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Suzy Starlite: “My job is to be the custodian of the groove”

(Image credit: Simon Campbell)

Suzy Starlite of the Starlite Campbell Band hits the blues groove running...

“We’ve had an amazing two years, with a European Blues Award nomination, extensive radio play and chart positions worldwide for our debut album Blueberry Pie, and now a number of festivals coming up. Then we’ve got a major headline gig on the Saturday night at Wangaratta Blues and Jazz Festival in Australia, followed by a short tour, before fi nishing off the year in the UK.

“My job is to be the custodian of the groove. I keep it melodic, smooth and appropriate in feel. I’m interested in serving what the song needs, and a lot of the time that calls for more space and fewer notes. Either you have a natural feel for the groove or you don’t - and I don’t think that’s something you can teach anyone. There’s far more character and expression to be translated through your fingers than sheer speed and finger acrobatics.

“I only started playing bass four years ago, and was thrown in at the deep end when we toured the UK, because some of the tracks in the set were from my husband Simon Campbell’s second solo album, The Knife. The bass player and producer of that record was Andy Seward, who is remarkable on both upright and electric and has toured and recorded with folk luminaries such as Kate Rusby and Martin Simpson. There I was, 12 months in, learning these very tricky parts! Andy also turned me on to flatwound strings, which I totally love.

From the word go I was recording. This is a fabulous discipline, as when you listen back to the soloed track you can hear any bad technique

“A short while after this we started on the album, and right from the word go I was recording. This is a fabulous discipline, as when you listen back to the soloed track you can hear any bad technique - strings rattling on the frets, open strings ringing due to lack of damping. Even though we DI’d the bass, the main tone was generated through my vintage HiWatt DR201, which is very unforgiving of sloppy playing.

“I’m proud to support HiWatt UK, Mike Lull Custom Guitars, Lehle, Supertone and Dave Smith Instruments. HiWatt are doing great things in Doncaster right now, building classic bass and guitar heads by hand to the original specifi cations. My DR201 200W head from 1973 is incredible and so responsive, and was signed on the inside by Dave Reeves himself. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the new 8x10 and 400W head, but I’m not sure my bandmates share the same enthusiasm…

“The Lehle RMI Basswitch IQ DI preamp is great, as I can use the EQ with my Fylde King John bass, and the FX loop to accommodate the Lehle RMI Basswitch Enhanced Overdrive. It has mute, line driver and tuner facilities too. The sound is really transparent with loads of headroom and uses a ‘real’ transformer on the DI. They have really thought about this. 

“Simon is obsessed with guitar tone, and we needed a great cable that didn’t suck the tone from high-impedance pickups and was robust enough for the road. We searched and developed the Supertone line of cables that are affordable and just work. They have the lowest capacitance of any cable out there, and a Neutrik switching jack that mutes when you unplug. That’s great live, but it’s most important in our studio, where clients often unplug their instruments when still live in the studio monitors.

Transistor amps are s**t. There, I said it! When pushed they sound bloody awful compared to valve amps

“My first bass was a short scale Gretsch ThunderJet, which I still use a lot for that punch. My fabulous Mike Lull V4 is my go-to instrument and very special to me, as it was a wedding present from Simon - I bought him a Gretsch Nashville! It’s an incredible allrounder that really works with Thomastik- Infeld fl atwounds in combination with the HiWatt and Bergantino cabinet. Mike is currently making me a T4 in Cardinal Red to give me some more grunt for the new record; I am super excited!

“Transistor amps are shit. There, I said it! When pushed they sound bloody awful compared to valve amps, which give you a rich, kickass growl and responsive attitude by the shedload. It’s like the difference between riding my 200cc 1966 Ariel Colt Classic motorbike and a sterile modern ‘Pocket Rocket’. They just lack character in their sound… I miss the smell of Castrol in the air.

“I do own a MarkBass Mini Mark III head and use it with a Bergantino HDN112 for our acoustic gigs. It’s pretty neutral and works well with the Fylde Acoustic bass and Lehle Basswitch, but when it comes to passion, give me a big old tube amp every time.

“We have written most of the next record, which is called The Language of Curiosity, and we’re looking to record early in 2019. Simon and I also present The Supertone Show, a weekly radio show syndicated to fi ve stations in the UK, Canada and the Netherlands. We both have a background in radio. On the show we play music we love and chat about everything from great bass-lines and fuzz guitar to musicians’ stories and the fact that Neil Young’s middle name is Percival. Then there’s another big fat dollop of bass guitar chat on top for good measure!”

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