"It kind of worked between all the glitches," reminisces basso profundist Andy West, fondly describing the bass-boosting technology he pioneered in the Dixie Dregs, the revered jazz-rock fusion band he formed with guitarist Steve Morse in the 1970s. West used to control an Oberheim synthesizer with a pitch-to-voltage converter connected his huge 6-string bass.
"I had all the Mutrons, octave dividers, and phase shifters, too," he reveals. "All of those old-school but very good harmonic effects pedals. I've always been a big fan of that low-octave thing."
Today, West uses a laptop and software to capture that low thing. He's down to just two custom Geoff Gould bass guitars (six-string and five-string headless graphite neck models), a six-string fretless, and a bass preamp--plus the dozens of software plugins he uses to create the tones of his incredible picked bass style.
Software has been good to him. West still plays and records on days off from his "day job" as a software architect for a major corporation, and admits to missing the early days playing with Morse in high school bands. He also misses all of those jams on the first six Dregs LPs--almost unbelievably, most of those lightning-fast guitar leads were doubled by the bass. But frankly, West's income from his bass expertise has been a fraction of what he's made as a corporate software consultant and programmer since leaving the band.
This four-time Grammy-nominated bassist has consulted for giants such as IBM, Motorola, and A.C. Nielsen for a living. Coincidentally, he's even architecting a product that interfaces directly to O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf. When first contacted for an O'Reilly interview, West had this to say: "Wow! Now I can really have street cred with all my geek programmer friends."
Were you into computers in your early Dixie Dregs days?
I've always had an interest in computers. When I was with the Dregs I had a little portable Osborne I even before the first IBM came out. I've always been kind of a techno-geek, I guess.
You must be every programmer's coolest friend when they find out about your previous career.
Yeah, for sure. [Laughs.] I've heard that from dozens of people in the software industry through my website, people who program and are also bass players, and vice versa. Dregs fans mostly. I was working at a Phoenix software company in '98 when they built Bank One Ballpark for the D-Backs. They got all the Arizona-based musicians they could find to play "The Star Spangled Banner" at the team's opening night. It was myself, Alice Cooper, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, Joni Sledge from Sister Sledge, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, Nils Lofgren from Bruce Springsteen's band, Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms, and Rob Halford from Judas Priest!
At that point I finally had to say something to the guys I was programming with about the show--you know, "Hey, come and see me play the national anthem." When my boss found out, he was like, "Oh my God! You're in the Dregs?!" The morning after the BOB's opening there were six Dregs albums waiting for me at the office to sign for him. That was incredibly cool for me.