Yes, three ‘O’s. As Lady Gaga’s bassist Jonny Goood tells us, it’s all about the mind, the body and the soul...
We watched you play the Super Bowl with Lady Gaga, Jonny. Great job.
“Thanks! That was pretty crazy - it felt surreal to be up on those stages, doing splits.”
I would worry about damaging certain sensitive organs, myself.
“Yeah - all my friends bag on me about that! The splits does a number on your hips. I fully understand what Prince and James Brown had to go through.”
The crucial difference being that those guys weren’t holding a bass guitar when they did the splits.
“Well, I guess that’s what they say - listen to what people teach you, and then try and take it one step further. I’m from a small town just like Prince was, and I spent the better part of my life studying his accomplishments. Once I learned how to do his moves, I took it a step further and did it with a bass guitar in my hands. It was pretty nerve-wracking doing it on the Grammy stage, I can tell you.”
I noticed a bit of headbanging on your part, too.
“Yes. Ever heard of the band Bad Brains? They’re one of my favourite bands, and that’s just the [Bad Brains singer] HR in me, man. You gotta have that energy. I’m pretty sure my body will be paying for it, 40 years from now, but while I’m able, I gotta give it my all, every time I’m performing. I do a lot of stretching before I go on stage, and also when I wake up in the morning.
“Again, that makes me really appreciate the greats that came before me. James Brown wasn’t getting up in the morning and doing the splits with cold hamstrings - he was an athlete. And Prince was a great basketball player. I came up playing football and running track, and I was also a police officer for a few years, so all that kept me pretty nimble. Life is much better when you’re flexible. You can do better dance moves for a start.”
Your stage performance is full-on, isn’t it?
“A big part of the show is the musicians. Gaga wants to feel the energy that the guitars have. When we played the Grammys, we didn’t use programmed backing tracks, which is a rare thing these days. So I have parts when I run around, kicking and splitting, and then dance moves, and then parts where I have to go out and give my all and headbang my life away. I threw my bass off stage twice - once by accident and once on purpose. There’s really no wrong way to rock out with her.”
What are your go-to basses?
“I have two babies. My main bass is a 2007 Fender Jazz with Nordstrand pickups, a Babicz bridge and a Performance preamp in it. It weighs about 15 pounds and it is badass.
“The other one is a customised P-Bass, also with Nordstrand pickups and a Babicz bridge. That one was painted by a great artist named Ron Bass, who’s painted leather jackets for Ellen DeGeneres and has done stuff with Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
“I met him seven years ago, when I was fresh out of being a cop, and I told him one day I’d get this bass into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Back then I did big gigs, small gigs - anything I could to develop myself as an artist. I carry his art with me on my bass, because blood, sweat and tears went into it just as much as it goes into everything I do.”
Do you play five-strings, too?
“I do, but I wanted to keep the look and feel traditional - like James Jamerson and the Brothers Johnson. There’s something special about the four-string bass that I love. We use standard tuning in Gaga’s band, although sometimes I have some fun and drop down to E flat.
“The guitarists go down to drop-D or drop-C - it’s basically a metal show, merging with pop and electronics. It’s the craziest gig ever. I play synth basslines on a Roland JDXA and a Moog synthesizer, too.”
How did you first get into bass?
“I was a late starter - I was 18. I grew up around some heavy musical presences. My uncle was [renowned drummer] Cornelius ‘Cornbread’ Johnson, so I was introduced to classic rock and funk and hip-hop from an early age.
“I was into football as well - some of my cousins played in the NFL - so by the time I was a young adult I had to choose between football and music. I ended up breaking my cheekbone in a tackle, and what’s funny is that I went right back into that game and ended up breaking my finger catching the ball. I think that was the universe’s way of telling me that I wasn’t meant to play sports!
“I ended up getting sidelined, and I was bored, so I picked up a $50 bass and started playing it eight hours a day. I still do that now, even after doing every gig I ever dreamed of. I still have the same hunger.”
How did the Lady Gaga gig come about?
“I’ve been working with Gaga for three years now. Before that I was with Wiz Khalifa, and after Wiz I took two years out to work on my own music. I grew up with him and we went to the same high school, which is where the hip-hop side of me comes from. My album Bass Hop came from that time. Then I got the call to do the Lada Gaga gig.
“I meshed right in with her band. I remember when I first met her, I was trying to be professional so I reached out for a handshake - but we looked at each other for like, point-two of a second and then we just both went in for a hug. I knew it was right. She welcomed me into her family from that point on, and two gigs later, I was doing the Super Bowl! I was like, ‘Are you guys sure I’m supposed to be here?’, ha ha! It’s been the ride of a lifetime.”
Tell us about Bass Hop.
“I locked myself in a room, taught myself to rap and wrote the songs. I did it because I had to do it. My girlfriend at the time left me because she thought I was crazy, and I lost all my money. As Jimi Hendrix said, I had slices of bread but nothing to put between them!
“But here I am, and I’ve been in People magazine and a whole bunch of other media as well. It’s been a long journey from when I was homeless and living in my car - or the ‘age of enlightenment’, as I call it, because I learned so much and created so much. I made an album that was new in American hip-hop and new in bass, too. Faith in yourself is important, no matter how grim and dark everything looks.”
I imagine you’re the only former police officer to play bass at the Super Bowl and the Grammys.
“Yes, it’s been a crazy 10 years. I can still smell the gun and the badge on me. I’m trying to figure out how I got through these transitions. I have no clue.”
Bass Hop is out now.