Daniel Robinson is the singer-songwriter-bassist-producer-occasional guitarist for the Philadelphia-based rock band Smart Barker (formerly Milton and the Devils Party). A former English professor, Dan currently resides in San Diego, where he plays bass in several cover bands and focuses primarily on making music and learning more about it. Although he is a continent apart from the rest of the band, Smart Barker is still going strong, having released their fourth album, All The Rivers In Hades, produced by Dan, in 2021. Since this album was recorded during COVID lockdown, with the players recording their parts separately, the band is at work on its fifth album, even with Dan, again producing, on the west coast. Smart Barker also features Dan's longtime collaborator Mark Graybill on guitars (all pick-slides are Dan's, though) and the band's once and present drummer, Tommy Traddles, with frequent contributions by guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Pat Manley, singers Stephanie Davis and Sarah Robinson, and others. Dan also has a new recording project called The Own Devices.
Well, my first musical hero was Rick Springfield. Back then, in junior high school, guys were supposed to be getting into AC/DC, and Rick Springfield was for girls. But that's the thing: I thought it was cool to play music that girls like! Still do. But I was always drawn to the low end, and my main musical influence back in the early to mid-80s became Sting—as a bassist, songwriter, and singer—and rock star that girls like. I couldn't sing like Sting, but his bass playing really was really groovy to me. But only, as I learned later when he played with Stewart Copeland. His solo stuff left me alternately cold and bemused, especially the Elizabethan lute phase.
My great shame for many years was that I couldn't read the bass clef. I had played alto saxophone in the junior high band, so I learned to read the treble clef and found reading the bass clef to be too difficult for my teenaged brain. I can read both now—but neither as well as I would like. I'd tell myself to get better at reading music, both clefs.
Well, my band eventually found playing shows as an original band to be too demoralizing after a while. Our friends got too old to come see us play at a bar in Philly at midnight on a Wednesday. So we mostly make records—and that makes me very excited. I do a lot of stuff in the band—singing, producing, arranging—but I really enjoy the moments when I get to sit down and craft a bass line for one of our songs. And now, I don't have to make up bass parts that I can play while singing. But I do enjoy playing live: in Southern California, I play bass with several cover bands because I want to stay in playing shape as a bassist. I sing a little too with these bands, but mostly I just want to play bass.
Well, I think I already have two of the three: the two Origin Effects pedals I have. The Cali 76 compressor is fantastic—it really makes me sound better! And I really like the BASSRIG Super Vintage pedal for running direct to the board. It doesn't color the sound as much as you'd think an amp modeler would do, which is great because my Thunderbirds sound amazing by themselves. My Fender basses need a little more help to sound great, and the pedal gives it to them. My third pedal would probably be the Waterfall chorus pedal for bass by JAM. I'm very interested in that one.
I like to learn hard stuff that I don't already know how to play or maybe was afraid to even try to play—"Roundabout," Rush stuff—songs that I may not even like as songs but that have cool and challenging bass parts. I also like to learn synth bass parts from the 80s because they were obviously not conceived or performed by a human bassist. They often have melodies and rhythms that a human bassist wouldn't come up with, but that can be useful exercises even though they feel at first unnatural.
Well, for me, it's all about the songwriting—the lyrics as well as the music. The epitome of excellence in both, to me, is The Smiths. Johnny Marr's guitar parts, Andy Rourke's bass parts, and Morrissey's lyrics just hit all the right buttons for me. So, it's actually something that hasn't changed in, sheesh, more than 30 years. I was pretty deep into Elvis Costello for a long time—and I learned so much from his music. One of my favorite songwriters is Lloyd Cole. And I love Kate Bush—always and forever.
My favorite riff to play is either "Cars" by Gary Numan or the lick from "Beat It." Or maybe "Mystery Achievement" by The Pretenders. I deliberately avoid trying to seem like I'm showing off. I would go crazy having to listen to all that shredding if I worked in one of those stores. It's funny: it seems like the kind of shredding you heard in the 80s is still the same kind of shredding you hear in the music store today. It's like a time capsule.
Well, I've found that the giants, Fender and Gibson, are pretty hit-and-miss these days—maybe have been since the 60s and 70s. But I did get lucky with the three Gibson Thunderbirds I own. I love to play my 1991 Thunderbird IV; but my 2006 Thunderbird Studio, technically a step-down, is the best-sounding bass I have ever heard. It is very heavy, kind of clunky, and ergonomically awkward, but it just sounds amazing. I've had many sound guys, mixing and mastering engineers, and producers remark on its superlative tone. I had active EMGs in it for a long time and kind of thought that was a major factor, but recently I put its original pickups in it, and it sounds just as good—seriously!
Although I am not primarily a guitarist and am not really all that great on guitar, I have always dreamed of owning a Gibson 335. But I may want to see what having a bass custom-made for me would be like—to see if I could have that great tone my T-Bird Studio has but with much better playability.
As a bassist, I don't really have an elaborate effects chain—just my trusty (and ancient) Boss TU-2 tuner, the superb Origin Effects Cali 76 Bass compressor pedal, the DigiTech Drop Polyphonic Drop Tune Pitch-Shift Pedal (for playing covers), and the newly added Origin Effects BASSRIG Super Vintage pedal, which can sub for my Gallien-Krueger Legacy 410 (4x10", 800-watt bass combo) and which I really like but is pretty heavy and now more and more bands are going amp-less. I have several Rattlesnake cables for playing out and for recording at home. I especially like the snakehead cables and how they fit my Thunderbirds like a glove. They sound great, they look great, and they are durable. One feature I particularly like is that they actually teach you how to coil them correctly by resisting the old "yes boss" style of winding, which is better for the cable and prevents kinking.
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