The House of Bello
February 14, 2011 – Chrissy Mauck
Going for Gold
“You never want to stop learning,” Bello says. “It’s really easy to burn out, which is why I study different kinds of music and different bass players — so that I can bring a new aspect into my playing. I’m always curious to find out more from other bassists. Reggie Hamilton has sent me stuff that just freaks me out. His way of playing is so different than mine. I’m just always curious about how a particular bassist got to the point of playing that riff. Or how did they bend their finger there? How did they get their pinky that way? It’s weird, but those are the questions I like to ask.”
And if he could ask a question of any bassist, living or not, Bello says it would have to be Jaco Pastorius.
“He just had such tenacity and pure talent,” says Bello. “I’d love to just know what his favorite song was to play growing up on bass. I want to know where he was coming from.”
Fender signature artist Frank Bello is hoarse and sleep deprived when Fender News catches up with the powerhouse bassist for groundbreaking NYC-based thrash metal institution Anthrax. As a touring musician for more than 25 years, this is hardly an unusual state. But instead of a live performance and after-party keeping him up into the wee hours of the morning, Bello spent the evening obsessing over a bass riff in 1977 Stevie Wonder hit “Sir Duke.”
“When my son goes to bed, I put my little amp in the living room, go on YouTube and watch old videos of James Jamerson or Nate Watts,” shares Bello. “I want to try to emulate them and see where they are coming from. Last night I got stuck on this one little riff on ‘Sir Duke’ that was bothering me. I just wasn’t playing it right and I probably rewound and played it at least 80 or 90 times. I was obsessed. It ended up being easier than I thought, but I just had to learn Nate’s bass riff. I know I’m in my forties, but in my mind I’m still a little kid with this fire to learn everything I can about the bass. It’s an obsession.”
Bello was just a young kid when he first discovered this obsession for music.
“I didn’t have a lot of money in my pocket,” he recalls of growing up in the Bronx. “No dad in my life, and so I was looking for heroes, and the musicians in my life were the ones I looked up to as a kid. I saw music as my way out instead of taking the other path.”
Bello started out on guitar, but it didn’t take long before one of the musicians he looked up to, his uncle, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, pointed out that bass was the more obvious fit.
“On every song we’d jam, whether it be a Black Sabbath or Rush song, I was always playing the bass parts on guitar,” says Bello. “That’s what I heard. My ear just lent itself to the bass, and so finally Charlie just says, ‘Switch to bass already!’ And once I tried the bass I knew it was over. I said, ‘This is it for me; this is my love.’ I look at the bass as the song. Without bass, where are we?”
Bello found that answer during his high school jazz class. His teacher, Ms. Ingerman, had no problem letting him play standup bass, but electric bass was absolutely off limits thanks to some heavy metal demonstrations with classmate and future Cult drummer John Tempesta.
“Before class, he’d get on the drums and I’d get on the bass and we’d start playing Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath songs,” Bello explains. “All of a sudden we’d have this group of kids surrounding us, headbanging and really getting into the songs. Our teacher would get really mad at us, and she’d come weaving through the crowd, pushing kids out of the way, and grab the drumsticks out of John’s hands and the bass out of mine. She’d just scream ‘OUT!’ and send us to the principal’s office. That happened three or four times a week. Our principal would make us sit there for a while and tell us, ‘Don’t ever do that again,’ but he knew we’d be at it the next day. There was no way we were going to quit.”
Thirty years later, Bello is still melting kids’ faces off.
Anthrax enjoyed a banner year in 2010, joining fellow metal giants Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer that summer for several historic shows during the European Sonisphere Festival tour. Billed as “Big Four” concerts, the shows marked the first time that all four seminal U.S. thrash founders played together on the same bill.
“The Big Four was really just this great gift; a beautiful thing for us,” says Bello. “You have to understand, the four of these bands, we literally grew up together. We started this thrash metal movement in the ’80s and it just makes total sense for all of us to be playing together. The great thing about this is that I’m still into every single one of these bands. They are still putting out great music, everybody is at the top of their game and now there’s this whole new generation of fans that have discovered our music. There are 13- or 15-year-old kids and 40-year-old men out in the crowd. It doesn’t matter. They’re still connecting to this music and they want to see these bands.”
|Bello has two signature models with Fender — the Frank Bello Bass and the Squier by Fender Frank Bello Jazz Bass®.
“I’m really proud of my signature models with Fender and Squier. I love them, and we are looking to maybe update them soon and do some fine-tuning. My Squier bass was really important because I want a kid — boy or girl — to go by a music store and be able to look in the window and see a bass that they can save up for. That was me. I didn’t have enough money for an $800 or $900 bass. I had a couple of hundred bucks that I saved up from working at the deli in the Bronx, but I couldn’t afford the big-time basses. So why not make a good bass that plays really well and is affordable for kids? I think that’s really important because you get the basses in the kids’ hands and let them have a chance at making music.”
Bello says it also made total sense to reconnect with Joey Belladonna, Anthrax’s vocalist from 1985 to 1992.
“Joey coming back was the right thing,” says Bello, who officially joined the band around the same time as Belladonna after serving as Anthrax’s roadie and guitar technician. “In the ’80s, Joey took it to a new level for us, so when we started talking about this Big Four maybe happening, I think everybody wanted him to come back. Fortunately, he felt the same way and the stars aligned. I was so psyched with what Joey was doing with the crowd during the Big Four shows and how great he was singing. That original Anthrax package is there.”
The epic Big Four concerts were highlighted by a June 22, 2010, appearance in Sofia, Bulgaria, which was “cinecast” live to movie theaters worldwide. More than 130,000 people turned up at theaters to watch the event; mosh pits reportedly broke out in many of them. Widely hailed as the biggest event in the history of thrash metal, the concert was capped by all four bands joining onstage for a cover of Diamond Head classic “Am I Evil?”
“Everybody on the stage that night felt an amazing vibe,” says Bello. “For me, it was the highlight of my career. I’ve jammed with a lot of people, but God, on that stage, it was just electric. The vibe was insane. It was electric, and I can still feel that way when I think about it. I watch the DVD and it’s just an ‘Oh my God’ moment for me. It was a really powerful experience.”
The aforementioned DVD, a double-disc release titled The Big Four: Live From Sofia, Bulgaria, has been certified double platinum in the United States.
“We were hopeful that it would do well, but it exceeded our expectations,” notes Bello. “Let’s face it — the music business is different now. Records and CDs are nearly obsolete with the Internet. So to reach double platinum in this environment and this late in our careers, it’s pretty amazing.”
The monumental success of the DVD fueled a frenzied demand for more Big Four appearances. No surprise then that the four bands intend to deliver — they’ll assault North America on April 23 with a single U.S. appearance at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., before headlining the 2011 Sonisphere festival at Knebworth, England, in July.
“I love that we’ll be playing a show for our fans in America,” says Bello. “The shows really are an absolute blast. You’ve got four bands who are all honest friends and all at the top of their game. There’s no losing here. Everybody wins. It’s definitely a show I wouldn’t want to miss because there’s so much excitement and energy.”
Bello is also looking forward to the 2011 release of Anthrax’s first studio album since 2003’s We’ve Come for You All. Although the music has been mostly finished for nearly two years, Anthrax is now looking to Belladonna to handle the vocals. Plus, after last summer’s Big Four dates, they recently decided to re-record a song called “Fight ’Em Till You Can’t.”
“Honestly, we just play it better now,” says Bello. “Maybe it’s something with the rhythm or the tempo, but after playing it live so many times it just sounds better, and so we decided to re-track the tune. It probably should always work like that. You should have these songs, test them on the road and get to learn how to really play them great and then record. Unfortunately, that’s not how the music business works. You write a record, record it, and then you go tour.”
But with a little downtime from touring, Bello plans to happily continue with his late-night bass lessons, an exercise that will no doubt likewise improve on his reputation as a ferocious and inventive bass player.
“I just feel like I still have so much to learn,” he says. “I love the bass more now that I’ve ever loved the bass. I just want to keep learning more about my craft. There’s just a fire that’s burning inside of me, so that’s what I do every night. I truly, truly love it.”
Besides, his evening sonic refinement is the perfect way to maintain dominance in what he refers to as the “crazy house of Bello,” which comprises his wife and 4-year-old son, two iguanas, a cockatiel named Homer and a miniature pinscher.
“The iguanas don’t make noise, but when they move their tails flap and it’s really loud,” Bello says. “So it’s like a chain reaction. The iguanas set off the bird; the bird sets off the dog and it gets really loud. So I get my bass out and it’s like payback for all the noise they make.”
Bello will join David Ellefson of Megadeth for back-to-back clinics on Feb. 25 and Feb. 26.
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