Joe Iaquinto Interview (February 2011)
As bassist for bands such as Hit and Run, Joe Iaquinto was a familiar figure in the same late 1970s/early 1980s LA scene in which Michael emerged after her earlier experience with the Runaways. Over the years Joe has worked with Stephen Bishop, Rita Coolidge, Billy Preston, and members of the Doobie Bros. and Chicago, in addition to contributing articles for Bass Player magazine.
JI: Joe Iaquinto
RIS: How did you first get into music?
JI: I was always playing music of some sort. I started clarinet in grade school, and then played electric bass in 1971, when a drum set was not financially possible (my first choice)
RIS: Did you play in any groups yourself in the early 80s LA scene?
JI: I was in a fantastic band called “Hit and Run.” I moved to L.A. in 1978 from N.Y. and was fortunate enough to hook up with some incredible musicians almost immediately.
RIS” What were your impressions of Michael Steele when you first met/saw her?
JI: She was dating the drummer in Hit and Run and I thought she was a very cool, very interesting person. Lots of red hair! I always thought she was a very pretty, very striking girl, and like her playing, she had her own style and carried herself with a quiet confidence. Her playing mirrored her personality, as is often the case with good musicians who are in touch with their inner mechanism. She wanted me to show her how to “slap” the bass, as I was much more of a funk and R&B player.
RIS: How did that go?
JI: I was a bit high-strung back then, just arriving from growing up in New York City, so my slapping was high-octane, and I think a bit too over the top for Michael! I did tell her the basic principle, which was thumb=bass drum, index finger=snare drum, so if any of that helped her, it’s all good!
RIS: How was Michael’s personality reflected in her musicianship?
JI: She had a calm about her but you knew there was something deep going on and that’s how she played. The bass lines were not overly complex on the surface but they made you take notice and it was the subtleties and textures that gave the music a lift that wouldn’t have been there with the average player.
RIS: What bands was she into at the time?
JI: Well, I remember we all liked the Motels and the Bus Boys and a band called “Smile,” which was another of the Madame Wong’s crew. XTC was a band I remember talking about with her ’cause the bass playing was fantastic and they were very quirky and cool.
RIS: What do you remember of seeing Elton Duck live?
JI: I don’t have memories of seeing Elton Duck but I do remember Michael playing me the recordings and it was very quirky-cool. We were driving to a gig together and she popped some cassettes (remember those!?) in the player. It was right when she got the gig.
RIS: What are your memories of Toni & The Movers’ gigs?
JI: Loved them. I always thought the band was great, the vibe, the attitude, the songs. Always enjoyed hearing and seeing them.
RIS: Did Michael ever tell you of her approach to bassplaying or music in general?
JI: I can’t recall any particular conversations about that stuff but I know that like me, she was all about the songs and playing whatever would make the songs interesting and nailing the vibe of the artist.
RIS: Are there any other bands you saw MS play in? (Was she singing any lead vocals with bands back then?)
JI: I don’t think so and no, no lead vocals.
RIS: Do you recall any details about the instruments she used playing in these bands?
JI: She had a Music Man Stingray and a Music Man Saber, which had 2 pickups.
RIS: How do you rate her as a bassist?
JI: Very high, in my book.
RIS: Speaking as a bassist yourself, what about Michael’s technique set her apart from the other bassists in the scene? Did you notice any subtleties in her playing that most people wouldn’t?
JI: Back in those days, we all had to play eighth note “new wave” grooves, so it could become boring if you didn’t use your noodle, and Michael was very good at accenting the notes and making melodic sense of otherwise angular and stiff parts, which is how I, too, approached that music.
RIS: What are your favourite bass parts of hers?
JI: September Gurls and Hero Takes A Fall… good stuff!
RIS: What was the story behind you selling her a P-Bass?
JI: She was in a car wreck and her Music Man got crunched. She had no other bass at the time and I had two, so I sold her my late ’60s Fender Precision Bass, which I bought used at Manny’s Music in N.Y., stripped, painted, stripped again, and modded with a bridge pickup, which I tore out and wood putty-filled the hole. She used that bass with the Bangles and then when they did their big comeback, I was thrilled to see her still using it…wood putty scar and all!
Michael and her P-Bass, 1987.
RIS: Are there any other memories or amusing stories about the LA musical scene you’d like to share?
JI: It was just a great time to be in L.A. There was a lot of bands on the scene, a lot of great songwriters and interesting musicians, and a lot of cool places to play. Sadly, Heavy Metal took over shortly after that and L.A. became a hair band town. I was glad that Michael came out of it a winner.
RIS: Do you have any recent music/projects of your own?
JI: I play bass and guitar with a number of wonderful people, including Kenny Cetera, who’s brother Peter was the original bassist/vocalist in the band Chicago, and Kenny and I have a few projects working, including a classic rock trio and a Chicago tribute band. I’m just out here making a living and glad to still be playing!