Thursday, February 22, 2018

Playing Bass In and Out of Chicago: Interview with Musician Bob Lizik

                                                      Bob Lizik in the studio

Bob Lizik's career continues to be marked by stellar accomplishments and performances. He has performed on thousands of television and radio commercials; and those ads have sold the food and beverages you consumed, the cars you drove and the places you shopped. 

He has recorded with Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Joe Sample, Eric Clapton, Mavis Staples, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Dennis DeYoung and Kylie Minogue. His longest association has been with the iconic songwriter, musician and founding member of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson. Wilson will be touring this summer and it is a show any lover of music should not miss. Mr. Wilson's music is as the saying goes, timeless. Hearing songs from the catalog of the Beach Boys still resonates some 50 years after they were recorded. God Only Knows, Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations are a few of the classic songs recorded by the Beach Boys. Wilson's music compositions are among the most consequential of the rock era; and he is highly regarded in the pantheon of giants of the second half of 20th century music.

He will be touring this spring and summer and you can find those tour dates at Brian's website, I love music. I have always loved music. My parents graced me with the presence of music in our home from the beginning of my life. Frank Sinatra, the big band orchestras and their various singers were a huge part of my growing up years. My older siblings introduced the Beatles and the ever growing list of not just the then British invasion, but also many of the significant American acts that were formed and groomed during my childhood. How could I not love the boys of summer?

I had a wild moment when I first moved to Los Angeles some 30 years ago. I was going to be staying with a friend's mother-in-law. She is now deceased, but one day early on in my arrival she casually mentioned a good friend of hers. That woman was the mother of Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson. It was one of my first "celebrity" experiences and of course, I was thrilled. Her home was planted less than a mile from where Dennis had once gone surfing.  

In honor and support of Brian Wilson's upcoming tour, I had the privilege of interviewing the gifted musician who has been with Brian's band for some 20 years. He is the bass player for Brian Wilson and he has had his own illustrious career supporting some of the biggest names in music.

Bob Lizik has been a professional musician his entire adult life and he still maintains his Chicago roots with his family in the suburbs of Chicago. He spent many years as one of the most sought after musicians for the huge jingles market this city was involved in with the advertising community.

Judith: Bob, you've had a long association with Brian Wilson. Wilson, of course has been beloved by the critics and his fellow songwriters/musicians for more than a half century. He is also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How did you land the bass player role in his band that has now been a part of your life for the last 20 years?

Bob Lizik: I worked a lot with a producer named Joe Thomas, and he was doing the Imagination album with Brian. Joe asked if I wanted to play on a couple of tracks, and of course I was thrilled. When the album was finished, Joe thought Brian should do a little tour to support the album. At first it was just a couple of weeks, then they added another week, and here we are almost 20 years later. Some of Joe's credits are: The Beach Boys - Stars and Stripes, Volume 1, Brian Wilson - Imagination, Dave Matthews Band - Weekend on the Rocks and Stevie Nicks -The Soundstage Sessions

                                     Bob Lizik and Brian Wilson
Judith: I had the good fortune of meeting the surviving Beach Boys back in 2006 with a Capitol Records rooftop celebration for their Pet Sounds album 50th anniversary. It would be an understatement to say it's a superb album. I'm particularly fond of Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows. What are your favorite Beach Boys songs?

Bob Lizik: There are so many, and it changes depending on my mood. Warmth Of The Sun has always been a favorite, along with Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Wind Chimes and Surfs Up from SMiLE, and I always loved Don’t Worry Baby.

Judith: Hearing your choices, makes me want to play their music right now! Can you share what the rehearsal and road touring life is like with this current line-up of Brian Wilson's band?

Bob Lizik: We don’t rehearse much. There’s usually a day or two before a tour, and that’s mainly to get the dust off and maybe add a couple of songs. Everyone takes it seriously, and knows their parts. That being said, we’re constantly tweaking parts at soundcheck. The guys are always revisiting vocals and making sure the parts and phrasing are correct. We have a great crew that takes care of us. They don’t get noticed, but they move us, set up, do sound and lights and all the technical stuff involved with doing a show. Touring is pretty smooth. We fly out to the first gig, then we have several tour buses. The bus becomes home, even though we get rooms every night, the bus is home. After shows, we might get on the bus for a drive. You can either hop in your bunk, or stay up and watch a movie, have a drink or something to eat, or just hang. On the last tour in Europe, we watched every season of Game of Thrones. On off days, some of the guys play tennis or go to movies or just chill.

Judith: Bob, you started your career in Chicago. I know you had a long-running and successful career as a jingles/ads musician. What are a few of the jingles you recorded? Any iconic brands or campaigns?

Bob Lizik:  I played on just about every product out there at one time or another. McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Ford, Chevy, Sears and so many more. Chicago was a big advertising town. I think some of the big ones were the Bud Light Bring Out Your Best campaign, Mazda Zoom Zoom, and Busch Beer Head For the Mountains campaign.

Judith: Bob, I understand you had a love for the big bands. I love the big bands. I play that music quite often. What are your favorite songs from that era? Any favorite musicians from that time?

Bob Lizik: My dad had old Glenn Miller, Harry James and Dorsey Brothers albums, so songs like A String of Pearls and Sing Sing Sing were favorites. When I got a little older, my teacher, Harry Grebb  turned me on to Stan Kenton and Woody Herman.

Judith: I have a fondness for Woody Herman's Woodchopper's Ball. It's feel good music! You are from the Bridgeport area in Chicago. Bridgeport is the oldest neighborhood in the city of Chicago and is still a lively and prospering area of the city. Any favorite memories from your youth?

Bob Lizik: I have lots of memories. Turning on the fire hydrants in the summer and playing in the water. Playing fast pitch against the wall at Immaculate Conception parking lot and being chased out by the priest. It was a great neighborhood. A lot of kids. We’d play all day and night.

Judith: Who were the most influential musicians in your life? Favorite bass players?

Bob Lizik: The most influential was my music teacher Harry Grebb. He’s the reason I wanted to be a musician. He owned a small music studio and gave lessons on everything. I started on accordion with him, and switched to bass. He was a great guy. There are a lot of bass players I love. Obviously Jameson and Jaco, but there’s Gary Willis, Marcus Miller and Anthony Jackson. One of my favorites is Lee Sklar.

Judith: Which musicians/songwriters of today are people you would say will have long-running careers?

Bob Lizik: I think Jacob Collier is absolutely brilliant. I’m amazed by his talent. You have to check him out. I also like Bruno Mars. I think he’ll be around for a while.

Judith: How do you manage life with a wife, children and grandchildren with so much time on the road?

Bob Lizik: It was hard when my sons were little and I was gone. I missed them so much, but it was the career I chose, and I had to make a living. Luckily I have a great wife that understands, and supports what I do. Now I miss my grandkids when we’re out. I try and make up for being gone when I get home.

Judith: You've worked with some giants in the music industry (see above). In my younger years I was never a fan of Barbra Streisand's, but about ten years ago I was in the car listening to her interpretation of the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim song Somewhere from West Side Story. I was listening. Really listening. Those few moments (even though I had heard the song several times before) changed the way I felt about her instantly. I love her voice. When did you work with Barbra Streisand? What was the experience like?

Bob Lizik: The Barbra Streisand session was amazing (Bob worked on the Streisand album Emotion in 1985). We recorded in Capitol Studio A in Los Angeles with a full orchestra. We ran the songs a few times, and then Streisand came in and sang live with us. It was really special hearing that voice in my headphones while I was playing.   

Judith: What's the smartest move you ever made in the music industry? What's the dumbest thing you ever did musically?

Bob Lizik: Probably the smartest move was taking the Brian Wilson gig. It came at a time when the jingle business was tanking, and it’s been a great experience. I think the dumbest was not moving to Los Angeles when I was younger. I had a couple of opportunities in the 70’s to go, and I stayed in Chicago. I sometimes wonder how that would have turned out.

Judith: Everyone has go-to artists. Who is your go to artist? Favorite singers, both male and female?

Bob Lizik: Stevie Wonder is my go to. Favorite singers would be Stevie Wonder, Eric Benét, Corinne Bailey Rae and Jill Scott.

Judith: I always want to know from people... if you are stuck on the proverbially stranded island which five albums will you want in your possession on that island?

Bob Lizik: Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder, Talking Book by Stevie Wonder, Plantation Lullabies by Meshell Ndegeocello, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and West Side Story from Oscar Peterson.

You can catch Bob Lizik playing Bass on the 2018 Brian Wilson tour. For tour dates, check out  

Thanks to Bob Lizik for taking the time to share a bit about his career. Now go and listen to Wouldn't It Be Nice and I promise you will feel good!

An excellent clip of Bob Lizik on bass with a performance of the classic love song, God Only Knows.

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2018 


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