With their career now spanning 35 years, Corrosion Of Conformity started out as a ferocious hardcore and metal crossover band in the Eighties, before expanding their sound and appeal, signing to Columbia and touring with Metallica in the '90s. How did it all start, we ask bassist Mike Dean.
“Everyone played guitar, so I was just trying to fill a void and start a band when I picked up the bass,” he begins, before adding of his first instrument, “It wasn’t bad, but I was! It was a Japanese copy of a hollowbody Epiphone or Gibson bass, like Jack Casady would play. It would make some howling feedback if you weren’t careful. I replaced it with a short scale Rickenbacker 3001, which I should have kept, and from then on it was all Fender or Fender copies.
“I have some Sadowsky Jazz copies that are very comfortable, but sometimes you need a Precision or Precision-derived bass to really get the low end across. My 1978 Fender P-Bass got stolen on Christmas Eve 1993, and that was the ultimate; I really need to replace that. I think a Rickenbacker 4001 is a beautiful object, but I had a hard time making it sound like Chris Squire or Scott Reeder did, but that cheaper, smaller 3001 was a great one I should have kept.
“These things are all just tools, though,” he continues, when asked about his preferred gear. “Having them isn’t going to do anything to make you much better. It’s all in the hands and in your dedication and connection to the creativity of the universe. That said, give me a very loud valve-based amplifier and enough drivers to have considerable coverage - something from the earlier era where backline and PA were really part of the same thing.
“I like a couple of Ampeg SVT heads through a splitter, but not the new ones; they don’t come close in terms of sonic possibilities or reliability. I have a 1990s Mesa 400+ that sounds good through some SVT 8x10 cabs, or through the ancient Boogie 2x15 cabinets I had. A newer Fender Super Bassman 300 or Sunn 300T is also good. Orange AD200s will do in a pinch, and their cabinets, especially the 8x10s, are great.
“I don’t really use pedals; well, maybe on the recordings sometimes, when a bit of distortion is required. Most of the time that’s just the amp wide open, or lately, a Black Arts Tone Works Revelation pedal… just a touch of that mixed in. I regard it as a condiment and not a food group.”
Dean refuses to be tied down to nominating a single favourite bassist of all time, but is a little more forthcoming when asked to discuss his own favourite bass-lines from the songs that he’s written.
“I honestly don’t know about a best bassist. Is Steve Harris better than Esperanza Spalding? Is Jaco Pastorius better than John Entwistle, and are they half as innovative as James Jamerson? Could you say Cliff Burton and Scott Reeder aren’t as good as Bootsy Collins? It’s difficult to pick one.
“My main influences are Geezer Butler, Chuck Dukowsky from Black Flag, Jack Bruce, Aston Barrett from the Wailers, whoever played bass for Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Paul Jones, and then mostly Daryl Jennifer of the Bad Brains… because that was all stuff I liked to listen to.”
“My best lines are usually the ones that reinforce the groove and not so much the ones that are clever or showy. Albatross has a good ‘Sabbath meets reggae in a Skynyrd jam’ vibe, Stonebreaker has some heavy blues harmony stuff, and My Grain has a Who-inspired fast improv where I have a couple of tricks going on… more than one, at least, haha! There’s even a little bit of crooked-sounding upright on our Volume Dealers album.”
And what of the new COC album, No Cross No Crown? Not only is it heavy, urgent and dynamic, but guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan is back in the band, for the first time since 2005’s In The Arms Of God.
“It’s definitely heavy,” agrees Mike, “It’s more pissed off than expected, and there’s a lot of syncopated shuffles and some Thin Lizzy-inspired harmonies, which is the sort of thing you can get away with when you have two guitar players in the band again. The anticipation is there and I think we’ve responded - I’m looking forward to playing these songs in front of lots and lots of people.”