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April 10, 2014

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Speed Funk Lessons: The Bill Dickens Bass Clinic

On Thursday, April 3, legendary bassist Bill Dickens arrived at Chicago Music Exchange late in the afternoon for sound check. A customer and friend of the store, Dickens knows his way around CME. Just last month, he guest starred in a YouTube video – “The Bass Off” – with our resident bass guitar guru, Marc Najjar. This time, he was here specifically for the Bill Dickens Bass Clinic.

Bill “The Buddha” Dickens has collaborated with numerous artists over the past 40+ years – from Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige to Randy Newman, Victor Wooten, Mike Gordon and more. He is known for playing funk (especially speed funk) on extended-range bass guitars.


The Bill Dickens Bass Clinic began at 7pm with around 60 people seated in The Bassment at Chicago Music Exchange, eager to watch and learn from one of the best bass players in the industry. Dickens opened the clinic with a twenty-minute live performance that can only be described as mesmerizing – the speed and precision of his playing style; the way it appeared to be effortless.

Following the introductory jam, Bill Dickens talked about his practice routine. All the bass players in the room were gripped by this rare opportunity to hear unusual trade secrets. He explained that for years, he would put anything from toilet paper to towels to rope under the strings to raise them up as a finger-strengthening exercise. He stressed the importance of being able to read music.  “You should be able to play like the music is not in front of you,” Dickens encouraged. “If you can read four bars ahead, you can play creatively even while reading [music].”

Bill Dickens shared his transition from a 4-string bass to the extended-range bass guitar. He was 24-years old when a friend sent him the Anthony Jackson 6-string contrabass. He was hesitant at first, “When I went from 4-string to 6-string, I was totally confused. But once I learned it…I turned into a psychopath,” Dickens grins at the crowd playfully. They laugh because they understand exactly what he means.

The clinic ended with a few more live songs, including a jazzy cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love”.

This event was sponsored by Peterson Tuners and Pigtronix. For information about upcoming events at Chicago Music Exchange, see our Events page.

Chrissy Hansen
Chrissy Hansen