THE LOW END
In Search of Uncle Bookie, Part 1
I’ve been scouring the planet for great basses
for well over 30 years. I’ve been on so many
wild goose chases I could write a book.
Usually, a guy knows a guy whose uncle
heard of a girl whose husband left, and she
has this bass that belonged to his brother…
yadda yadda... Most of the time the chase is
futile, but occasionally, the gods smile and
I turn up a good bass. On rare occasions, I
turn up a piece of history. This story is about
such a bass.
a bass out of a gig bag to show me. It was
owned by a friend of his, he told me, and the
owner had no idea what the bass really was.
He wanted to know the wholesale and retail
values, along with the pedigree.
This bass was a disaster! But even though it
was a total wreck, it vibed me like no bass had
in a long time. I mentioned that if it were ever
for sale, I’d love to take it on as an aggressive
project. About two weeks went by and I got
New Yorker, went the wrong way to Buddy’s
Columbus Circle office when exiting the sta-
tion. Maybe it was sugarplums dancing in my
head, or just Christmas in NYC… no, I was
just plain fermisht from the anticipation of
closing this deal. I met Buddy, handed over
the check and walked to Jerry’s studio about
15 minutes away to pick up the bass. Inside,
I ran into some old friends. We went to an
upstairs office and the Bookie bass was finally
mine! After an hour of conversation, I had
The bass I went in search of was none other
than the 1960 Jazz Bass owned by Walter
“Uncle Bookie” Booker. While Booker is
not a household name in the rock world,
he was The Don, The Big Kahuna, in jazz
circles. Among the folks he played with were
Cannonball Adderly, Thelonious Monk, Stan
Getz, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan, Chick
Corea… the list goes on. I have never in my
35 years as a bass player been this fortunate,
This bass was a disaster! But even though
it was a total wreck, it vibed me like no
bass had in a long time.
How It All Started
About a month or so before the adventure
began, my shop sold a wonderful ‘70s Jazz Bass
to a really nice guy. The guys at the shop called
me up and asked me if we had room on the
price. I was in a good mood, so I said, “If the
customer is a nice guy, cut him a break.” They
gave him the price, and he scratched his head
and said he’d be back. “Ok,” I thought, “
another tire kicker.” The client came back in the next
day, though, and paid in full. He didn’t have all
the cash the day before and didn’t want to lay
it away. He had a question, so we chatted over
the phone. That’s how I got to be friends with
Jerry Barnes (though it hadn’t dawned on me
then that it was the Jerry Barnes).
another call: “Kev, it’s Buddy… Buddy Williams,
Jerry’s friend.” I was thinking, “Wow, this is a
coincidence. One of the hottest drummers in
the world is named Buddy Williams. Jerry confirmed it, though—it was that Buddy Williams.
I’ve met hundreds of famous folks, and I
always said the only person who I knew would
tongue-tie me would be Paul McCartney.
Buddy tongue tied me! When I met him, I said
it was a pleasure to meet one of my heroes.
He was a true gentleman and very humbly,
as is Jerry. When they were talking about the
bass, Jerry kept referring to it as “Bookie’s
bass,” and Buddy referred to it as “Uncle’s
bass” and “Bookie’s bass.” I was thinking the
bass belonged to a bookie. It was not until we
struck a deal over the phone that I found out
this was Walter Booker’s Jazz Bass—I never
knew that he was known as Uncle Bookie.
to venture to Penn Station for the Amtrak
home—no case, no gig bag. I couldn’t take
the old girl outside naked, so I borrowed a
gig bag from Jerry.
Next month, I’ll discuss the bass in full detail.
So, until then, drop the gig bag and bring
Later that week, I got another call: “Kev, it’s
Jerry. My brother wants a J. What else do
you have?” I was just back from the Arlington
and Philly guitar shows, so that weekend
Jerry, his brother and sister-in-law came
over to my home and we played J-basses
all afternoon. After a few hours, Jerry took
On Cloud Nine
I phoned my pop, since we always talk about
the business and my basses. When I told
him about the bass I’d just found, Dad said,
“That is cool!” (for the first time in about
15 years.) The next day, I left my day job on
Wall Street and ventured up to Central Park
South on the NYC Subway. Me, a lifelong
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975 and
is currently the principle and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben
Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works: kebosbassworks.com.
He can be reached at: Kebobass@yahoo.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.