Steve Harris (Iron Maiden, British Lion): Why I Decided to Play Bass
Steve Harris is an undisputed bass legend. But, with his love of melodic music, what made him decide to pick up the bass when he made the decision to learn an instrument? The Iron Maiden founder explained just that in our sit-down interview in advance of the release of The Burning from his side band British Lion.
Before getting into why he opted to learn how to play bass, we had to know what first inspired him to want to play music at all. That tale starts, unexpectedly, with the game of chess.
"A friend of mine in school, I used to go over his house and play chess. He used to put all this stuff on in the background," Harris explained. "I'm sure he was doing it trying to put me off my chess game," he continued, admitting the music in the background was a bit of a distraction. "It was putting me off my chess game because I was trying to listen, going, 'Oh, that's interesting.'
"In the end, I said to him, 'Can I borrow some of your albums?' So he gave me albums by Black Sabbath, Wishbone Ash, Jethro Tull and stuff like that. I took them home and played them," the bassist relayed. Now overwhelmed by what he was hearing, he confirmed, "That was it. It changed my life completely."
Before this, music was still a factor in Harris' life as his aunts and uncles exposed him to The Beatles as well as Simon and Garfunkel. His parents also bought him his first single — the theme from the 1960 film Exodus — due to his affinity for music he heard in film, which, perhaps explains the orchestration that would later be introduced into Iron Maiden's music.
It's known he loves melodies, so, again, why the bass? Well, he actually wanted to play drums at first, but that didn't pan out. Instead, he sought to improve upon what else he was hearing in the rhythm department. "I thought if I can't play drums, I'll play along with the drums rhythmically," Harris revealed, "and I wanted to do something where I thought the bass is just a bit more than plugging along with everyone else."
So he went out and bought Gibson Thunderbird — the same bass his idols from Wishbone Ash, The Who and UFO all used, despite their widely varying styles — figuring he could get some unique sounds out of it, too. "Worst thing I ever did," laughed Harris.
With the bass now in hand, Harris has the option of playing with a pick or using his fingers. He was told to learn acoustic guitar first, so he was familiar with using a pick, but found it easier to move around the strings with his fingers. And he could use that flicking technique that has helped define his instantly recognizable sound.
Watch the complete interview in the video at the top of the page.
Look for The Burning, the second record from Harris' British Lion band, to come out Jan. 17. Listen to the singles "Lightning" and "The Burning" and pre-order your copy of the album here. The group is also set to embark on their first-ever U.S. tour later this month. See a list of all upcoming dates at this location.
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