Darryl Anders believes in love, soul, and Nordstrand
With impeccable timing, tone and pocket to spare, bassist Darryl Anders makes for a solid sideman. But it’s in his new role that Darryl’s throaty baritone and musical vision hold center stage with his band AgapeSoul, which topped the UK soul charts in spring 2012. The San Francisco-based musician is an ardent fan of our NJ5 pickups, and we know Anders to be a pretty cool customer.
Darryl started playing trumpet in the third grade but switched to bass at 14. It was the Brothers Johnson’s bassist Louis Johnson dropping heat on “I’ll Be Good to You” from the band’s 1976 debut Look Out For #1 that stomped the horn out of his hands. “I instantly wanted to play,” Anders said.
Darryl dove into self-education, listening to the radio and learning the bass parts to songs on records and the radio by ear. But it was when he figured out the bass line in Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” from their 1979 album Aja that Anders thought he might have a shot at actually being in a band someday. He obsessed over the song’s difficult chord progressions until he cracked them. “I really had to listen and hear where things were going,” he said. “That was definitely a light bulb moment for me.”
Darryl dove into playing, jamming with friends from high school and earning a reputation among his peers. Anders and his friend, Bobby Tyson, ran into some older musician guys who were in the Washington Jam Band, the funkiest horn crew of its time in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Darryl grew up. They were local celebrities having cracked WRXB by then, the local AM station that played soul, R&B and funk. The band had recently performed at their school, and Bobby recognized them. Bobby and Anders approached the guys, including frontman King Soloman Butler.
Darryl idolized the band’s bass player, Charles Davis. “He was just a monster,” Anders said. The guys mentioned they needed a bass player to fill in for Davis, and Bobby offered up Darryl to audition. When Butler and the guys gave him the gig, he jumped at the chance despite his insecurity about living up to Davis’ playing.
“They were so much better than me,” Anders recalled, remembering himself as a young man already steeped in the diverse bass lines of players like Louis Johnson, Sly and the Family Stone’s Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins. “It pushed me. To this day I would rather play with people who are better players than me. I don’t feel like I can relax.”
In that vein, a couple of decades later Darryl nailed an audition to tour with Oakland-based Tower of Power, a funk band known for its syncopated bass lines and commanding horn section. After the audition with the band’s bassist Rocco Prestia, famed for his unique 16th-note finger-style playing, and bandmates Roger Smith and Emilio Castillo, Anders exiled himself to his apartment to study every lick of Tower of Power’s popular favorites like “What Is Hip?,” “You’re Still A Young Man” and “So Very Hard to Go” until he had the songs mastered.
Darryl’s first time playing with the full Tower of Power lineup was at his first sound check in their employment. There were no rehearsals, no chance to ease into the dynamic. “It was nerve-wracking,” Anders said of the demanding gig. “But from then on, everything else was easy, because if I can do that I know I can do anything.”
These days Darryl is challenging himself in new ways with his own project, AgapeSoul. After years of playing others’ songs, he wanted to drive the musical direction and work ethic for his own musical venture. Anders made the leap of faith after some encouraging words from vocalist Vicki Randle, the only female member ever of The Tonight Show Band, with whom Darryl often shared stages. A veteran vocalist who has recorded and toured with artists including Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Lionel Richie and more, Anders knew that Randle didn’t offer up flippant advice.
“You’re too good to be playing ‘Brick House,’” Vicki told Darryl candidly about the Commodores’ crowd pleaser that Top 40 bands know all too well. “Open yourself up and be available for other things that matter to you.”
Anders took her advice to heart. To secure the freedom to helm his own project, Darryl took a day job at music accessories manufacturer Dunlop as the company’s bass product manager.
Darryl initiated the project with a carefree attitude, hoping to get at least a demo recorded with the handful of songs he’d written with his long-time writing partner Joe Gilman. The result was AgapeSoul’s 2012 release Believe In Love, a CD of originals that hit No. 1 on the UK soul charts with absolutely no promotion from stateside. A friend of Anders’ passed the disk along to a DJ at the UK’s Select Soul Radio, Paul Goldsmith, who played the gospel-tinged “Don’t Say You Love Me” on his show. The Brits took to the band’s soul-drenched positivity.
The experience taught Darryl more about himself than the years he spent working with the likes of Booker T. Jones, Zigaboo Modeliste, two-time Grammy nominee Ledisi and Grammy-award winner Bonnie Hayes. Under that calm team player exterior lingered a control freak ready to pounce when it came to Anders’ own jams.
“When it’s your project you can direct it, and you can’t blame it on anyone else if it doesn’t work,” Darryl said. The celebratory good vibes of hard work paying off and seeing his vision come to fruition outweighed the less exciting side of being in charge, the nit-picky, creative demons that plague artists. As the leader, Anders knew he would be the only one to take responsibility for the finished product since he produced and played on it, as well as co-wrote the music and lyrics. Darryl’s dedication paid off.
That sort of relentless pursuit of perfection is what landed Anders at Nordstrand Guitars and Pickups. While recording tracks for the popular video games Karaoke Revolution, Guitar Hero and RockBand, he had ended up using a friend’s ’74 Fender P bass that had a Nordstrand pickup, which he loved. So when Darryl was later searching for a more organic sound from his bass, something bolder yet not harsh, he reached out to Carey Nordstrand, owner of Nordstrand Guitars and Pickups, who guided Anders to find the sound he was looking for, particularly for his beloved Mike Lull signature DA5. He decided to try the NJ5’s and they thumped his world.
“It completely changed the sound of this one instrument,” Darryl recalled. “It was more aggressive, had more character.” He was so pleased that he changed out the pickups on nearly every one of his basses. Carey Nordstrand understands the nuance of what bass players look for musically in pickups because he is a bass player, too, Anders said. He speaks the language.
“There is something about Carey’s pickups that sounds natural, sounds old in the classic sense, the old R&B sound but with the clarity and articulation you find in a modern instrument,” Darryl said. “His pickups are the sound that is in my head.”