Way Down: Playing Bass with Elvis ... The Autobiography of Jerry Scheff
Review by Rhetta Akamatsu
Jerry Scheff has been a sought-after bass player for over 45 years, playing on albums and touring with many of the greats, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, John Denver and Elvis Costello.
Way Down: Playing Bass with Elvis, Dylan, the Doors, and More is the story of his life in music, beginning as a teenage white boy playing black clubs in California in the '50s, through his career as a musician in the Navy, then making a name for himself in the clubs and ending up with Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. There are many interesting stories here about playing pranks on each other during Elvis' Vegas shows and what it was like to travel on Elvis' private jet, The Lisa Marie, about being on tour with Dylan, and behind-the-scenes tales from many events where Jerry played.
But if you are looking for 'dirt' or deep insights into the famous musicians he hung around with, you won't find too much here although one good story is the 'fit' Elvis had when he discovered that Jerry and Kathy Westmoreland had something going - that night as he proceeded to introduce the band he started this way: 'Ronnie Tutt on drums, Jerry Scheff on Kathy Westmoreland' ... [A bit of jealousy and Elvis' mischievous [at times] nature.
About Larry Muhoberac :
'After he was gone, I really missed his smooth, inventive adaptive approach to playing the piano. He was creative and didn’t just play parts and licks, he played songs. There was no ham-fisted left hand in your bass face, claming all the mid-range ...'
On Glen Hardin :
'After the shows, Glen liked to shoot craps at the casino. He made a big show of not drinking before the show, or at least not obviously drinking. But afterwards he had the waitresses running back and forth with scotch and water. Before he passed out, Glen would take control of the crap table. He usually had chips flying all over the place ... I was in my dressing room one night before the first of two shows and Glen came in with his pants and coat buckets bulging. 'Jerry Scheff', he said – he likes to call people by both names – 'Look at this'. He started pulling handfuls of black $100 chips from his pockets … He said that he woke up in the afternoon on his bed with his clothes still on and he was covered from neck to belt buckle with chips. 'The security guards must have stood me on a skateboard and rolled me to my room, laid me on my bed and poured chips over me ...'
The book continues with similar stories about the band members (and of course the other artists he worked with, like Bruce Springsteen (there was no love lost between them it seems), Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello … But mostly this book is all about the music - as it should be - and what it was like to be a studio musician and band member just on the edge of the spotlight. Even through all the years of traveling with Elvis, Scheff says that he knew and admired him, but did not consider him a friend. It was the same with Dylan, John Denver, and the rest. Scheff got close, but not too close. With each musician, stories about them center on the music, and only that part of the musician's personality or problems that effect the music are worth mentioning to Scheff. For this reason, you hear about sneaking out to go to a club with Dylan, or the lavish hotel rooms and backstage food on a John Denver tour. But even though Scheff - like nearly every other creative person in the '60s and '70s - did his share of drugs, there is very little debauchery and no accounts of trashing of hotel rooms, etc., in Way Down. So, no, this is not a 'tell-all' or gossip book. There are plenty of those out there anyway. This is a book about Jerry Scheff, and about life as a working musician in the studio and on the road.
As such, it is an entertaining, honest, and informative book.
I enjoyed Way Down, and as long as you know what you're getting, I think you will, too.