The Guru of Groove
by S.K. Wallace
Performed with the Following Groups/Artists: Texas Tornadoes, Delbert McClinton, Freddy Fender, Willie Nelson, Johnny Gimble, Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis, John Lee Hooker, Doug Sahm, Flaco Jimenez, Rufus Reid, Willie Dixon, and many others
Formal Studies (Drums): Roy C. Knapp, 1972 - 1975, Chicago, IL
Grammy Awards: Best Mexican American Performance: Texas Tornadoes, "Soy de San Luis" (song) 1990; Flaco Jimenez, Flaco Jimenez (album) 1995
Current Gigs: The Monstas, Los Jazz Vatos
SKW: Describe your musical background. How did you get started?
Ernie Durawa: I grew up in San Antonio, and my mother owned a small bar that had Mexican conjunto bands. We had our living quarters in the back of the bar. I could hear the music every night. When the musicians left for the night, I would slip into the bar and play around with the instruments. My mother noticed this and made me take piano lessons. I took piano lessons for a few years and became good at it.
Then, I went through several different instruments before ending up on drums. One of the instruments was a Fender Bass (1957, I believe.) Also, I took accordion lessons and was attracted to the guitar. I still own a bass that I play to teach my drum students how to groove with a bass player. I am not great, but play well enough for teaching.
SKW: What are some of your favorite career highlights?
Ernie Durawa: There are too many to list, but they include performing at the first Bill Clinton Inaugural Ball, being on Saturday Night Live, playing at the Kennedy Center, and appearing in concert at the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan. I've toured Europe several times and hung out in Amsterdam. I played at the Playboy Club in Chicago and in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
SKW: What are your current gigs and projects?
Ernie Durawa: I just finished recording a great CD with a band called The Monstas. I think it's one of my best projects ever.
Two of the players (Matt Smith and Brian Mitchell) live in New York. The others (Joe Morales, Aaron Lack, and Rich Stanmyre) live in Austin. Every one of these players is fantastic. Rich, our bass player, is rock solid and makes my job easy.
SKW: From your perspective as a drummer, what are the essential qualities of a good bass player? (Conversely, what are some of the bass player behaviors you can't stand?)
Ernie Durawa: As a drummer, I rely a lot on the bass player to help me create a groove for the rest of the band. I like a bass player who listens to the drummer as I listen back at the bass player. We are a unit back there laying down the foundation.
I think some bass players should have been guitar players instead of bass players; sometimes, they will tend to get carried away playing guitar licks rather than bass grooves. Whatever happened to the bass players with four strings? Now, most bass players have six strings, and that may be why they tend to go into the guitar direction. Don't get me wrong. I think some of it is really cool, and it has a place in the music somewhere, but bass players need to be aware of where it belongs. It can make a drummer get a little agitated at times. Then, you have the slap-type funk bass players... I guess that's cool, too... on the right gig.
I also like bass players who can play both electric and upright bass.
The upright bass, especially for jazz, is very cool. Then, you have the rockabilly bass players who slap and like to stand up on their bass for show stuff. I played with Ray Campi a few years back, and he was the king of that "climb on your bass" thing... very cool show... with some very cool duds and boots.
I think bass players who read regular charts and can also read the Nashville Number System are the guys who will get all the gigs.
Of course, a good bass player is one who has good time. It's also nice to have one with a good attitude and who plays the right changes with the chord instrument whether it be piano or guitar. I once played with a bass player when I was jamming with Pat Martino, and this bass player never listened to what we were doing. He played so loudly and never once looked at me. I felt like throwing a drumstick at him... and I know Pat was not too happy.
I don't care for drunk bass players, those who are stoned out of their minds, or whiny, prima donna bass players who complain about every little thing. Maybe, it all starts at home with a fight with the wife before he comes to the gig. Need to leave that off the stage...
SKW: Who are your favorite bass players and why?
Ernie Durawa: I like the ones I work with now such as Brad Taylor in my Latin jazz group, Los Jazz Vatos. He plays what they call the tumbao bass line which in Spanish means, "to knock over something." I think the bass line is like knocking over the bar line which is a real cool groove to play to.
I like some of the country bass players who play really good country shuffles like Randy Glines from the Cornell Hurd Band and Lynn Daniel who does the summer music camps with me. Those guys lay down a killer bass line. Also, John Reid is one of my favorite bass players. Rich Stanmyre in The Monstas is great. Ed Friedland is a killer bass player, too. Nick Schneider in Chicago is a great bass player with whom I had a chance to play. Rufus Reid was another bass player with whom I had the pleasure of playing a one-nighter.
Playing with every one of these bass players has been a learning experience for me as I had to adjust to their groove... a real challenge.
SKW: From the biographical information I've read about you, it seems that you've consistently pursued your life as a professional musician with a bold determination. How did you maintain your resolve? Did you ever deal with any major challenges or obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Ernie Durawa: I knew at a very young age that music was in my blood and that I would never ever be happy doing anything else. So, I decided I would try to learn all I could about it. I was getting paid to do something for which I had a passion. It was a gift from God. I had to do it. Music is a gift that only certain people get: 1 Timothy 4:14 states, "Do not neglect the gift of God within you."
In terms of challenges, I guess going through four divorces was rough... while trying to be a working musician... but it all worked itself out. Three things you have to have to succeed: determination, perseverance, and patience.
SKW: How did you break into the Austin music scene?
I came to Austin in 1975. It was rough going... not much money to be made playing. Most people were playing door gigs... which in many ways is still going on. I knew the kingpin of Austin at that time, my childhood friend Doug Sahm, so that helped in getting me into the Austin scene. Plus, if you're a good player, you can find work fast. It was a bass player who actually got me my first good paying gig with Delbert McClinton. It was Chris Ethridge from the Flying Burrito Brothers who introduced me to Delbert, and that's how I got the gig. It saved my life.
SKW: Among the many impressive artists with whom you've performed, I noticed three of my favorites: Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, and Johnny Gimble. Would you share a few stories or anecdotes about playing with them?
Ernie Durawa: I played on a recording [Jammin' With J.R. and Friends] with Willie Nelson and Johnny Gimble. It was a record for J.R. Chatwell, a mentor of mine. We recorded it out at Willie's studio, and it was a very exciting session for me. Also, when I was with Delbert McClinton, we were Willie's opening act on the road for several years, so I got to meet all the players in his band. One gig I'll never forget was when we played at Soledad Prison in California. We drove the tour bus into the prison yard, and the guards came and searched the bus as we were leaving.
Many good memories... Regarding Freddy Fender, we were both in the Texas Tornados and toured halfway around the world. Our first record won a Grammy for "Best Mexican American Performance."
It was always fun being with Freddy... lots of laughs on the bus and in the limos.
The music was great, and all the people wanted autographs. I was always getting mistaken for Freddy, and people would come and want their picture taken with me. I couldn't understand; why me? But, I posed anyway. I finally told these ladies that I was not Freddy, and I didn't mean to waste their film.
They were OK with it anyway.
To learn more about Ernie Durawa and his current bands, Los Jazz Vatos and The Monstas, check out the following: www.ErnieDurawa.com, www.LosJazzVatos.com, and www.myspace.com/nymonstas
About the author:
S.K. Wallace is a bassist, acoustic and electric violinist, and chemistry teacher. She has been writing for Mel Bay's Bass Sessions® since 2004. She may be contacted at SKWBassist@aol.com.