Beth-Ami Heavenstone says she’s loved music since the day she popped out of the womb. “I didn’t know I had any music ability,” she admits. “I sang as a kid, but my sister would make fun of me so I stopped.”
When she grew older, a boyfriend, who was living with her left a bass behind upon moving out. “I started messing around with it and realised, ‘Hey, I can do this’,” she recalls.
This can-do attitude translates clearly on the Graham Bonnet Band’s debut disc, The Book. Heavenstone’s meaty tone and grooving, root-note-heavy attack propel songs like Into The Night, Dead Man Walking and the AOR gold of The Dance into terrain that legendary rock singer Bonnet first forged with his prior outfits Rainbow, the Michael Schenker Group and Alcatrazz.
Born in Philadelphia, Heavenstone attended college in New York, where she majored in Asian languages. She transferred to UCLA in California and moved to the West Coast, but instead of furthering a college education, she got bitten by the rock ’n’ roll bug upon meeting singer Tomi Rae Brown, James Brown’s ex-wife. The two eventually joined forces in Hardly Dangerous, Brown’s Los Angeles-based rock band that was all the rage around town in the late 80s and early 90s.
“Tomi Rae was the most dynamic person I ever met,” recalls Heavenstone. “At first I lied to her and said I had tons of stage presence and that I’d been playing for ages, but none of it was true. I had very limited musical ability at that point. She knew I was lying, so she farmed me out to an offshoot of the band called Bootleg.”
Bootleg got signed to RCA within a year, and Heavenstone gained some experience, but she was let go nonetheless. It didn’t matter, because Brown saw her potential and re-enlisted her in Hardly Dangerous. The band set LA ablaze and another record deal quickly followed, but by then the music scene had shifted.
“Unfortunately, it was at the dawn of grunge and we got glossed over. It’s a shame, because we were a really good band,” she tells us. Although Heavenstone learned to play on a right-handed instrument, and continues to play right-handed, she’s actually left-handed.
“It’s helpful, because I have greater dexterity on the neck,” she asserts. As for influences, Heavenstone says she’s “one of those blues bass-appreciating players” and counts John Paul Jones, Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and James Jamerson among her favourites.
“I’ve also come to appreciate Roger Glover now that I had to learn Rainbow’s Down To Earth album. He’s a super-underrated bass player. It’s not about what he’s playing, but how he’s playing it and where he’s playing it. He’s got a really sexy style that I like.”
The mother-of-two reveals that bass tracks for The Book were recorded direct, at home, in between picking the kids up from school and taking them to karate classes. Such juggling acts fit the mould of today’s multi-tasking rock star lifestyle, and it didn’t hurt that these short creative spurts were aided by Bonnet’s four-string expertise.
“I don’t know if you know this about Graham, but he’s a great bass player,” she reveals, referring to several offers he’s entertained over the years from the likes of ELO and Stealers Wheel, both of whom reportedly courted him for his vocal and bass ability. For The Book, Bonnet and Heavenstone collaborated on the bass-lines.
“He and I would come up with these really elaborate parts and Conrado [Pesinato, guitar], who was also producing, would ask us to dumb everything down. If we had kept the more ornate bass-lines, the record wouldn’t have that driving feel to it.”
Heavenstone plays exclusively with a Clayton .56mm pick and wields ’74 and ’83 Fender Precision basses live and in the studio.
“Graham did get me a gorgeous bass through Höfner, but I don’t think I want to go short scale,” she says. “On a song like Eyes Of The World from the Down To Earth album, which is all octaves, I literally had to learn how to stretch my fingers - because the Fenders are really big basses and I have tiny hands. But I do it. I make it happen!”