Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bass Player Magazine Article on Tommy Cogbill

Great article by session bassist Michael Rhodes -- wonderful tribute to Tommy Cogbill.

Note (5/1/2011) -- above link doesn't work -- here's a new link to the story below:

Note (8/10/13) -- this article keeps disappearing! Try here:

Tommy Cogbill’s Complete Bass Line
Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’

By Chris Jisi | February, 2006

Top Nashville session bassist Michael Rhodes discusses the masters of his craft, and a personal mentor, with a gleam in his eye. “There are plenty of correlations between James Jamerson and Tommy Cogbill, including their jazz backgrounds and their parallel careers. Like James, Tommy was a take-charge guy in the studio; he would stand up and count off the songs, and basically run the session. He had such a strong presence in the music he played that there was a sort of natural deference by the rest of the band.” Of course, Jamerson’s prowess and genius have since been well documented in books, on CDs, and on film; Cogbill is still relatively unknown by name, although not by bass line. His trademark busy-yet-unimposing parts graced Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway,” Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain” and “In the Ghetto,” the Box Tops’ “Cry Like a Baby,” and Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” and “Respect” [see April ’99].

Born on April 8, 1932, in Johnson Grove, Tennessee, Cogbill started on guitar at age six and picked up electric bass—among other stringed instruments—along the way. Settling into a regular rhythm section with guitarists Reggie Young and Chips Moman, keyboardist Bobby Emmons, and drummer Gene Chrisman, the team became in demand in Memphis, Nashville, New York, and at Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 1967, Moman bought American Sound Studios in Memphis, and artists came from far and wide to work with the quintet. Cogbill eventually added producing to his skills, most notably behind the board for Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. On December 7, 1982, at age 50, he succumbed to a stroke.

Two years earlier, in Nashville, Cogbill met newcomer Rhodes on a session and took him under his wing. Says Michael, “Tommy taught me everything from studio demeanor to the role of the bass player. He innately knew how to approach a track and make it work. He was a soft-spoken, laid-back guy, but with a bass in his hands he had the intuitive ability to create forward motion through a song that enabled everyone else to surf in the wake. There’s probably no better example of that than ‘Son of a Preacher Man.’” The 1969 Top Ten hit came from British pop/soul singer Dusty Springfield’s album Dusty in Memphis [Mercury]; it’s considered her masterpiece, although it was her last major hit. Rhodes, who spoke to Reggie Young and bassist Mike Leech (who was at the session), gathered some interesting background info on the late-1968 date at American Sound:

“There probably weren’t a lot of takes done, because [producer] Jerry Wexler, [engineer/arranger/ co-producer] Tom Dowd, and [songwriter] John Hurley were present, so there was a better degree of direction. The rhythm section [Cogbill, Young, Chrisman, and Emmons and Bobby Wood on keyboards] recorded live to a scratch vocal by Dusty, who—being somewhat out of her element—was reportedly as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The band came up with their own parts, including Tommy, who consequently drove the whole track in typical fashion.” Rhodes continues, “Gear-wise, Tommy used Chip Moman’s 1959 P-Bass, which had a rosewood neck and flatwound strings. It was the American Studios bass; Mike Leech has it now [see photo, page 82]. Mike said Tommy also kept a jar of Vaseline on hand, and he would stick his right fingers into it to help facilitate his technique. Reggie remembers there being a bass amp at the session, and with Dowd present there was probably a direct as well as a miked amp signal. Interestingly, Leech recalled that on the earlier American Studios stuff, Tommy’s bass was recorded through an old Fender Twin Reverb that had one of its two 12" speakers busted and disconnected. They would place a mic, probably a Shure SM57, off axis of the single speaker and keep the amp at a low volume.”

The two-and-half-minute “Preacher Man” begins with intro interplay between Young’s guitar lick on the downbeat and Cogbill’s instantly funky response in the back half of the bars. For the first verse, at letter A, Cogbill remains busy but never gets in Springfield’s way. Rhodes offers, “What strikes me is how sparse and laid back the track is, except for Tommy. He takes up the bulk of real estate and gives the piece a sense of urgency and excitement. You can hear Gene Chrisman and everyone sort of following Tommy because he’s in the zone, right in the middle of the pocket, with an occasional lean.” As the track moves to the first chorus, at B, Cogbill continues his syncopated ways. At times he adds the dominant 7 (D) to the E triad chord change, as well as expressive hammer-ons and slurs. In bars 16 and 17 he breaks down to half-notes, in sync with the vocals, providing the perfect release to the previous rhythmic tension. Notes Rhodes, “The fact that Tommy is playing around the E up at the 7th fret tells me these guys had heard themselves on the radio and knew what translated. If he had played open E it might not have reproduced as well in a car or on a transistor radio. And given that Tommy also played wicked bebop-style guitar, navigating on the upper fingerboard was no sweat.”

Following a re-intro at bars 18 and 19 (in which horns enter and cop Young’s guitar lick), Cogbill continues his percolating part—with subtle variations—through the second verse and chorus (letters C and D). At E, the bridge begins, in what is a clever setup for a modulation a 4th away, to the key of A. Cogbill keeps driving forward, and in bar 33 he issues an ear-catching 5th on the downbeat, followed by a jazzy passing tone. Letter F’s third chorus establishes the new key of A, with Cogbill maintaining motion and adding a cool subtlety: Every time he arrives at the IV chord (D), he outlines a D triad (D-F#-A). His inspired, bluesy fill in bar 41 is a precursor to the out chorus at G. Rhodes assesses, “Tommy felt the final chorus needed to go into another gear, and he knew he had to get right to it before the quick fade. Moving up to a more vocal, conversational register, he plays a linear fill across the bar line from 47 to 48 without worrying about nailing the roots. This happens even more dramatically in bars 51 to 52—you can feel the joy. I would have loved to hear the next eight bars!” Rhodes sums up, “Tommy’s playing was always headed toward something—the next chord change or the next section. In retrospect, his playing was heading toward the future of electric bass.”

Mike Leech On Tommy Cogbill

“Tommy Cogbill’s profile has always been subdued—as he wanted it to be. However, from a historical perspective, he should be listed among the top-five most important popular-music bassists of the last century. He’s the only player I know who was able to use his knowledge on guitar, transpose it to bass, and make it believable. His dynamic interpretation on bass was uncanny; his sense of time was amazing. After a cut, when he had played something outstanding (such as the bass line on “Memphis Soul Stew”) and compliments were paid, he never claimed all the credit. He always passed credit around, usually by saying something like, ‘pretty funky groove, huh?’
“Thomas Clark Cogbill was a father figure to me. During the many hours we sat and talked, bass technique seldom came up; musicianship between us was secondary. When I was down, he had advice to get me back up; if he saw me heading in a bad direction, he would point a finger in my face and order me to either stop or change my direction. Being a musician is not just a career move but a lifestyle, and that is what dictates your abilities. That’s what Tommy taught me—not how to play, but how to live.”

Mike Leech’s resumé ranges from Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash, and includes Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

Michael Rhodes

In addition to appearing on recent CDs by Trisha Yearwood, Brooks & Dunn, Gretchen Wilson, Rodney Crowell, Randall Bramblett, and the Vinyl Kings, Nashville session ace Michael Rhodes can be heard on Larry Carlton’s latest, Firewire [Arista], and Vince Gill’s upcoming CD and tour.
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  1. Anonymous4:04 PM

    Dear Allen,
    I need a photo of Tommy Cogbill for my new Haynes Fender Bass Book - any ideas?

  2. On "Respect," Jerry Jemmott actually played bass. Tommy Cogbill was the official bassist for the session, but they let Jerry play bass after the band had a hard time finding the right feel for the song. Tommy moved over and played guitar (that amazing country guitar part). This is well documented ... it launched Jerry's career.

    1. I believe you're thinking of "Think". Jemmott took over on that. Almost certain it's Cogbill on "Respect".

  3. Anonymous3:59 AM

    Who played bass on Elvis' version of "Something"? Was it Leech or Cogbill?

  4. I believe that on "Something" this was the TCB Band so would have been Jerry Scheff on bass guitar. See this link: