In 1983 Stu Hamm took part in a notable recording session with fellow Berklee College of Music alumnus and guitar wunderkind, Steve Vai, for Flex-Able, Vai’s first solo album. This was not their first collaboration — the two had met on the Berklee campus in 1978, and played in a Boston-based band called Axis. Hamm joined Vai in recording the tape Vai used for his Frank Zappa audition; as a result of that audition, Vai ended up recording and touring with Zappa from 1980-82. In 1988 Hamm released his first solo album, Radio Free Albemuth, which featured guitarist Joe Satriani, who enlisted Hamm that same year to play three tracks on his sophomore solo effort, Dreaming #11. In 1991 Hamm was back in the studio with Satriani, recording two tracks on Satch’s renowned Flying in a Blue Dream album.
For over 30 years, bassist Stu Hamm has played with some of music’s most respected musicians on stages all over the world, and may well be the most famous bass player you’ve never heard of. Tracking all of Hamm’s musical accomplishments as a writer, artist, and hired gun would be difficult; along with Vai and Satriani, he has played with Vince Neil, Michael Schenker, and George Lynch, to name a few. He’s packed so much into his career it’s staggering.
Hamm released his fifth studio album The Book of Lies earlier this year, which features guitarist Carl Verheyen, and L.A. session player Jason Harrison Smith on drums, both of whom Hamm has toured with in the past. An instrumental version of The Beatles’ classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is on the album, which the three performed live every night.
“As we got off the road I took those guys in the studio to record it while we were hot.” Hamm says. “We tried to do some overdubs and the more overdubs we tried to put—it just took away the whole vibe of the song. So we kept it just nothing but the three of us playing, and that sort of spurred me for the other band tracks on the record.”
“The song ‘Book of Lies’ itself has a bunch of my Bay Area friends: John Mader on drums and Lauren Leibert, who’s just the greatest unknown guitar player from the Bay Area. Incredible. He’s just so funky, man.”
Last summer, Hamm teamed up with guitarist Alex Skolnick (Testament, Alex Skolnick Trio), and Joel Taylor (Al Di Meola), forming a revamped Stu Hamm Band. The trio played several dates along the east coast, and after a short breather, Hamm joined up with the Stef Burns League in Italy, a band led by fellow Bay Area rock guitarist Stef Burns (Huey Lewis and the News, Alice Cooper).
Check out some highlights from a recent show.
With no shortage of gigs in Hamm’s near future, the bassist will be heading out again with Alex Skolnick and Joel Taylor to play some U.S. dates from December through mid-January.
Hamm, Skolnick, and Taylor have clocked thousands of miles together as a touring outfit. Hamm explains how he and Skolnick became acquainted:
“In 1991 when I had my album out, The Urge, I had a semi-hit, this piece called “Lone Star”, that I had written for Eric Johnson. I auditioned all those guitar players—I’m not going to list their names—all the big hair, late ’80s-early ’90s guitar players. And they all came in and when it came time to solo they played Eric Johnson’s solo, note for note. And when Alex auditioned, when it was time for his solo, he played his own solo. I was like, “Dude, you’re hired.” Since then he moved to New York. The great thing is that 24 years later we’re playing again. We’re just much better musicians. Man, we’re having a blast.”
Hamm may seem like an oddity in that his career is one without a destination. Whether playing to the masses or teaching at clinics, he is an artist who is constantly refining his craft—a perpetual student.
“I read an interview—it was either Bill Bruford or Robert Fripp– ‘If you think you’re too good to study or practice, or you think you’ve achieved whatever ‘it’ is, or you think you’ve mastered your craft, then you might as well give it up and start doing something different.'”
“I try to make records that are interesting to the listener from start to stop. They’re all different instrumentations, sounds, and tones. Honestly, the only thing that keeps me going is I feel I’m actually getting it now after 43 years. I’m not kidding. I’m playing upright bass for the first time in like, 35 years. And I’m always working on scales or method books. Man, I just love it. I could just sit down and read music all the time for those times that I do get called for a session. I’m certainly still on the path of the journey.”
Check out the “Greatest Bass Solo Ever” here.