It was back in 2013 when Francis Rocco Prestia, the legendary bass player from Tower of Power and the innovator of fingerstyle funk bass, started talking to ESP about joining our artist roster. The following January, we introduced the RB Series basses that Rocco helped us design, and he’s been part of the ESP family ever since.
In the interview below, we spoke to Rocco about his plan to record a new solo project, his first since 1999’s ‘Everybody on the Bus’, and also the first since he formally parted ways with Tower of Power. Rocco is funding the album through a crowdsourcing campaign (details below), and we encourage you to give this bass icon a hand with his efforts to bring you new music!
What’s been your experience working with ESP over the past six years or so?
When I joined up with them, my first impression was the feeling of comfortableness of being there. Everybody that was there had the same thing going on. It was unusual. I was grateful that they wanted me in. I was looking a home.
You’ve played a number of different basses over the years. What kind of improvements were you going for with the design of the LTD RB Series?
The weight of those older basses was a big issue. I’ve had issues with my back, and I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve seen guys who play these real heavy basses and I’m like, “Really?” So that was the biggest issue for me to look to improve. The neck was the other issue. It’s hard to get a run of production of a bass and have them all measure exactly the same, but that’s part of the deal. The neck on the RB Series is the measurement between a P and a J. It’s right in there. I didn’t want it to be very fat, but just wanted it to feel comfortable in my hand. It’s comfortable for me.
The RB basses have a Seymour Duncan P4 and J4 pickup set. Can people expect versatile tones from this bass?
I think so. You know, tone is a big issue. I hear so many great bass players, but then I think, “How can they live with that tone?” A lot of it has to do with your touch and your hand. That’s where all that comes from. But really, tone is very simple. I want it to sound like a bass, not a different instrument, and that means it should sound bassy.
Rocco performing at an ESP dealer clinic in 2018
What’s inspiring you to take an a new solo project?
Well, truthfully, it’s from being put in the position of going from 60 to 0 (laughs). My health issues put me in that position. My body, for whatever reason, decided to go through these issues, and It was too much for the band to take. They basically put me out to pasture. I’ll be honest and blunt; it was pretty devastating. It depressed me for awhile, but I’m coming out of it. What I realized was that the only way for me to move forward is to do something on my own. That was the whole the deal behind the new album.
You’ve set up a crowdsourcing campaign to finance the costs of recording the album. That seems to be a more typical way for musicians to handle the upfront costs of creating an album.
It is one avenue to go down. There are so many people now that have their own home studios, which is obviously cost effective, beyond the initial investment of the studio itself. I don’t have that luxury.
Let’s rewind the clock a little bit. Before you came along, there were indeed funky bass players like James Jamerson and Bootsy Collins. But you did something that at the time was an innovative style. Describe what “fingerstyle funk” is.
Basically, it’s a percussive sound. I don’t think about it because I do it. The fact that people appreciate it is sometimes astounding to me. I see so many other players that play rings around me, technically anyway. It’s more of a feel than a technique, and that’s the best way I can describe it.
If I’m a young bass player, what’s something I can do to stand out among other players beyond just practicing scales with my metronome?
You can teach somebody to play bass, but you can’t teach somebody how to feel. Beyond just practicing, the best thing they can do is play with others. It would be great if you could play with other guys on a regular basis, though it doesn’t seem to be that way very often these days. But until you get in a room and play with others, you can’t dig in and sink your teeth into anything. It’s likely you’re going to start out doing cover tunes. I’d say don’t worry about playing those covers note for note. Take the part and play what you feel. More than getting each note, you have to radiate the tune. That has to come across. So just play what you feel and don’t worry about the rest.
Be Part of Rocco’s Team!
Rocco has set up a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for the recording of his upcoming album. Click here to get more information.