Willie Weeks: King of Tone & Taste

Some bass players impress us with their chops, their speed, and their fancy playing. Willie Weeks does it with great tone, perfect time, and an uncanny ability to know exactly what to play, and when to play it, for any given tune. Of course, Willie has the chops to play virtually anything, but it’s how he uses his skills that sets him apart from many other bass players. It’s why we’re calling Willie Weeks king of tone and taste.

Willie Weeks – The Beginnings

Listening to Weeks play bass is like listening to a waterfall or hearing waves lap against the shore. It’s so natural and right that you get the feeling that it’s as effortless for him as if he was born to play bass from day one. The reality is that Willie is and has been the consummate professional musician. Weeks has worked hard and honed his craft over many years of practice and study that continues to this day.

Born in North Carolina in 1947, Weeks began playing electric bass in the early 1960s. Strongly influenced by Motown great James Jamerson, Willie quickly developed his own style based on the soul, R&B, and pop music he heard on the radio. Playing a 1962 Fender Precision, Weeks started working as a studio bassist and quickly became a first-call session player for many top bands and singers.

Always in the Pocket

Willie has worked with artists such as Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy, Isaac Hayes, Gregg Allman, Joe Walsh, Rod Stewart, and Bo Diddley among many others.

Earlier in his career, while he was in Chicago, Weeks joined up with Rufus prior to Chaka Khan being in the band. He also went on to play with artists as diverse as David Bowie, The Doobie Brothers, and many country acts while he was in Nashville. In fact, he became a very sought after country session player as well. It would seem that Willie Weeks can play it all, and play it well.

Probably his best-known work, however, is with soul singer Donnie Hathaway. Willie’s bass playing on Hathaway’s Live album is nothing short of genius. His 3 1/2 minute bass solo on “Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)” is considered by many to be one of the finest solos ever recorded. Playing his ’62 Precision Bass with flatwound strings, Weeks starts it slow with a steady and funky rhythm. Willie gradually raises the tempo and the syncopation while throwing in inventive high note fills and perfectly placed ghost notes. His amazing playing just soars, while still keeping the solo consistent and musically logical (not an easy thing to do).

Another highlight on the Hathaway album is “Little Ghetto Boy” which showcases Week’s ability to stretch out and really lay down some funky bass lines that weave in and out of Hathaway’s soulful singing perfectly. Willie always seems to add just the right amount of flair and funk to a song without stepping on the vocals or getting in the way of the other musicians.

Willie Weeks Today

Weeks is still performing and recording today and is still one of the most sought after session bassists around. Most notably, he has recently played with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood during their world tour with the Crossroads Guitar Festival. Here’s a short solo (not the greatest quality) from when he played with Clapton back in 2007:

Willie Weeks with Eric Clapton and Steve Jordan

Besides his ’62 Fender Precision Bass, Willie also has a 1958 Fender Precision, a 1964 Fender Jazz Bass, a ’63 Fender Precision, a Fender Marcus Miller Jazz, and he has been known to use Fender reissue models as well.

Truly a living legend, Willie Weeks is the king of tone and taste, and any bass player looking to improve their playing should check out his work. Not only can you go to school listening to Willie play, but you will love every minute of his tasty bass lines as well.

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