Foreword: Most of the time bios are used to publicize gigs or records. Usually the space dedicated for this purpose is limited so you just get a few key facts. Since this is MY website you’re getting this bio from me in my own words. So while I tried not to make it too long it’s considerably longer than your standard bio. Read on!
I was born in Philadelphia, on March 27, 1960. I was born into a musical family sothere was music playing constantly from the moment I arrived on the planet. My dad, Morris Bailey Jr., is a master composer, arranger, producer, saxophonist, artist and teacher.
During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s his songs were recorded by some of music’s greatest R&B artists including, Patti LaBelle, The Stylistics, Blue Magic, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and international artist Nina Simone. As a saxophonist he played with cats like McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan and Reggie Workman. My uncle, Donald Bailey, is a legendary jazz drummer, probably best known as the drummer in the trio of groundbreaking jazz organist Jimmy Smith. My sister, Brenda, sang with the hit making, disco era group Creme D’Cocoa. My brother, Morris III “Doc”, never practiced a day in his life yet can write, sing, and play any instument. Even my mom Vera had a wonderful singing voice although she never pursued music as a career.
And then there’s a great family music mystery. Once when my dad and uncle Donald were young, they were in the house playing and my grandfather, Morris Sr., came downstairs, grabbed the drumsticks from Uncle Donald and played the drums so well no one could believe it. Even after doing so, however, he never talked about how or why he could play the drums so no one ever knew. After he passed away, while going through his things, the family found a professional 8×10 black and white photo of him sitting at the drumset with his name at the bottom. A standard show business publicity photo. So, he obviously had some professional experience at some time but no one knows when or where.
Our house was filled with music, with singers and musicians coming and going practically every day. From the time I was born I was drawn to music and showed a natural ability to play anything I heard on any instrument. One day when I was seven I was at my dad’s office on Philadelphia’s South Broad Street. He was asleep on the couch and I went to the piano and started playing Bill Withers hit song “Lean On Me”. My dad rolled over and said, “Who’s that playing?” When he saw it was me he said, “How do you know how to do that?” I said, “I don’t know,” I just did. After that, I went everywhere dad went. So I spent literally everyday after school and on weekends somewhere in a studio or backstage at a gig. I was getting to watch great R&B people like, The Stylistics, or Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Or I might walk in from school and there would be Philly jazz legends like Odean Pope, Eddie Green and Tyrone Brown.
When I was ten I wanted to play drums. So I got a drumset for Christmas. When we set them up I started playing immediately. My mom said, “How do you know how to play?” I said, “I don’t know,” I just did. I joined my first band a week after that, and did my first gig three or four weeks later. I did my first recording session about three months later. I’ve been working non-stop ever since.
Of course the most life changing thing that ever happened was my switch to bass, which happened totally by accident. I was in a band with some neighborhood guys, playing drums, and the bass player didn’t want to play with me because I was too serious. He was a grown man and here was this little kid telling everybody what to play, when they’re out of tune etc. So he quit the band and walked out. The only other person around who played anything was a drummer. So I said, “I’ll play bass.” That moment changed my life forever. Although I had never played before, I instantly understood the instrument. I not only played all the songs but even added fills or “runs” as we called it at the time. My father, who NEVER came downstairs to listen to any of my bands, came charging down the stairs yelling “Who’s playing bass, who’s playing bass?” When he saw it was me he said, “You should be a bass player.” I said, “I know.” My days as a drummer were over.
Three weeks after that I did my first gig, and within three months I was as busy as any bassist in the Philadelphia area. One night I’d do a funk gig. Next day, a record date. Next night, a big band gig, followed by a bebop quartet the next night. That diversity of styles continues for me to this day.
The next big step for me was going to Berklee College of Music in Boston. At the end of the summer after high school it appeared I hadn’t gotten the scholarship I hoped for, so I decided I would join the U.S. Navy and play in the Navy band for four years and then go to Berklee. The day I went to test for the Navy the doctor put a stethoscope on my chest and immediately drew big X through my application. I had asthma and that disqualified me for any kind of military service. I took the bus home a little dejected, but as soon as I got home there was a letter waiting for me saying I had been accepted at Berklee. I think I FLEW up the steps to tell my parents. A couple of days later I was gone.
Berklee was one of the greatest periods of growth I’ve ever had. All there was to do was work on music and many of my classmates who understood and took advantage of that are successful now (including Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Kevin Eubanks, Greg Osby, Wallace Roney, Cindy Blackman, Terri Lynne Carrington, who was about twelve years old at the time, Stu Hamm, Steve Vai, Mark Ledford, Tommy Campbell, Rachelle Ferrell, Wallace Roney, Donald Harrison, and many other successful cats of our generation.
Once during my time at Berklee, a friend had me play over the phone for a guy in New York. That guy in New York turned out to be drummer Poogie Bell. During my second year at Berklee, Poogie came to Boston with South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela’s band. Hugh was looking for a new bass player and Poogie recommended me. I went to their gig with a tape and cassette player and Hugh listened and hired me on the spot.
A week later I was on the road and never looked back. I packed my things, found someone to take my apartment and moved to New York. Funny thing is I had one hundred dollars and no place to live. I stayed at the YMCA which at that time was fourteen dollars a night. But it was rough, full of drugs and prostitution. Fortunately for me, from the moment I arrived there the phone rang off the hook, and though it took a couple of months to find my own place, I always had enough money for the YMCA if I couldn’t stay at some cats’ house. When I think of that now, moving to NYC with a hundred dollars and no apartment was insane. But I believed in myself that much and told everyone that as soon as I arrived in the Big Apple I would be as busy as any bassist in town.
Luckily I was right. That first year, I think I played on about fifty records. And I played with so many great musicians it was like I was in a dream world. Some were my age, and many of them I grew up idolizing. I played and recorded with idols like Sonny Rollins, Miriam Makeba, Lenny White, Hamiet Bluiet, Olu Dara, Don Alias, Larry Coryell,Sadao Watanabe, Michael Urbaniak and Ursula Dudziak. I even got to sit in with Roy Haynes. Of the younger generations I played and recorded with Tom Browne, Bobby Broom, Kenny Kirkland, Bernard Wright, Mike Stern, Dennis Chambers, Poogie Bell, Kevin Eubanks, and many others. As a matter of fact, New York City was so alive at that time, that as I went from club to club, I may have sat in with or listened to everybody I just mentioned in one night! NO JOKE! It was a very good year.
After about a year in the big city, I did two gigs with South African vocalist Miriam Makeba. On drums was a fantastic player by the name of Omar Hakim. Omar and I had met a year earlier when we did guitarist Bobby Broom’s record, “Clean Sweep”. This was the first time we did a gig together, but everyone was aware, even at rehearsals, that as a rhythm section we had something all our own. It was light, bouncy and free, yet extremely tight, powerful and original.
At the end of the second gig he said, “I have the gig with Weather Report and they’re looking for a new bass player.” My eyes became the size of the Earth. I had been telling everyone since I was sixteen years old that I was going to play with Weather Report after Jaco. And when word got out that Jaco had gone solo EVERYONE in New York said “that’s your gig” to me. This was fate. Omar gave me Joe Zawinul’s address and told me to send him a tape. I put together a demo of a variety of things-a version of Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Going On”, with bass melody and scat bass solo, a multitracked version of the Beatles, “She’s Leaving Home” (which I played for Jaco the first time I met him and he copped from me for his Holiday For Pans record), a funk/thumb groove tune I had written and a burning live solo on Giant Steps. Omar gave Joe my number and as incredible as it sounds before I even sent him the tape he called me and said, “I know you’re the guy I’m going to hire, I can feel it.”
About a week later I got a call from management saying, “Welcome to Weather Report.”The aftermath of course is that Omar and I made the ultimate Weather Report rhythm section and layed down the definitive bass and drum performances in the band’s history,and recorded the most inspiring music the band ever did. This was the beginning of a long and inspiring journey.
In the days since, I have played on over one thousand recordings with everyone from Weather Report, to Michael Brecker, to LL Cool J, to Mary J Blige. I have written and produced artists like the Force MD’s, Alex Bugnon, George Howard and Missing Links. In the late 80’s and early 90’s I took the jazz fusion supergroup Steps Ahead to new heights,transitioning them from a clever acoustic jazz band to an funky electric monster with Mike Mainieri, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine and Chuck Loeb.
In 1989, I released my first record, “Bottom’s Up”, which was an instant bass classic and one of the most important records ever by a bass guitarist. It was the first time I was ever recorded playing the way I REALLY PLAY, instead of just playing grooves for other people’s records (though I’m not complaining, I’ve played grooves behind some pretty great artists).
People finally got to hear my writing, arranging, keyboard playing, drum and sound programming, and singing. I finally established that I was much more than a backup bass player, something that I’d felt I still had to do as long as I had been in New York. Throughout the mid 90’s I toured with pop megastar Madonna, one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I spent most of the nineties doing records and going on tours with various artists mostly in Europe and Japan. In 1997 I rejoined my mentor Joe Zawinul in his group, The Zawinul Syndicate. I stayed with that group for three and a half years and once again Joe was one of the most inspiring figures, as a musician and a man, that I have ever encountered.
In 1999 I signed a recording contract with ESC Records. My first ESC release, “Lowblow” was a tremendous success for me and not long after it’s release I was able to leave the Zawinul Syndicate and concentrate on my solo career. I’ve toured steadily with my band, which has at times included Kenny Garrett, Dennis Chambers, Bennie Maupin, Poogie Bell, Jim Beard, Patrice Rushen, David Gilmore, David Fuiczynsky, Scott Peaker, Rayford Griffin and Nick Smith.
In 2002 we released my second cd “That’s Right” which has also done very well. Since then I started the band CBW with Larry Coryell and Lenny White. This is by far one of my favorite bands ever.We’re all co-leaders ,so instead of playing basslines someone else who doesn’t play the bass wrote,I play the way I REALLY play. We have two “Coryell Bailey White” records “Electric” and “Traffic”. Both were done on the spot with no rehearsals. The band has developed in many more directions from lots touring and if you can catch us live you’ll see the best of all of us,in a different context than you’re used to in our individual bands.Besides my own group it’s the best you’ll ever see me,because as I said you’ll see me playing the way I really play.
Right now I’m working on a new cd,which I want to release myself online,so i can’t give you an exact date,but I can tell you will be my best record ever. I’m always practicing, writing and working so keep up with victorbailey.com and you can keep up with me.