While world tours and session work would be enough for many artists, Nathan East has also stepped out as a solo artist in recent years. A follow-up to 2015’s The New Cool, the forthcoming Reverence features an all-star line-up of collaborators. A cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentire Fire,” for example, features Eric Clapton on guitar, Phil Collins on drums and members of EW&F on bass, vocals and percussion. First single “Feels Like Home” includes Yolanda Adams on vocals. Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind & Fire also appears on a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Nathan’s son Noah can be heard on “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Reverence will hit stores via the Yamaha Entertainment Group on Jan. 20.
Who was the first prominent artist you had toured with? Was it Barry White?
Nathan East: Yes, Barry White was my first employer on a major U.S. tour. He heard a band that I was in called Power and hired our entire group on the spot to tour with him and the Love Unlimited Orchestra. I was 16 years old performing at Madison Square Garden, The Apollo Theater and The Kennedy Center. Needless to say, it was a thrill!
You have notably played on over 2,000 releases. Is there one that you view most proudly? Or one that you look back at as being your first big break?
NE: From the beginning of 1980, I found myself practically living in the studios of Los Angeles recording as many as 25 to 30 sessions per week, everything from commercials and jingles to albums and motion picture soundtracks. I played bass on many of the Barry White albums and hits, but he didn’t credit the musicians on his recordings for fear that someone might try to steal his sound. The Hubert Laws Family album was one of my early recordings that I was very proud of. The Philip Bailey Chinese Wall album gave birth to the song “Easy Lover” that I was very proud to have co-written with Philip and Phil Collins. There are so many that I view proudly including all the Anita Baker recordings and Fourplay albums, but one of the most significant recordings may have been the Eric Clapton Unplugged album, which sold almost 30 million copies worldwide. It contained the classic song “Tears in Heaven,” written for his son Conor.
Are there any sessions that you did a ghost musician? Andy Timmons, for example, told me in an interview that he played on a song by the purple dinosaur Barney…
NE: I was called in to play on a Judas Priest album but was not credited. Their bass player was in recovery at the time.
Most people know you primarily as a bassist, but you’ve written hit songs for artists. When did you start writing music versus playing bass?
NE: In the mid-70s I wrote my first recorded song called “With All My Love,” which became the title track of trumpeter Bruce Cameron’s album. That song was my entry into ASCAP and I pretty much started writing music at about the same time I started playing bass.
I know you played cello before bass. Did you ever take piano lessons? Or try to expand to learn other instruments?
NE: I did take piano lessons as a child, and I have limited skills on the rhythm instruments such as guitar and drums.
Yamaha makes your basses and releases your albums. How did you first encounter Yamaha?
NE: In the early 80s I remember visiting Abraham Laboriel at A&M Studios, and of course he can make any bass sound amazing, but that day he was playing his Yamaha bass and I was very impressed with the sound! He put me in touch with Yamaha and that was the beginning of our long relationship.
Do you have a favorite song on your new album?
NE: That’s sort of like asking if you have a favorite child. They are all favorites, but I must say I am partial to the version of “Over The Rainbow” that I recorded featuring my son Noah on piano. Also, a new version of the Earth Wind & Fire classic “Serpentine Fire” is one that I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
How does the new album compare to your solo debut?
NE: I don’t like to compare albums as they are musical expressions and reflections of different times in your life, but I must say I love this album equally as much as I love the first!
Why did you wait until 2014 to put out your first solo album?
NE: To be honest, it was my desire for the past couple decades to release my own solo album. However, I found myself too busy working and touring all over the world and making music with such an enjoyable variety of artists.
Is there anything you haven’t yet accomplished but still hope to?
NE: I’ve recently been doing some voiceover work, which is a lot of fun. I would also like to start a foundation for education to give underprivileged kids opportunities to attend college.
Will you be playing any U.S. shows in support of the new album?
Where was the first gig you ever played in New York City?
NE: Madison Square Garden with Barry White. We also played the Apollo Theater.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
NE: Oh, there are so many, like Nobu, which I really enjoy. But one of my recent favorites is Pepolino’s in SoHo.
When you’re not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
NE: I love spending time with my family more than anything else! I also enjoy photography, I’m a private pilot and I enjoy performing magic.
Finally, Nathan, any last words for the kids?
NE: Be passionate about whatever it is you want to do, and try to live life to the fullest — it goes by quickly!