Over the course of his 35-year career, Nathan East has worked with the crème de la crème of the music world: Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, Randy Newman, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones – and, of course, Eric Clapton, with whom he's recorded and toured with since 1985.
Which more or less explains why it's taken the bass legend so long to finally record his very own solo album. "It's a good excuse – I’ve been busy!" East says with a laugh. "Between the bands I’ve been in, the tours I’ve been on and the records I’ve cut, it’s been difficult to sneak my own thing in there. But once I found a block of time last year, I booked Ocean Way Studios in LA, got the band in and recorded as many tracks as we could."
East's core studio band consisted of guitarist Michael Thompson, keyboardists Jeff Babco and Tim Carmen, percussionist Rafael Padilla, and in one of his final recordings, Ricky Lawson on drums. "We lost Ricky last December," Nathan says. "He was a great man and a fabulous musician." As for the lineup of guest artists, the mind boggles: Sara Bareilles, Michael McDonald, Bob James, David Paich, Pat Metheny and Bob James, just to name a few.
The question of "Where's Eric?" is answered with Slowhand's appearance on East's stately cover of Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Back Home. “That’s a song I used to sing with Eric in the show," East explains. "Many people over the years asked me if there was a recording of it, and I always wanted to tell them yes. So when it came time to do this album, that song was a no-brainer."
A pair of Stevie Wonder gems, Sir Duke and Overjoyed, get the instrumental treatment, the latter of which feature Wonder himself outdoing even himself on an extended harmonica run. “There’s nobody who can play harmonica like Stevie Wonder," East enthuses. "I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have him on the record. When we were fooling around with that song at soundcheck, he said, ‘If you ever record it, call me.’ I sure didn’t have to be told that twice.”
Last year, millions of music fans across the globe grooved in nightclubs, living rooms, bathrooms and just about everywhere else to East's energetic basslines on Daft Punk's irresistible hit Get Lucky, and on his eponymously titled solo disc East tips his hat to the French electronic duo on the cheekily titled original Daft Funk. "I had to call it that, right?" East says, chuckling. "Before my album came out, I gave the Daft Punk guys a promo CD, right after the Grammys. They got a kick out of it."
Despite his stature as one of the world's foremost bassists, East stresses that chops weren't the order of the day when cutting the album. "It's really a celebration of music with some of my friends who also happen to be amazing artists," he says. "I didn't want to do, you know, a bass clinic. This is a record for everybody."
On the following pages, however, East runs down 10 of the discs that did teach him a thing or two, including one of his own studio triumphs. You can order the album Nathan East at Yamaha, Amazon and iTunes.