On-line Interview with
Published September 5, 2011

Jauqo III-X : Life and Music

Chicago bassist, Jauqo III-X, is widely known for his two major accomplishments in the world of the bass guitar.

1 - He is the creator/designer of the first 15-string bass.

2 - He originated the low C# string for bass guitar.

His album, "The Low C# Theory," showcases the thunderous sound of this unique and very, very low frequency tuning structure. What results is an experimental Jazz album of bass etudes that will fill your ears with all the unpredictability of freestyle Fusion mixed with the beastly groove of the low C# tuning! My favourite track is # 4. It's a monster groove deserving of the lowest frequency it can get! Each track is named according to the length of the song, so track # 4 is called "6:31." Sounds about right to me.

Behind these impressive achievements, Jauqo is also a man of deep soul and spirit.

"Often people ask me, or friends close to me, what the III-X in my name represents. Well, I'm a Spirit that is continuing to evolve and grow and I greatly appreciate my past lives and the lessons I've learned throughout this journey. The III symbolizes what we are all made up of... Mind, Body and Soul. The X symbolizes The Infinite Level of the Deepest Inner Growth; and the continuous level of growth; and wanting to grow."

He's had some colourful chapters in his journey through life, but while talking to him, I've learned that through it all, there was always the music.

TR: Your love for the bass started when you were a teenager. Had you tried any other instruments before then?

Jauqo III-X: Before I was a teenager, I was drawn to a low rhythmic thump that I would hear coming from recordings and the radio. But of course I didn't know it was a bass - upright or electric - until later. Before I played bass I was playing trumpet and flugelhorn.

TR: Did you automatically zero in on the bass from first listen, or was it something for which you had to develop an ear?

Jauqo III-X: I first noticed the low frequency listening to my fathers Jazz albums, and from my mother constantly blasting - and I mean that in a good way - Motown and Blues throughout the house. As far as developing an ear goes, I think for me I'm still growing in that direction.

TR: Who/what influenced you the most back in those days?

Jauqo III-X: Definitely Jazz and Motown. And I do love Blues. I guess it's my Delta roots. I was born in Mississippi. As far as a specific bass player's influence back in those days, I guess it would be cats who were just bringing the groove and holding it all together in that supportive manner that bass players who are respectful to the music do. But I guess I was always more inspired than influenced. I love all types of music, but I really get into music that has a raw grit to it. That's what really moves me, just the beauty of being inspired is so inspiring in and of itself.

TR: When did you get your first bass?

Jauqo III-X: I got my first bass from a pawn shop in about '77. It was basically an SG style bass that had a sticker of the letter K on it. I paid sixty-nine bucks for it and I was so proud of myself. I would go by that pawn shop - right off of 47th and Michigan in Chicago - and just stare at it in the window. And I would think to myself that I was going to own that bass guitar one day.

TR: And once you got it?

Jauqo III-X: Once I got it, it was all about bass from there on. I was so blown away by all the music and all the bass lines that were everywhere in music. It really was a beautiful period in my musical formative years. In the neighborhood where I was living there was music blasting from so many directions, and musicians and bands everywhere. The radio stations were just pushing out what seem to be awesome music in all genres. It really was beautiful. I lived in an apartment building and some of my friends had a band. They would practice - very loudly - with the windows open and you could hear the music from miles away. It was good times for sure.

TR: How did you get the money for your first bass? Job? Parents?

Jauqo III-X: I don't exactly remember, but I do know that my parents didn't purchase it for me. I was beyond excited to say the least, but I would kind of down play the excitement. I may have had a big smile on my face for over a year.

TR: Are your parents musical?

Jauqo III-X: My father wasn’t but my mom has a nice singing voice. She didn't pursue it as a profession, though.

TR: What was their feeling about you taking up the bass?

Jauqo III-X: They both thought it was cool but nothing has ever really been mentioned much about it.

TR: Do you have any siblings who play?

Jauqo III-X: I have a younger brother who has a very nice soulful singing voice.

TR: Did you start by playing along with the records you loved?

Jauqo III-X: No, I didn't take that route. I'm still working on that. I was never so inspired by a killer bass line to actually sit down and want to learn it. I'm more from the school of coming up with my own bass lines. But I do respect bass lines that move me.

TR: Lessons or self taught?

Jauqo III-X: I'm definitely from the self taught school.

TR: Tell us about your first band.

Jauqo III-X: My first band came together in 1980. We really thought we were onto something. We were young and just knew we were on our way to some fame and little fortune.

TR: And your first gig?

Jauqo III-X: That was so long ago that I do not remember.

TR: That's okay. Instead, tell us what makes a show good or bad.

Jauqo III-X: A good show is when your heart tells you. A bad show is when your heart reminds you.

TR: I like that. Ever have a show that was so good or so bad that it stands out in your mind?

Jauqo III-X: There was one gig that was just on point. The room, the players, the vocalist, the audience. Everything was just perfect, if there really is such a thing.

TR: What about a bad one?

Jauqo III-X: The worse gig I ever did was in 2004 in Detroit. I was scheduled to perform with a female vocalist as a duet. I remember during rehearsals that she always seemed nervous, but I thought maybe it would all come together during our performance. I was oh so wrong. The engineer that night must have felt that she was nervous because I remember him telling her to just relax. When the host called our name, we went into the first song and as soon as the light shined on her, she literally froze like a deer in the headlights. She started struggling with her vocal performance.

TR: What happened?

Jauqo III-X: We went into the second song and she just fell apart vocally. The host professionally got us off the stage quick. I was so crushed and embarrassed. It still bothers me a little bit to this day.

TR: Let's switch gears to something more upbeat. What equipment are you using now? Lay out the entire rig for us.

Jauqo III-X: My main amps and cabs are Ashdown. I've been using and endorsing them since 1997. But on occasion I do use a Thunderfunk 750. My main standard basses are Lakland and Xotic (Xotic XJ-1T series). I have sub contra basses made by Mike Adler, Conklin, and Scott Surine, who is the maker of my signature sub contra bass. And Oscar Prat of Prat Basses who is the maker of my latest 15 string.

TR: Strings?

Jauqo III-X: I have two different signature string series made by SIT Strings. I have a long and great relationship with all of these companies, and would like to thank them all.

TR: What motivates you to write music, lyrics?

Jauqo III-X: For me, it could be from a conversation I'm having, or sometimes from how the conversation stays with me. Or sometimes it could be from someone who is close to me. But I have to say that honesty really is a big factor. In my lyrics, you really are getting me. Not sugar coated at all. And my lyrics really do tell on me

TR: Do you write better when at peace or when in turmoil?

Jauqo III-X: I think it's equal for me. Mainly because of what's going on, I can pick something out of it that may move me or inspire me. And believe me there is a difference between be moved and being inspired.

TR: Can you compose when you're in a bad mood? If so, do you come back to it and change it up when you’re feeling better?

Jauqo III-X: I can definitely create while in a bad mood. Being in a bad mood is just another form of having a muse. As far as coming back and changing it when I feel better, not at all, because at the time I'm creating something, that is how I felt and I have to definitely honor that feeling, time and moment. Also because that's how I remember the core feeling behind what originally inspired me, so I am still in that zone.

TR: What artists do you listen to for motivation?

Jauqo III-X: I don't listen to artists for motivation. But I do like a certain energy coming from music - an energy that's sometimes ferocious and sometimes subtle. But definitely the feeling of the lifeline that music connects the listener to. Depending on the listener of course.

TR: Do you compose specifically for the bass as a lead instrument or do you also compose for it as an accompaniment as well? Bass lines as opposed to melodies.

Jauqo III-X: I compose from the bass but not always as if it's a lead instrument. Usually as a melody and lead instrument combined. More as if I'm creating on a piano. But I do approach it as a lead instrument when I feel it's the appropriate tool to get the job done.

TR: How did you come to meet and get involved with Ornette Coleman? Give us some background.

Jauqo III-X: Well first of all I would like to thank Ornette for all that he has given humankind and to personally thank him for allowing me in his space. Ornette is definitely more than just a beautiful soul. There is not one musician/artist period that has ever moved me musically the way Ornette has. From the very first time I picked up bass, I instinctively felt individuality was the key. And then I came across the music of Ornette Coleman. What's interesting, even though my father had an extremely diverse Jazz record collection he did not have one Ornette Coleman album. I remember when Ornette performed at the September 1983 Chicago Jazz Fest with his electric band, Prime Time. It was the first and last time that I was ever high - for lack of a better description - from any musical performance. I did not - and do not - do drugs or drink at all.

TR: How did the performance move you?

Jauqo III-X: Whatever was going on in that music was very, very close to what I was getting from Ornette's recordings but even more life existing from the live performance. It was the icing on the cake in regards to allowing the music to breathe and allow the movement of the notes to breathe as well, and when all was said and done, let the conversation take on topics of its own choices.

TR: How did you come to meet him?

Jauqo III-X: After the performance, some of the friends who had been with me tried to get me to go backstage to meet him. They knew that I wanted to play with him, but my attitude was that since he didn't know me, why should I enter his zone?

TR: So you didn't go.

Jauqo III-X: No, but the next day I called a musician friend of mine and told him about Ornette’s performance. He told me about a mutual friend of ours - a bass player - who did talk to Ornette after the performance and had gotten his phone number. So I called this friend and asked for it. He asked why, and I told him I had something to offer Ornette. He started laughing, but did give me Ornette's number.

TR: How long before you called?

Jauqo III-X: I called Ornette a couple of days later. He answered the phone, and I introduced myself. He was very warm and felt very sincere. We talked about music and life, and music and life, and music and life. Since he was touring periodically, and working on the Song X recording, he told me the best times to call.

TR: And of course you did.

Jauqo III-X: Yes. I would call him, or he would call me, and we would talk about music and life, and music and life, and music and life! We also talked about the concept I had; he expressed that he felt it was a legitimate concept. He told me that next time I was in New York to give him a call and stop by if I wanted to.

TR: And of course you went...

Jauqo III-X: About two or three months went by and then I got a call from him. He asked if I would like to come up to New York and play for him. I literally dropped the receiver! When I got my composure back, I picked the receiver up and said, "I would love to play for you!" After his son, Denardo made flight arrangements, I got the info, and about a week later I was on my way to New York to Ornette's home!

TR: Outstanding!

Jauqo III-X: I remember telling some of my musician friends that I was going to New York to play for Ornette Coleman. They looked at me. "Who?" But I went to New York, met him and played for him, and the rest is, as they say, is history.

TR: But there was a snag in your plans to continue playing for him.

Jauqo III-X: I headed back to Chicago, but the plan was to quickly get back to New York. A few weeks after I made it back to Chicago I get arrested on charges that would eventually send me to the penitentiary. While I was there, I would call home, and my mom said that Ornette and guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer had been calling and looking for me - I was supposed to be playing for Blood. I was torn because I was embarrassed, but I had to contact them and let them know my situation. So I called Ornette first and told him what had happened.

TR: How did he react?

Jauqo III-X: I could hear the sadness in his voice but he supported me and that was cool. Then I called Blood. He too was very understanding and was there in support as well. My lawyer - who happened to be a jazz/classical inspired guitarist - found out through my mom that I was a bass player. She also told him about my connection to Ornette. So I got a lawyer's visit one Sunday morning, and he told me what my mom had said - turns out he was a huge fan of Ornette's music! He felt that if I could get Ornette to write the Judge a character letter, it might help my case.

TR: So did he?

Jauqo III-X: When I got back to the cell block I called Ornette - collect of course - and asked him if he would do it. He agreed. A month later, when I went for my sentencing, the Judge told me he had a letter from a Mr. Ornette Coleman. Then he started on that he, too, was a huge fan of Ornette's music!

TR: Really?

Jauqo III-X: He gave me twelve years. He wanted to give me more, but Ornette's letter had influenced him - he could have given me thirty years or more. I ended up doing half of the twelve years. Sometimes I would call Ornette from prison, and we would talk about life and music, life and music, life and music. Ornette is to me what Charlie Parker was to Miles. I felt that Ornette was some one who would understand where I was coming from and he does understand where I'm coming from. But at the same time, we are living in such dark artistic times that the fight to be that artist is bigger than what most could ever imagine.

TR: What was the most important thing he taught you? Do you hold his teachings close to you in current times?

Jauqo III-X: He enforced in me that I was already on the right track way before I ever met him in regards to individuality and to maintain that individuality no matter what. Musically speaking, he broke down many aspects of his Harmolodics concept. I remember that he would spend long hours at night writing some of his Harmolodic theory down for me to study and do with as I spiritually felt.

TR: You’ve been referred to as a player who "pushes the outer boundaries" of the bass. How often do you utilise a reverse posture and "pull back" from the boundaries? Draw away from the edges and use only the simplest voice?

Jauqo III-X: I draw away from the edges and use the simplest voice constantly, mainly because I instinctively know when to turn it on and when to turn it off. I have never been a bass player that has given a piece of music more than what it needs, especially when I play behind a vocalist.

TR: To create your space and be heard, but not overshadow others.

Jauqo III-X: I have learned that what I need to do as a artist is to create my own existence, whether that's playing with others - while maintaining that individuality - and take a stance to be the band leader and have the ability to choose the best musicians for such an endeavor. I think tracks 1,4,5,6,7,10 and 11 on the Valencia Bey CD - where I played bass and composed a couple of the songs - show a very great contrast in how I'm able to refrain from taking things to the edge, but even when I'm playing what can be perceived as minimal, it still can have a edge. On those tracks I'm playing a fretless Lakland 4-94 with custom Bartolini pickups - non stock Lakland Barts.

TR: You are credited with being the innovator behind the 15-string bass. What are the engineering complications of making such an instrument? Can you modify a regular bass to it or is it a special design?

Jauqo III-X: Before Warrior made my 15-string bass, there was no 15-string bass. Warrior made the world’s first 15-string bass, based off of a idea/concept that I had. I greatly appreciate J.D. Lewis, the owner of Warrior instruments, for being open to allowing me the opportunity for such an oddity to become a reality. And Jesse Blue for putting the pieces together

TR: Tell us about the design.

Jauqo III-X: Basically my 15-string is a tripled 5-string, tuned Eee, Aaa, Ddd, Ggg, Ccc - the main string and two octaves each. All the other 15-string basses that Warrior had made later were tuned Bbb instead of Ccc as were the few other 15-strings from other builders that popped up after our Warrior's creation. I remember at a NAMM show I was sitting at Warrior’s booth and members of Korn come by the booth. I remember seeing their reaction to a Warrior 15-string that was at the booth. They said they had never seen anything like it. Almost ten years later Ibanez would build a 15-string for Fieldy. I asked the builder about it and he told me that it was just a 5-string Ibanez and that he had added 10 octave strings to it.

TR: What about stringing it? Tuning it? What does a complete set of the SIT strings run you in price?

Jauqo III-X: It can be a workout to string it up, but hey, that's the price you pay sometimes for the vision. I use roundwounds, and for each standard string it has two octave strings. It can get pricey.

TR: What’s it like to play? Fretting, plucking, etc - the mechanics of sounding the notes.

Jauqo III-X: Playing it takes some work. The one that Warrior made for me was fretless so I have to really be on point in regards to not just fretting one note but three at the same time! And that's just from my left hand dealing with the fingerboard. My right hand gets a very well deserved work out as well.

Jauqo III-X: Oscar Prat is the maker of my new fretted 15-string, and it is beautiful. The sound is so awesome. It has individual adjustable saddles for each string - something that I didn't have on the first 15-string. Thank you Hipshot for the awesome bridge

TR: And then there's your other concept - the 4-string bass tuned low C# F# B E. Talk about that sound - how did you come up with it?

Jauqo III-X: Well, that came about from my need to want to go lower than the low B. I always felt that need to sit so much deeper in the mix. I had never seen or heard of any one with a C# string. I was working on an F# and a C# string concept before I went to prison, and I worked on it while I was there.

TR: Good use of your time.

Jauqo III-X: I remember when I got out of prison I contacted Bill Dickens, and during our conversation I mentioned that I was working on a low F# string. He started laughing and said, "I have a low F# string." Then I said, "I'm working on a low C# string," and his laughter just ended abruptly. He said, "That is low." But I have to say that Bill has always supported my low frequency concept. I remember bass players would laugh at me and say that it wouldn't work. But here we are today with companies years later making low C# strings. The first company to make a low C# string was Dean Markely, based off of my affiliation with the company, and Jeff Landtroop and David Brummett, who is a co owner of the Circle K String Company. They were so open minded to such a string that I was and still am beyond appreciation. I was calling the instrument a sub contra bass - not to be confused with the name some call a bass with seven or more strings. My reference in naming it "sub contra" was based off of the contra bass concept - the modern 6 string electric bass - and since I was going lower it only felt logical to refer to it as sub contra. But the strings are just part of the canvass.

TR: As with the 15-string bass, are there any design considerations for such low tuning?

Jauqo III-X: Yes there are. The first luthier that I approached about my sub contra bass concept was Scott Surine of Surine Basses. Scott listened to me and liked the idea/concept. He assured me that it could be built. Then I went to Bill Bartolini and told him what I was doing and that I needed pickups that would give me a clear open F# and C# frequency and a pre to help make it all the better. I chose mahogany as my body core because of how it emphasizes nice even low end response, and I felt that a maple neck and gaboon ebony fingerboard would help balance it all out overall. And I was right.

TR: Does it pick up well on a regular amp?

Jauqo III-X: I would respectfully suggest at least 500 watts, for starters.

TR: What amp are you using for it

Jauqo III-X: Mainly my Ashdowns and on occasion a Thunderfunk 750

TR: And, of course, your custom strings.

Jauqo III-X: The Jauqo III-X Sub Contra signature set.

TR: I’ve been enjoying the Low C# Theory album. I’m quite a fan of experimental music and this is really a showcase for that special tuning. Are you planning to record anything new with this type of sound?

Jauqo III-X: Thank you. I recorded a CD as a leader with Bernard Purdie on drums and one of the guitarist from the Low C# Theory, Kudzai Kasambira. But I haven't released it yet. I used the same bass that I used on the LC#T, my Adler fretless sub contra bass.

TR: Does a bass tuned C# F# B E have applications in not-so-experimental music? How does it sound, say, in Blues music?

Jauqo III-X: Yes it does. It really can be used to play in every genre that will allow it. Seriously, I have played Blues using it and it is thick as I'm sure you can imagine.

TR: Other than the bass, what are your biggest interests?

Jauqo III-X: Life, observing those around me and sharing. I really do like to share

TR: Are you involved with any charities or causes?

Jauqo III-X: No but I have helped with benefits for friends in need of assistance.

TR: What's coming up for you? Gigs? Composing, etc..

Jauqo III-X: I'm always working on something. I'm mostly doing things with my band, The Jauqo IIIX Realty and side gigs and sessions here and there.

TR: What are your thoughts about Roy Vogt as a teacher and musician?

Jauqo III-X: Roy is a rare talent. I have known Roy for a while and he is equally gifted as a talented bassist and as a teacher. That is definitely a rarity and Roy balances it greatly without trying to. He's just being himself, and at the end of the day that is the gift within itself. Roy is a sincere and beautiful person and we really need more humans like him. I have spent some time with Roy Vogt's Teach Me Bass Guitar DVD set and I would like to say that I honestly feel that it is one of the most well rounded and informative teaching tools for bass that has come along in an extremely long time. Some may feel that it's pricey but it's probably more valuable overall than most schools that have a bass guitar program.

TR: How about some words of advice for his students here on Thunder Row?

Jauqo III-X: Whoever is given the opportunity to study with Roy - don't just listen to what he says verbally or with his instrument, listen to the things that he doesn't say. Roy is that type of teacher and player. He teaches and speaks through his actions and at any given time those action are multi-tasking to say the least. Again Roy is a true rarity.

TR: Thanks for talking with us, Jauqo!

Jauqo III-X: You're very welcome.