Leland (Lee) Sklar is revered as as one of the greatest bassists in modern music—and he remains among the busiest electric bass guitarists and session musicians, today. A member of the Los Angeles-based instrumental group The Section, he served as the de facto house band of Asylum Records and were one of the progenitors of the soft rock sound prevalent on top-40 radio in the 1970s and 1980s. Besides appearing as the backing band on numerous recordings by artists such as Jackson Browne, Carole King, Phil Collins, and James Taylor, the Section also released three solo albums of instrumental rock. By now, Lee Sklar has contributed to over 2,000 albums as a session musician, including some of the greatest recordings of all time.
Naturally, he’s also toured prolifically with James Taylor, Toto, Phil Collins and other major rock and pop acts. Lee’s work extends to the film and television world having recorded many soundtracks to films and television shows.
And at 71 years old the guru of bass is still going strong. Lee was kind enough to take a few minutes from his busy schedule to chat with us from his home in Los Angeles.
Chuck Schiele/MakingMusicMag: Hello Lee. Thank you so much for chatting with us here at MakingMusicmag.com today.
Leland Sklar: Thanks, Chuck. It’s my pleasure to be part of Bass Month.
Chuck Schiele: Let’s get started…uh, uh, one, two, three, fo! 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?
Lee Sklar: I just love working and being a part of a project. I’ve always been very focused and try to bring my best to whatever I am working on. Whenever I do a project, I treat it as though it is my project and not just as hired help or just a gig. That attitude has come through to the artists and producers who I have worked for and they appreciate that focus and energy.
CS: What does a life as a bass player mean to you?
Lee Sklar: LIFE…. it is an elixir. I love being part of the bass community and appreciate all the other bassists out there. There is always something to learn and to share.
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?
Lee Sklar: Great songs are the start. If you have great material it inspires you to new levels, and I have been very fortunate to have worked with so many great writers and musicians throughout my 50+ years of doing this.
Chuck Schiele: What gets you interested in working with any particular artist?
Lee Sklar: I almost always say YES when I get a call for work. Most of the time I have no idea what I will be doing, so it is an adventure on a daily basis. Delving into the unknown is both a bit scary and very exciting!
Chuck Schiele: Your preferred bass and rig?
Lee Sklar: I try to keep things simple. I have been using Euphonic Audio amps and speakers for a very long time and love them. I have a rig for the studio, one for small and intimate gigs, and one for large theaters to stadiums. The studio rig is a combo amp with a single 12 and the EA 800iAmp head. And it is on wheels like luggage which makes it easy to get from my truck to the studio. For intimate, I have an EA single 10 cab and their doubler head. For the big shows, I have an EA 4X10 and a 1X12. I use the Pro series head and a Yamaha sub kick placed in front of the 12 rather than a mic. It is killer.
I have two signature basses that are very different from each other. I have a Dingwall 5-string signature and a Warwick chambered signature based on the Starbass II [Read review from BASS PLAYER Magazine]. I also have my trusty old ‘Frankenstein’ bass, which has been talked about for decades built by John Carruthers around 1973 and it is on my all of the recordings I have done over the years. I use to take it on tour, but I do not feel comfortable traveling with it any more so it stays home. Most of the time I use GHS strings. With the Dingwall with its fanned frets, I go to Dingwall for my strings. But I normally use stainless rounds. My 4-string gauges are .40 .58 .80 1.02. It is their medium light set, I believe. Started using Cordial cords and they are working beautifully. I have several other basses for specific needs but this is my main rig set up.
Chuck Schiele: Are there things that happen in your off-stage life that factor into your onstage world?
Lee Sklar: I think life in general shapes what happens on stage and that can change daily. Life is organic and always changing and I look at music the same way. That is what keeps things interesting.
Check out this video of Lee playing and talking about working with James Taylor…. among other things.
Chuck Schiele: Times sure have changed. You’ve transcended several eras of cultural shifts and technological advancements that equate to new opportunities in music, new opportunities in gear. You know….neat bass y’got there…., and the way musicians reach their audience. How has that all factored into your life as a bass player?
Lee Sklar: There have been massive changes since I started doing this in the late 60’s. There are things that I miss from the ‘old days’ but have never wanted to be an old fart who only talks about the good old days. These too are the good old days. I have worked in every format from direct to disc, 16-track, 24-track, digital formats, etc. My job never really changes. Just the process of how the bass is recorded.
These days were are doing this on sites like Acapella and other interactive formats. I am not a huge fan of going to someone’s house and just doing bass parts it is the interaction of players in a live situation that gets the creative juices flowing. The sessions where we all play together in the same room are fewer than they use to be. But, I love working so I take it all in stride and do what is asked.
Chuck Schiele: What would you say to a kid interested in picking up the bass?
Lee Sklar: Have fun first of all. These are amazing times with all that can be seen on YouTube and sites like that. So, go and get a grasp of your instrument. Once you are comfortable with it, try playing along with recordings that you like and interest you. I use to play along with records all the time learning the parts. If you get serious then look into a teacher to help you along. But most of all HAVE FUN!
Be with Lee
Friendly and approachable, Lee Sklar encourages you to be friends at his YouTube Channel where he promises life adventure and really fun music stories from his path in music. Visit Lee Sklar’s YouTube Channel.
He is also excited about his new involvement with a band called ‘The Immediate Family’ and if they would come and check us out. It is the guys I have been playing with for 50 years. Russ Kunkel, Danny ‘Kootch’ Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel and Steve Postell. They have new album coming out at the end of the year.