produced in over a decade! It is
a collection of original songs from my archives that had not been previously
released. Some of the songs date back almost 20 years! I am mostly known
in the US as a bass player, but I have had a fairly successful solo career
in Europe and the UK. I am not just a bassist, but a guitarist, and most
importantly, a singer. The songs on I Used To Be... are just that, songs.
This is not an instrumental bass album, although, I believe there are some
very eloquent and very fun musical moments on bass and every other instrument
on the recording. I had an exceptional group of musicians to work with.
I have included a special feature section on the making
of I Used To Be... on my website. There are some great photos from the recording
session too! You can also purchase the CD directly from my website at
gailannDorsey.com, or in your local
record store, distributed through RYKO in the US and Pinnacle in the UK.
EPI: With your
huge commitment to touring with David you have been somewhat
limited in how much time you can spend on your own projects.
What is the status of your solo career and what
are your long-term goals for this aspect of your
GAIL ANN: About three years ago, I began to
do solo performances in my local area of Woodstock, New York, and in and
around New York City. I had been so busy working with so many other artists
that the years had caught up with me. I began to realize that I was missing
a very important part of my creative self. Now, I am taking serious steps
towards a very active solo career, which will include more self-produced
albums and lots of live performance. Eventually, I would also like to compose
music for film, and even produce other artists. It means a fair bit of extra
work for me, trying to juggle my solo projects while on tour with
for a year, but I am managing to have some fun with it all. I feel like I
am starting all over again, and it's exciting for me to think about all the
possibilities that could be ahead for me. Confidence is everything, and I
am starting to realize what that is.
EPI: Your stage
presence is VERY striking. How important do you think it is for
a player to develop their own look, vibe and style?
GAIL ANN: Thank you. For me, the female artist
who set the bar for "image" was Grace Jones. I adore Grace Jones for her
bravery and imagination and commitment to art. Her music was very influential
for me as well. She is a perfect specimen of looks, vibe, and style. Few
have the materials that Grace is made of as a visual artist, but any vocalist
or musician should take her example and search for individuality and showmanship
on some level. It's fun!
I never set out to look one way or another, but you can't
help but realize that image is one of the most important things in popular
culture today---especially in the music business! It always helps to try
and look interesting in some way. People have to look at you!
If you want to know if image is important, just look at
my boss, Mr. Bowie... but remember, image is nothing without the excellent
music to go along with it!
If you weren't on the road with David
Bowie, who would you most like to tour with and why?
GAIL ANN: Myself. I would really like
to spend more time than not on my own music and career, and less on other
artists. However, if Annie Lennox called, I think she might be one of the
only exceptions! I have always thought her vocal and songwriting talents
to be so passionate and inspiring. She is a true original, and I would
be thrilled to lay the bass lines around such an amazing voice.
How much freedom does David give you
to be your own player? Is he looking for a direct copy of the records or
is he open to your interpretations?
GAIL ANN: David Bowie is one greatest artists
you could ever work for in terms of freedom, and allowing yourself to come
through in performance without holding back. He has cast his band like a
film director casts a film. He knows what elements will gel, how the players
will compliment each other to make a brilliant ensemble. He is known for
his infamous bands throughout his career.
Whether or not he is looking for a direct copy of his
records when we play live depends on how he wants to interpret the song.
We do a little of both. Some songs are played very traditionally, just like
the recording. Other songs are very different. On this Reality Tour, the
song Modern Love has a new spin, but The Man Who Sold The World is very much
like the original. Back in 1996, we did a completely different version of
The Man Who Sold The World. It was a Drum 'N Bass version, and very, very
cool. The great things about David is, you just never know!
Also, currently touring with David Bowie is vocalist
and utility player Catherine Russell. In addition to her current work with
Bowie, Catherine has worked with Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Cyndi Lauper, Joan
Osborne, Steely Dan, Marc Cohn, Peter Wolf, Rosanne Cash and Spin Doctors
to name a few. We also had the chance to chat with this multi-talented
Epiphone player. Here's what she had to say:
EPI: Your resume
is very impressive and you've worked with many people in the past, but,
how did you begin working with David Bowie. Were you a fan before hand?
Ann Dorsey recommended me to David Bowie because, as I
understand it, he was looking for a singer who could play
simple keyboard and acoustic guitar parts. I have been a
fan of his music since Ziggy Stardust. That is still one
of my favorite records of all time.
EPI: You are obviously
a well established performer. How much freedom does David give you musically?
Is he looking for a direct copy of the records or is he open to your
CATHERINE: It appears that DB has always molded
his songs to whomever he is working with at the
time. This is possible with great material. That is why the songs tend
to have the particular flavor of the band playing
them. We learn the tunes, then make them work for us. This is the great thing
about working with DB, he has respect for the individual talents of his
band members. I feel I've grown the most as a musician
in this band.
EPI: Even though
many people think of you as a singer or as a keyboard player, you play many
different instruments on the Reality tour. How did
you become so skilled on so many different instruments. When
did you pick up guitar and why?
CATHERINE: In the New York musical circles
that I come from, I am considered a singer with
a working knowledge of instruments. And I think this is a proper
description of my situation. I have always wanted
to play every instrument because I grew up in a musical
family, with a variety of instruments in the house. I
started playing acoustic guitar in junior high school
with a friend who taught me a few chords. Electric guitar has always been
food for my soul, but playing it came much later.
I am fortunate to have good, patient teachers.