Freebo is one of the most respected bass players in rock music history. He’s played with the likes of …. His story is truly inspirational because he didn’t go down the musical road of writing his own material until he was in his mid-40s. Since that time, he has taken songwriting very seriously and has composed some very memorable songs that mean a lot to a lot of people. His legacy as a musician is a big one as both an instrumentalist and as a songwriter and a genuine human being who cares about the world and all the people in it.
To learn more about Freebo, visit his website.
Here’s a video of Freebo singing “Standing Ovation.”
Your bio states that you have a “commitment to the creation of a conscious, socially involved planet.” That’s an admirable perspective. Can we interpret that as meaning that your passion and respect for life comes through your ability to write and play music that will inspire people to “act” and make the world a better place?
My playing music allows me to paint a picture both in words and in music which shows how I see the world and then I put it into the form of a song. People have thanked me for the inspiration. I try to walk the walk, I don’t do it so that other people follow but if I’m walking and other people follow, it’s a beautiful thing and I am very grateful.
If a song is overtly personal, we need to be able to communicate if it inspires people, I’m also grateful.
How do you respond to people who complain about musicians sharing their political beliefs on stage?
I would say that we have every right to share whatever we want. First Amendment. Free Speech. I would also say that we have a certain obligation to express who we are as humans. When people come to shows, they come for two reasons: to be entertained and to get a piece of us — to get into who the performer is. We have obligation to show who we are! Personally, when I do get on a soapbox, I am usually preaching to the choir or I’m turning people off. The bottom line is that if I can paint a picture of who I am and how I feel, it’s up to the audience member to interpret.
You have worked with an amazing array of musicians over the course of your musical career. Needless to say, the “Bonnie Raitt years” are what many people recall. You contributed some tasty chops to all those records and shows in the 1970s. Were you writing your own music doing that time or were you satisfied with being a sideman?
I was not writing my own music at that time. I had not written even one song at that point. I was satisfied with being a musician / sideman. My personal GPS was screaming at me that there was something more that I needed to do besides playing bass. I was in my mid-40s when I wrote my first song. Now my GPS is working quite smoothly with no recalculating necessary.
You were a tuba player when you were young. What drew you to that instrument?
Firstly my mother bought me a record when I was five years old — “Tubby the Tuba.” That record truly helped shape my life!
How did you end up switching to the bass?
I hear bass and it’s my favorite part of the music. I’m a lefty and I favor my left hand. I even love the bass part in Christmas carols and still sing them and when I sat down with a guitar player named Jerry Donahue, I naturally went to bass notes. That was 1964. He put down his guitar that day and said you’re a natural player, we need to get you a bass. So we got one and it cost 12 and half marks (in Germany) and so my rock and roll bass playing began.
Tell us about your experiences recording your own material. Was it fulfilling to be able to present your true self to the world in that way?
Incredibly fulfilling and still is the most fulfilling thing I do! In doing so, I truly get to express 100% of what is going on with me: emotions, perspective, philosophy, musicality, production, singing, and performing.
Your song “Standing Ovation” is a wonderful testament to lives well lived. As you have said about that song, it’s a song about Living rather than Dying. Thank you for composing such a wonderful homage. Just curious: has anyone asked you to sing it at their funeral?
Yes, many have asked me to sing it. Many (and it I is an honor to be asked) people who are usually younger than me ask so I’ll probably die before them so in that case I tell that they will probably just have to play the CD.
Another great song that you wrote about the human spirit is “We Are All One People.” What was the genesis of that song?
I was in Vietnam in 2004 teaching music to orphans and street kids and I wrote the song as a good way to teach them music. I only wrote one verse and they learned that one verse in one day, so I had to write another verse and they learned that in one day. I decided that I’d try to teach them how to sing harmony but they had a hard time with harmony because they learned by imitation. They would always sing the same note but somehow it occurred to me to try using “do re me” as a counter-melody. They somehow knew “do me re” (maybe from Sound of Music) and lo and behold they learned it. When I came back to the U.S., I decided it might be good to record that song and I did and it wound up winning an award, much to my surprise.
You’ve recently been working with Alice Howe. Tell us about your musical collaborations and how that came about.
We met at NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance), had slight contact, and then remet several months after at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City and her beautiful voice fell onto my radar. I heard her EP and I liked it but thought we could do something different together. So I approached her about producing a few songs for her and she came out to California and then we decided we wanted to do a full-length record. We’ve cowritten several songs together and we’ve become good friends and have a lot of respect for each and now we’re doing some shows together and it’s been very cool.
Tell us about how you got into organizing retreats and what they’re all about.
The retreats are songwriting / wellness retreats. Songwriting is a deep process and writing about what is really going on so we share a lot at these retreats and find out about each other. The songs that these people write did not exist before they came. And then the song comes from that deep place!
I’ve always liked to share what I know and never thought of being a teacher but as the years have gone by, I’ve picked up a few things and I feel like I have something to truly share with others. Since songwriting came to me fairly late in life, I feel like I can empathize with the trials and tribulations of songwriters of all levels. I can use that empathy and knowledge …some of that is osmosis that I have gathered over the years while playing with some extraordinary musicians. All of that has gone into my teaching.