A much-sought-after bass player, East talks about stepping into the spotlight and demonstrates his talent with a track from his long-awaited debut solo release.
Bassist Nathan East
Tavis: Nathan East is one of those indispensable go-to musicians who other artists really on when they’re cutting their albums. He’s played with Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, and on and on and on.
At this year’s Grammy awards, you saw him perform with Daft Punk. Nathan East has finally recorded his own CD, titled, appropriately enough, “Nathan East,” and he’ll end our show tonight with a performance. Nathan, finally, good to have you on this program.
Nathan East: It is so good to be here, thank you.
Tavis: And congrats on your solo project.
East: Well, thank you very much.
Tavis: After playing with everybody who’s anybody, what took so long?
East: (Laughs) Exactly. I’ve been busy, though. All those people –
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
East: – you just named, they’ve been keeping me real busy.
Tavis: How did you get into this as a profession? Obviously you have a talent, a gift, but how’d this become your profession?
East: When I was 16 years old I toured the country with Barry White and the Loving Limited Orchestra.
Tavis: (Laughter) All right, let’s just pause for a second. Let’s just pause for a second. Is that the coldest name – I always – my top list of names for accompaniment, you can’t fade the Raelettes, that’s a great name.
East: The Raelettes.
Tavis: The Raelettes.
East: The Raelettes is great.
Tavis: You can’t fade Wonder Love
East: Wonder Love.
Tavis: Stevie, I love Wonder Love.
East: I love that.
Tavis: But that Love Unlimited Orchestra –
East: Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Tavis: What a great name – the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
East: Unlimited Orchestra – that’s, that says it all to you.
East: They were cold. (Laughs)
Tavis: Barry was like the first brother who turned me on to really, to a real appreciation of strings.
East: Right, right. He had Gene Page doing all those arrangements, like “Love Theme” and everything. That’s actually supposed to be a vocal song, and the arrangement with the strings was so strong that they just took the lyrics right off it and just let the strings.
But it was amazing, because Barry, he was a national superstar, and we played the Apollo Theater, Madison Square Garden, Cobo Hall in Detroit –
Tavis: Isn’t there something illegal about touring at 16? Did your mama know where you was?
East: (Laughter) No –
East: She did. I had to come check in with her. (Laughter) I know, it was early days, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. So you get your start with Barry.
Tavis: So how do you work your way into being this studio artist that everybody wants to play on their projects?
East: Well funny enough, Gene Page, who did all those arrangements, actually was responsible for just like all these songs. He rearranged for the Jacksons and Elton John and Streisand, so if Gene liked you, he would call you.
So he started calling me for all of his sessions, and then you’d see all the session guys – Ray Parker and all the heavy hitters would be on the dates. So then they’d go over, “Hey, there’s this guy named Nate,” and then word travels. Next thing you know, you’re working every day. It was fantastic.
Tavis: If I put you on the spot, which I’m about to – and ask you – and this is music, so it’s easier to hear this than to describe it, and I wish I had the ability just to play a bit of it as you mentioned it. But if there were three or four riffs that you have played that you, like, are really, really proud of that everybody has heard –
Tavis: – give me the song, and give me the – just give me the song, and we’ll know the riff. Just give me the song.
East: Well, one riff is a song that I actually had a chance to write with Philip Bailey and Phil Collins called “Easy Lover.”
Tavis: Oh, I love that song.
East: So that was –
Tavis: Yeah (humming). Yeah, I love –
East: Yeah, exactly. (Laughter)
Tavis: I’m telling you, everybody knows these.
Tavis: Okay, one down, give me another one, give me another one.
East: Okay. That’s very impressive.
Tavis: Come on, man.
East: That you sang it, you know?
Tavis: Come on, man.
East: Then we did, song of the year in 1997 was “Change the World,” did that with Eric Clapton and Babyface. “Footloose,” with Kenny Loggins.
Tavis: He was here not too long ago.
East: Was he?
East: My buddy.
East: “Fairytales” with Anita Baker. These are just –
Tavis: Phillinganes’ piano work on that is unbelievable.
East: Oh, it’s crazy, yeah. He’s by far the best.
East: Best ever.
Tavis: So when you’re riding around in your car and this stuff comes on the radio, after all these years of doing it, like, are you impressed anymore with your own stuff, or?
East: No, I hear it and say, “Wow.” I still get excited about it. My kids now they get excited to hear it as well
Tavis: So let’s talk about your project. “Nathan East,” it’s the first time you’ve done this. What did you want to get across on your first project?
East: I wanted this to be a celebration of music and friendship. Very simple. Been doing it for now 30 years plus, and we know how music affects us. You know where you were the first time you heard Earth, Wind, & Fire “That’s the Way of the World.”
You know where – music is one of those things that becomes a soundtrack to our lives, so over the past 30 years I’ve made friendships with people like Michael McDonald and Eric Clapton, and so this album –
Tavis: And you wisely called them all in.
East: And Stevie Wonder. This is a celebration of those friendships and their music and some of my music, and just what we’ve been doing. So as simple as that.
Tavis: Yeah. How’d you decide what to put on it in terms of the tracks? Because I see some stuff on here that’s – I’ve heard it a thousand times already, but you got a good mix on here.
East: Yes, it’s difficult. We cut 26 songs, so we had – it’s kind of like choosing the best picture out of the 36 roll of film. You go in there and obviously I wanted to have the songs that feature my buddy – Stevie Wonder, that’s a no-brainer to have a couple his songs on there. Michael –
Tavis: Sir Duke is on here.
East: Sir Duke’s on there, “Overjoyed” is on there.
Tavis: “Overjoyed” is on here, yeah.
East: I was fooling around with “America, the Beautiful,” a version of that. So –
Tavis: You didn’t want to fool around with it. I was just about to say your rendition of “America, the Beautiful” is beautiful.
East: Oh, thank you very much.
East: I wanted that to be almost like another anthem, a new anthem for this country. We both know, we could sit here and rag on everybody, every party, (laughs) for the rest of the show.
But I wanted to just celebrate what’s great about this country, and so I thought let’s put a little bit of love back into the conversation.
Tavis: What’d you learn on this project about the bass as lead instrument?
East: I learned that now as a bass player playing lead, I need a bass to play under me.
Tavis: So you called your brother.
East: So I called my brother. (Laughter) Who plays bass – James East.
Tavis: There you go. (Laughter)
East: And he played, so it’s a family affair. I got James East, my brother Marcel East co-wrote a song with me on here, I got “101Eastbound,” and then of course my son, Noah, plays on the record with me as well.
Tavis: Love Noah. It really is a family affair, and I’m so excited to have Nathan on the show, because when you’ve known somebody as long as I’ve known Nate, and you – I’ve literally traveled the world to see him play.
East: Oh, it’s unbelievable.
Tavis: We’ve been to Montreaux together and –
Tavis: – everywhere, just to watch him do what –
Tavis: – Europe, to see what he does. He does it so well. Finally, he’s out with his own project, and it’s called, appropriately enough, “Nathan East.” You will want to get this and add it to your collection.
Let me stop trying to convince you with words how good Nathan East is. He can better convince you with his own sound. So to close our show tonight. So to close our show tonight, Nathan East performing “Daft Funk,” an ode to the Grammy-winning album he helped to record.
With him tonight, some great artists – good Lord. Jeff Babko on Keyboard, Michael Thompson, and some guy named Ray Parker Jr. on guitar – who you gonna call? And Steve Ferrone on drums.
Thanks for watching. As always, keep the faith. Here comes Nathan East.
[Live musical performance]
East: Thank you. Yeah. (Laughter)
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
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