Rhode Island’s Bob Healey is a bass player who takes his low end possibilities quite seriously. Healey, of Rhode Island’s elite cover band 5 Flavor Discount and hair metal outfit Pozer, uses a few cool things to get the tones he needs. While Pozer is a hair metal band that only requires straight-forward bass, 5 Flavor Discount is a multi-genre, high functioning cover band demanding many colors and numerous tones.
His live rig for 5 Flavor Discount begins with a Fender Jazz bass and a Music Man Sterling bass. His amp rig is all Hartke. He uses the LH 1000X, Hydrive 4 10 cabinet. His signal runs direct from the head to the PA system. “Everything that I’m using on stage goes right to the PA so you hear everything,” he said.
Healey’s effect board has an EBS compressor, made in Sweden, that goes into a Boss bass synth then into a Boss octave pedal. From the octave pedal he goes into an MXR Bass Envelope. “That’s the pedal I have the most fun with,” Healey said. “It gives it that old 70s Bootsy Collins whomp-whomp type sound. Some guys say that ‘70s porno film bass line.’ That’s exactly what it is. It gives that tone to it.”
From the Envelope Healey goes into mild distortion pedal made by DigiTech. His final pedal is a Boss Phaser Pedal. All of his pedals go through his amps.
“The amp itself is a nice clean versatile sound,” Healey said. “I can use that same amp for rock stuff, reggae, blues, funk. Whatever you play into it, it gives a nice even tone.” Healey uses another bass with the same amp for his hair metal outfit, the tone sounds nothing like 5 Flavor Discount. “It’s got a real edgy rock tone to it and the amp produces it. The amp is very important to me.”
Healey considers his pedals a color issue. If 5 Flavor Discount is playing “I Want To Take You Higher” by Sly And The Family Stone, Healey has to emulate that old Larry Graham bass sound. “It’s basically an octave pedal, a distortion, and the phaser,” Healey said. “You put those three on together, it gives you that huge old ballsy old Larry Graham tone.”
Healey’s octave pedal helps him out on Stevie Wonder songs to capture the sound that comes from Wonder’s tendency to double his left hand keyboard bass notes with the bass guitar. “Since we don’t have a keyboard player,” Healey said, “I can do stuff like that with that pedal.”
Healey’s bass synth pedal gives him an edge during songs by No Doubt. “They use a lot of synthy sounds, and I can put that on and make that sound happen. It fills out a lot.” He uses the synth and octave pedals together on that number. Healey does something similar with “Flashlight” by Parliament Funkadelic. He has to play the complete synth bass line because the bass is rarely played on that song. The whole lick is all synthesizer so Healey needs almost every pedal on his board to get it right.
Ironically, when 5 Flavor Discount go into their own solos at the end of a show, Healey doesn’t use any pedals. “I just play straight bass with that,” he said. “But the pedals really help me out with 5 Flavor because of the different types of music that we do because we lack keyboards. (Guitarist) Jon (Hathaway) has a handful himself when he’s playing. I get to fill in the blanks with him. It gives it a really full sound.”
Healey said it is mostly the tone that his pedals impact. But sometimes a pedal will even set the mood to the song. “It will actually change the way I’m playing sometimes as to how I attack the strings and how I’m playing certain notes. I can use that Envelope Filter in songs where I’m playing maybe one or two notes here and there, and it’s just like single short notes. I can hit them, and it will give them a little wobbly type effect, almost like a reggae type bass sound. It gives it a little character.”
Aside from his compressor, Healey doesn’t leave any other pedal turned on one hundred percent of the night. The compressor actually levels out his aggressive bass playing. “I can get peaks and spikes from my playing so the compressor puts a reign on me and pulls me back so everything stays even and I can still play the way I play. I would say that out of all those effects, the compressor is the one that is really part of my tone. The rest of them are just color.”
Before joining 5 Flavor, Healey used to use a mulit-effects board which was basically a big one piece unit with hundred of different effects inside. “After using that for six years, I found that the singe effects are much more intricate. They have a much more refined tone,” Healey said. “With the multi-effects unit, if something goes wrong on stage, you have to go in and reprogram and that’s not good. Once I was done tweaking and doing different things, I found I was only using four different sounds. I said I can buy four pedals that really make it sound well.”
Healey said the quest for the perfect tone is like an addiction. “It is called GAS, gear-acquisition-syndrome,” he said. “You always see it on TalkBass. A guy will write GAS is setting in now. I just bought the new blah-blah-blah. Everybody gets it. Something new comes out you have to try it. You have to get it.”
For his band Pozer Healey uses the same rig with a Yamaha Attitude Limited II, a Billy Sheehan signature bass. “That bass is really customized for rock,” Healy said. “I can’t play it in 5 Flavor. It just doesn’t sound right with that band at all. For Pozer, I use no effects in that band. I run straight bass into the amp.”