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Bill Laswell (1950 - )

Lifespan: 1950 -

Related: American music - music production - bass

Mr. Laswell grew up in Detroit, and played with a number of disco-funk bands before arriving in New York City in 1978, where he met Michael Beinhorn, who plays synthesizer and manipulates pre-recorded tapes, and the drummer Fred Maher. These three first played together in a group called the Zu Band, but by summer '79 they were working as Material, with Cliff Cultreri, as the first of several guitarists to pass through the ranks.


Bill Laswell (born December 2, 1950) is a prolific bassist, producer, and record label owner who has collaborated with hundreds of musicians all over the world.

Laswell's first recording appearance was in 1978, playing bass for Michael Blaise and Cheater on a track titled "Scoring Power". His artistic breakthrough came in producing "Rockit" for Herbie Hancock's Future Shock album, a track cited by many as influencing the explosion of hip-hop and turntablism.

Laswell has remixed the works of Bob Marley, Miles Davis, and Carlos Santana. Laswell continues to hybridize music styles of disparate world cultures. Tabla Beat Science is one such fusion, joining classical Indian instrumentation with modern electronic production.

Laswell draws upon many musical genres, most notably funk, dub and ambient. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Laswell [Jan 2005]

Material (band)

Material is a musical group formed in 1979 and led by bass guitarist Bill Laswell.

Early Material was centered around Laswell, guitarist Robert Quine, keyboardist Michael Beinhorn and drummer Fred Maher. There were frequent guest stars, and the music was primarily instrumental. The music was often funky--a few singles were popular in New York City dance clubs--but decidedly experimental.

1982's One Down marked a change towards relatively more accessible mainstream "funk and disco tunes delivered with a minimum of weirdness." [1] "Memories" was Whitney Houston's first recording as a featured vocalist.

Herbie Hancock hired Laswell and many of his Material collaborators for his 1983 album Future Shock and its important single "Rockit".

Laswell has since used the Material name for a variety of projects featuring his usual revolving-door cast of talented musicians. Notable was 1989's Seven Souls, featuring William S. Burroughs reading portions of his novel The Western Lands. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Material_%28band%29 [Dec 2005]

Bill and Mick Jagger

  • Mick Jagger - She's The Boss [Amazon US] Album was co-produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic fame and Bill Laswell. Twelve Inch of Lucky In Love (co-produced by Francois K) is highly sought after.
  • Bernard Fowler
  • Doug Wimbish

    Bill Laswell and Fela Kuti

    When did you first get into Fela's music?
    Bill Laswell: When I started listening to Cream and stuff, I started to read interviews with people like Ginger [Baker] about where they were getting their stuff from. Just like Clapton was getting ideas from blues guys, I realized that rhythm musicians were getting a lot of information from Africa. I immediately started looking for the records, especially Afrobeat. Just that syncopation, the up feel. You get ideas about putting rhythms together. Those early bands Fela had were really tight. Just like when this African guy told me James Brown had just 'messed him up,' Fela had bands that were almost like that. I don't think as aggressively tight, but it had a feel, an Afrobeat, African feel, with a modern sound.

    How did you end up producing Army Arrangement?
    At that time in Paris in 84 or 85, Celluloid was the label that all African or West African, everybody was going to them for some reason. And they got a hold of Fela's contract and his catalog and they just started calling the shots. Fela was on his way to New York to come and we were going to mix the record when he came. On the way to New York, getting on the plane in Nigeria, he had something like ten grand in cash in US dollars, I think. He was immediately put in jail, the tapes arrived, and the Celluloid people were like, 'Well great, go ahead and mix it. Let's capitalize on the fact that he's in jail, we'll get more press.' But the tapes I received weren't really musical or necessarily well-recorded. So we felt that if we just mixed it, it wouldn't bring anything new to what Fela's legend was. So we added Sly Dunbar, Bernie Worrell and Aiyb Dieng from Senegal.

    Did you ever meet Fela?
    [When he got out of jail,] Fela did a press tour in the States. He was at the Gramercy Hotel in New York. I went there and he was sitting around his room wearing a shirt and some underwear and sitting in a lotus position on the couch, a bunch of people coming in and out, and we spoke for a few minutes. He was kind of amazed that I would come because he had said that he didn't like what I had done. There was an African magazine where I was quoted as saying, "It's much better to mix an artist's work if they're in prison." Some really stupid shit. And that freaked him out. And he was saying that there was a sound that wasn't African that I put on the album. [But] it was a Senegalese drummer, so of course it's African. It's very interesting because everybody thought I wouldn't go meet him, so I just went in anyway. By that time he had started to deteriorate, he wasn't as strong. You could feel he wasn't the person he was. He just wasn't the presence that he was before. And it showed in the music too, because in the '70s Fela had a really strong band and then he just got kind of more lighter and lighter. And then a lot of weird shit came into that scene. That was a heavy scene. They were around some heavy people. Cuz he was the BIGGEST thing happening in Nigeria, and there's some heavy stuff in Nigeria-not all positive. - Jay Babcock [...]

  • Fela Kuti - Army Arrangement[Amazon US] 1985
    Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and The Egypt 80
    Army Arrangement (LP UK, Yaba - Celluloid CEL6109)
    [A] Army Arrangement
    [B] Cross Exmination / Government Chicken Boy
    -- Remixed version and prod. by Fela and Bill Laswell.


  • Material - The Third Power [Amazon US] First of all, check out the members of this band:Bootsy Collins, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Shaba Ranks, Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrel,Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and Pee wee Ellis. Yet this album had very little promotion and so it is sadly relatively "unknown". Big Shame....To me, the two great tracks from this album are:COSMIC SLOP (cover of the Parliament song) MELLOW MOOD (reggae love song) -- A music fan from Tokyo, Japan, for amazon.com
  • Material - Hallucination Engine[Amazon US]
  • http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Underground/7093/articles.html Material articles

    Bill, Bob and Miles

  • http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Underground/7093/TOP.html A musical renaissance man for the millenium, Bill Laswell's ambient remixes of Bob Marley and Miles Davis have added a new dimension to their music and the art of remix.
  • Bill Laswell - Panthalassa: The Music Of Miles Davis 1969-1974 [1 cd, Amazon US]
    There are more tributes to Miles Davis's acoustic jazz groups of the 1950s and 1960s than one can easily count. But there are precious few explorations of his outlaw electric jazz period, dating from 1969 to 1974. Himself a studio outlaw of sorts, bassist and producer Bill Laswell goes a good distance rectifying the lack of attention paid to Davis's growling, funky electric period. He remixes and "translates" the dramatic slowness of In a Silent Way and smoothes over the abrasive jump cuts and edits that have made On the Corner a blazing listen for over 25 years. Laswell builds ambient-dub spreads on Davis's electro-fusion architecture, and he makes heavy funk out of the Davis band's mix of low-end bassiness and high-end soprano sax and electric piano. Look out for more paeans to the previously maligned electric period in Miles Davis's career. --Andrew Bartlett

  • Dreams of Freedom: Ambient Translations of Bob Marley in Dub (1997) - Bill Laswell [Amazon US]
    I remember ignoring this album when it was originally released because the thought of an ambient Marley record sounded lame. What a terrible mistake on my part! This CD just flattened me! There's a lot more going on than just a typical dub remix so some purists may not dig it, but if you appreciate ambient and good dub this is all you. I can't believe how well these songs work in this context (with the possible exception of No Woman No Cry; it's good but not great.) This is a sweet record to chill out to or to put on when you want the mood laid back. It sounds cool in the headphones but in a good system with big bass it really opens up. Bass players take heed: Aston "Family Man" Barrett will take you to school and in this dubbed out mix he's never been more up front. Listen and learn.
    I was concerned that this was just an excuse to use the Marley name but it was obviously done with the love and respect that the music and Marley's spirituality deserves. Praise to Bill Laswell for doing it right. Wish I'd caught on sooner, but better late than never. --dubaddicted for amazon.com

    Pharoah Sanders

  • Pharoah Sanders - Message From Home [1 CD, Amazon US] Super prolific Producer/bass man Bill Laswell ( Material, Bootsy Collins, Last Poets, Bernie Worrell projects) combines his tough urban funk sensibilities with artificially sweetened Afro-pop and lays them under Pharoah's otherwordly saxaphone. The end result of this experiment is a couple of cool songs including the exciting Kora drumming and bass guitar interplay on "Our Roots.." and the oceanic squealing solos that stretch throughout this experiment that fizzles. But it ain't Pharoah or the Brothers who perform on the African drums faults! -- [...]

    Bill Electro

  • Herbie Hancock - Future Shock[1 CD, Amazon US]
    1983 Electro: Herbie Hancock's electro tracks with Bill Laswell - particularly the smash hit "Rockit". Bernard Fowler is a featured vocalist.

    Bill and Afro

  • Manu Dibango - Electric Africa [Amazon US]

  • Basslines - Bill Laswell [Amazon US]
    Includes the 'Work Song'. Wonderful stuff

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