More and more present on the French and even on the international scene, Mike Clinton feels comfortable in all registers, thanks to an exceptional musical adaptability and a science of accompaniment he states loud and clear. A science he keeps improving. Bassiste Magazine has looked into Clinton’s case.
By Paolo Coccina
Hi Mike, what can you tell us about the main outlines of your career ?
My first contact with music occured at the age of six through the piano, at L’hay-Les-Roses music academy where I was also taught to read music.
However, I quit very quickly because of sport, especially football in which I threw myself more and more.
I grew up in St Denis in a very musical environment, as many musicians used to come over regularly. For instance, my father, Jean-Yves Messan (I am named after my mother), half Gabonese and half Breton, was a well-known bassist in Africa. As for my uncles, some were guitarists or bassists. In short, music was omnipresent but football had taken the upper hand…
Then, one day when I was about twelve years old, I broke my arm badly while I was at my grandmother’s. Physiotherapy was long and difficult, so she advised me to take up the guitar to regain some finger mobility. A friend of mine had a guitar and a bass, a cheap version of a Fender Precision. As he wanted to keep practising it, guess what happened next…I started training very diligently.
So, you had some knowledge of reading music, but how did you learn how to play the bass ?
We used to listen to Sixun’s live album night and day, I used to try and play Michel Alibo’s bass lines (Michel is one of my family’s best friends). Then, I started listening to the albums and watching the VHS of Marcus Miller, playing the bass, and Miles Davis’s concerts more thoroughly. I was well aware of both the importance of this instrument in a band and of my family heritage. I worked on all sorts of music, from The Beatles to Weather Report and Pino Palladino. I started in a small local band we had set up in Guadeloupe.
After the cheap version of the Fender Precision, what bass guitars did you play on ?
When my mother realized that the bass had become a real passion to me, she gave me a five-string Bass Collection. Quite an investment at that time. Then, the first bass I could buy (I had come back to St Denis in the meantime) was a Rickenbacker, which was not the kind of bass I really wanted, but I had bought it for a trivial price.
I kept it for quite some time, I played in Funk and Rap bands. I had also registered at Saint-Denis Music Academy where I took part in Jazz and Blues workshops.
What was your first professional turning point?
I was recommended to the musicians of C’Kans, a Caribbean band, by Michel Alibo.
I toured a lot with this band and we also had studio sessions together. We were supported by Jean-Philippe Marthély from Kassav.
After that, I was much in demand for sessions of African and Caribbean music. I also perfomed canticles in church choirs. I had built my own bass with the neck of a Warmoth, the body of a Jazz Bass and EMG microphones. Apart from that, the turning point of my career was when I got into Edith Lefel’s orchestra, one of the greatest West Indian singers. I took part in her concert at L’Olympia in 1996. I was in my early twenties then. In 1997, I bought a five-string Trace Elliot, quite an unknown instrument I played on for quite some time.
Was it then you decided to diversify the kind of music you played ?
It is true I was always in demand to play West Indian music, but I felt like playing other sorts of music, like Jazz, Pop, Fusion… and above all, I wanted to accompany because I have always thought that this is the main role of a bass. That’s also why I am nuts about Pino Palladino, among others. Talking about that, the drummer Maxime Garoute and I, had the privilege to be part of the rythmic section of the French band Revolver. I had to learn the bass lines Pino had burnt onto the album. What a delight !
Now, as far as diversity is concerned, I had the opportunity to be called by Alan Stivell, and with Salif Keita I toured for four years, with Roger Biwandu as a drummer. I also toured with Gad Elmaleh, Arthur H, Matthieu Chedid, Gaétan Roussel, Vianney… I was discovered by the latter while I was playing with De La Soul, the famous American Hip Hop band, as I am part of the French band they play with, when they perform in Europe.
Vianney appreciated my performance, contacted me and asked me to join his team.
We toured in festivals all summer long and it was really pleasant.
Let’s get back to the equipment ! What are you using currently ?
I am going to show you, let’s go next door ! The two Bluesman Vintage Precision and Jazz Bass I am using with Vianney at the moment are missing as I left them in the room. Otherwise, the first one you can see here is a Noir. I have to pay tribute to Jean-Michel Noir from the Bass Club thanks to whom I could discover and try many bass guitars from prestigious brands. In fact, I was one of the first bassists he contacted, because I think ,at that time, I certainly was the only one who played on a Wyn bass in France, and it is a brand he wanted to distribute. So, during the Lamomali Tour with Matthieu Chedid, I played on this bass. I also use it a lot in during studio sessions. It has got Bartolini microphones and a very warm sound.
As for Fretless, I have a five-string DNG, the first bass I had someone done to my personal requirements. It has got Piezo sensors in the bridge. I also have this ultra vintage Sadowsky Jazz Bass and this flatwound (with La Bella stings) Rob Allen acoustic bass as well. Here is one of my main bass guitars : a five-string MTD 535. I also have this other Sadowsky Jazz Bass with EMG microphones on.
Do you use any effects ?
Mainly an Envelope Filter Moogerfooger, an Electro Harmonix POG octaver and an EBS octaver. As I am sponsored by Aguilar, I will be given all their different pedals as well as a new amplification system with an AG700 head and two 4*10 loudspeakers. I will use it with Gaétan Roussel during his next tour in September.
Do you have any other projects ?
At the moment, I am asked to compose or to supervise projects. I work a lot with Black Stamp, a label whose aim is to put intrumentalists in the spotlight. I must admit that with the frantic rhythm of tours, I do not have a lot of time to devote to more personal projects, with great regret. I would like to settle and be part of house bands, prepare concerts…but this is not an option at the moment.
I hope all this will be possible later…
Mike Clinton will be in showcase with Gaétan Roussel at La Fnac (St Lazare) on Friday, September 28th, as a prelude to a long tour with a concert at the Salle Pléyel on December 13th.
Bass Guitars : Bluesman Jazz Bass and Precision, Noir, DNG E Fretless strings, Sadowsky Jazz Bass, Rob Allen acoustic bass , five-string MTD 545
Amplifier : Aguilar system with an AG700 head and two 4*10 loudspeakers
Effects : EBS Octaver, Electro-Harmonix PDG octaver, Envelope Filter Moogerfooger, Aguilar pedals.