Abraham Laboriel Sr. is one of the most sought after bass players living, today. As a Mexican-American bassist he has played on more than 4,000 recordings and soundtracks, to date. And he’s still going strong. Guitar Player magazine called him “the most widely used session bassist of our time.” He ranks as No. 42 on Bass Player magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time”.
Abe started his music path as a classically trained guitarist. He switched to bass guitar while studying at the Berklee College of Music. With the encouragement of Henry Mancini Laboriel moved to Los Angeles, California, to pursue a recording career. And his career flourished.
One Busy Bassist
Laboriel has worked with Al Jarreau, George Benson, Alan Silvestri, Alvaro Lopez and Res-Q Band, Alvin Slaughter, Don Felder, Andraé Crouch, Andy Pratt, Andy Summers, Barbra Streisand, Billy Cobham, Chris Isaak, Christopher Cross, Crystal Lewis, Dave Grusin, Djavan, Dolly Parton, Don Moen, Donald Fagen, Elton John, Engelbert Humperdinck, Freddie Hubbard, Phil Driscoll, Hanson, Herb Alpert, Herbie Hancock, Johnny Hallyday, Keith Green, Kelly Willard, Lalo Schifrin, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Leo Sayer, Lisa Loeb, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Nathan Davis, Paul Jackson Jr., Paul Simon, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Luis Miguel, Ron Kenoly, Russ Taff, Stevie Wonder, Umberto Tozzi, Randy Crawford and sometimes DeBarge.
When Laboriel recorded his three solo albums ‒ Dear Friends, Guidum, and Justo & Abraham, he recruited a cast of musicians that included Alex Acuña, Al Jarreau, Jim Keltner, Phillip Bailey, Ron Kenoly, and others. His son Abe Laboriel Jr. played drums.
Laboriel was a founding member of the bands Friendship and Koinonia. He plays live regularly with Greg Mathieson, drummer Bill Maxwell, and Justo Almario. Laboriel is now in the band Open Hands with Justo Almario, Greg Mathieson, and Bill Maxwell.
Abe was kind enough to take a few minutes for us all here at Making Music mag.
Chuck Schiele: You’ve earned a performance credit list that any musician would feel grateful to have earned. What is your philosophy on the success in this?
Abe Laboriel: For me, success is being able to give my all every time I am participating in a professional setting. I consider it a privilege to be able to put my hands on my instrument and make music.
Chuck Schiele: What does a life as a bass player mean to you?
Abe Laboriel: It is fantastic. My first instrument was a classical guitar my father started to teach me when I was 6 years old. I discovered the bass guitar while studying at Berklee in Boston in 1971 and suddenly all the doors became wide open and my musical life became more active than ever. As a result, I have been making a living playing bass for almost 50 years.
Chuck Schiele: With all of those with whom you have worked, is there a common thread among those projects that make success possible—even though the styles vary widely?
Abe Laboriel: The common thread is the genuine love and respect to inspire the music industry. All this to say that being the bass player in any musical setting and style is a lot of fun. There’s camaraderie and generosity of spirit as we try to contribute ideas to each project until it all comes together to the satisfaction of the people in charge.
Chuck Schiele: What gets you interested in working with any particular artist?
Abe Laboriel: As a studio musician in LA we pretty much don’t choose, but rather feel grateful the telephone keeps ringing. Sometimes when the circumstances and attitudes become unnecessarily troublesome, I, in particular, make myself scarce until such a time that I feel able to contribute even in a negative environment.
Chuck Schiele: Your preferred bass rig?
Abe Laboriel: For the studio work, I have a basic choice of seven basses with different set ups and purposes: an Eden preamp with an ADL stereo direct box and a Yamaha speaker cabinet with two 10” speakers.
Chuck Schiele: Are there things that happen in your off-stage life that factor into your onstage world?
Abe Laboriel: Yes, music for me is everything and everywhere. When I am on stage it is a continuation of what has been going on rather than a parenthesis or an escape. Music does not end when the performance ends. I know it can feel oppressive for some but for me it is very liberating.
Chuck Schiele: Times sure have changed. You’ve transcended through several eras of cultural shifts and technological advancements that equate to new opportunities in music, new opportunities in gear and the way musicians reach their audience. Please share with us how that’s all factored into your life as a bass player.
Abe Laboriel: I agree. Fifty years of making music in the USA is a long time, plus 10 years of making music in Mexico — my native country — have afforded me to see many, many changes at all levels. I could write a thousand-page dissertation on how technology and its applications have affected bass playing, but for the sake of brevity and simplicity, let me say that truly everything in the entertainment industry is controlled by the audience. The only thing that never goes away is the need to communicate with an audience. As a bass player, I have learned to be versatile in order to send messages with my playing that is uplifting to the listeners, adopting and adapting to the latest advances in technology while remaining in touch with the audiences and their musical needs.
Chuck Schiele: What would you say to a kid interested in picking up the bass?
Abe Laboriel: First and foremost, find out how spending time playing your instrument can become a source of joy. Have fun and good times making music. Ideally, invest in a teacher and learn as much as you can about music.