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For over 20 years, Will Lee has held down the bass slot in the CBS Orchestra on The Late Show With David Letterman (and before that, he spent 11 years with The World's Most Dangerous Band on Letterman's NBC show), an enviable, high-profile gig that has enabled him to trade licks with music's most esteemed talents.
Lee dialed up a number of his famous iPhone contacts when recording his recently released album, Love, Gratitude And Other Distractions, folks such as Steve Lukather, Pat Metheny, Billy Gibbons, Allen Toussaint, Leni Stern, drummers Steve Gadd and Peter Erskine, and, of course, Letterman Show musical director Paul Shaffer, all of whom jumped at the chance to be involved.
“What a great bunch of people!" Lee enthuses. "Whenever there was something that did call out for a specific player, I was lucky enough to have each one say yes right away. I have relationships with a lot of great people, and it was really cool that they were up for giving it a try. I'm very grateful for that."
Appreciation for blessings both great and small is the album's central theme, and Lee even titled the rapturous opening cut Gratitude. "I feel compelled to sort of drive home this sentiment," he explains. “Like most children, I thought there was no end in sight to life itself, so I took advantage of that by being a drug addict and an alcoholic. I never thought that far ahead, and in fact, I’m surprised I made it past 30. Something made me want to live, though, and I checked into rehab. I learned a lot of stuff there, a lot of life lessons that I never had. I replaced the drugs with growth and consciousness and, eventually, gratitude. And I was able to work the Serenity Prayer into the song. It’s gotten me through so many horrible situations."
Lee's reputation as one of the world's most versatile bassists (and busiest session men, with over 1,600 albums to his credit) might cause one to assume that Love, Gratitude And Other Distractions is a showcase for his four-string skills, but he's quick to shoot down that notion. "It's very much an album of songs, with singing and a lot of great people contributing," he says. "But I did know that there would be some expectations from me bass-wise, so I tried to include a couple of pieces that would appease that contingent, like Papounet's Ride, and I do a cover of Smile that's an instrumental bass performance. Hopefully, my fellow bass player friends out there will dig it."
And they might like to check out some of the records that Lee chose when he compiled his list of 10 Essential Bass Albums for MusicRadar, a diverse assortment that spans the gamut from adventurous jazz to groundbreaking pop.
“The bass can be something that perks up your ears," Lee says, "but once they’ve been perked, does it keep delivering year after year? If you keep coming back to a certain album, if the bass is still keeping those ears perked, then it’s a great bass album. There’s such a tremendous legacy of fantastic bass playing on so many records, so I’m probably leaving a bunch out. But here are ones that I just can’t deny.”
Love, Gratitude And Other Distractions can be purchased at Amazon. On the following pages, Will Lee runs down his picks for 10 Essential Bass Albums.