I first heard of Wayman Tisdale when I attended the University of Oklahoma. Like every other die hard Sooner sports fan on campus, I quickly became familiar with all the Sooner greats that had once donned the crimson and cream. Wayman Tisdale was one Sooner great with which I identified. My brother and I purchased Bass Frontiers Magazine in January 2008. It was at this time I learned Tisdale was not only a great athlete at OU, but he was also a renowned bassist.
Tisdale played basketball at the University of Oklahoma from 1983-1985, averaging a little more than 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also played on the 1984 gold-medal Olympic team. After his junior year at OU, Tisdale was taken 2nd overall in the NBA draft. Even while playing basketball, Tisdale found the time to pick up a bass and start his own band. Tisdale and his band toured extensively and recorded eight albums. In 2007, Tisdale lost a leg to cancer, but even that could not stop him from pursuing his passion. He simply smiled, put on a prosthetic leg, and went on to record “Rebound,” his last album. Wayman Tisdale passed away on May 15, 2009 at the age of 44.
(Some of the information above is courtesy of the Summer 2009 edition of Sooner Magazine.)
In the spirit of remembering Wayman, Bass Frontiers Magazine would like to reproduce an article written by Dale Titus in 1996 from Volume 3, Number 3 of the printed edition of our magazine.
Bass Frontiers Magazine
Wayman Tisdale – The Sky’s The Limit.
By Dale Titus
From Bass Frontiers Magazine, 1996, Volume 3, Number 3
One of the most common frustrations that I hear from bass players today has to do with the challenges of trying to play music while maintaining a day job. Over the years, I have talked with many people who have made the unfortunate decision to cast aside their musical dreams because they couldn’t balance two careers. Does this sound familiar to you? If it does, then I have some advice for you. Whenever we are challenged in our lives, we need to look for people who have overcome those same challenges, and emulate what they have done. I began looking for a bassist who might give us some answers to the problem of balancing two careers. I asked people in the recording industry, I asked people on the internet. Heck, I even asked my next door neighbor, and they all suggested that I interview the same guy-Wayman Tisdale.
Wayman is the perfect example of what hard work, talent and unwavering dedication can do for you. Not only is he a successful bassist who is currently signed to MoJazz, but he is a member of the NBA team, the Phoenix Suns. It is hard to imagie that someone can serve these two masters-the music industry and the NBA-but way does. Add to that the fact that he is a husband and the father of four kids, and you start wondering how in blazes does he keep his sanity. Is it easy for Mr. Tisdale to maintain both careers? Not on your life! It takes discpline and an intense love for both music and basketball. I began to get a fell for how busy this man is when I tried to set up a phone interview with him. Many times we had to reschedule because of last minute changes to Wayman’s already full calendar. Suffice it to say that I was extremely honored when Wayman was finally able to make time in his schedule to call me and talk. Throughout our conversation, we talked about his busy schedule, his love of the bass, and much, much more.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What are some of the challenges in maintaining both a career in music and professional sports?
WT: And being a husband! (Laughs) You have to manage your time very carefully. You see, the great thing about music is that you can play music anytime. You don’t have to have a certain time of day. You don’t have to have sunlight, or anything like that. So in my free time, usually after the kids go to sleep, I work on my music. That usually allows me the time to practice my craft and to get better.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What educational background do you have on the bass?
WT: Just the school of hard knocks! I’ve never had a lesson. My early influences came from the Gap Band, Marcus Miller-a great bassist who is probably my closest friend-and Stanley Clarke.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Do you try to practice or write music while you are on the road with the Phoenix Suns?
WT: Oh yeah. I write, I practice, and I record when I am on the road. I recorded my album on the road. When we would go to New York to play the Knicks, we would usually get there the night before and I would go in the studio with the musicians up there. We would set up and just record.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Is your regular band in New York?
WT: No, my band members come from Arizona and California.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Does your band ever have a problem when you are unavailable due to your commitment to the Suns?
WT: No, not at all. The band I have is made up of professional musicians that have other projects aside from mine. These guys play with everyone from Prince to Mariah Carey.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Who are the members of your band?
WT: Bobby Gonzales is on guitar. Art Dixie, who helped me write most of the songs, he plays keys. John Paris plays drums, and Eddie M (formerly with the artist formerly known as Prince) plays sax with us. Lastly, Jerry Harris, who is from Portland, Oregon, is an outstanding musician who plays keys, bass, sings and does a lot of sequencing for us.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: When you are on the road with the Suns do you bring a bass with you?
WT: It depends. If we are on the road a long time, then yes, I do try to bring a bass with me. If it is just an overnight trip, then no.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Does basketball ever influence your bass playing, or vice versa? Do you ever find that if you are down in one career, the other lifts you up?
WT: Oh yea, all the time. It has been great to have both careers, because they do keep me level. When one is down, the other is picking you up. Luckily, it is very rare that both of them are down.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: How has the public reacted to your having two careers that thrust you into the limelight?
WT: A lot of people thing that it is the greatest thing for me to do both of them. Of course you are going to get criticized for doing two careers at once, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m doing what I want to do, whether people like it or not. I look at my having these two wonderful careers as being blessed. So I am not going to squash one just to please other people. I want to please myself.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: When did you get signed to MoJazz?
WT: Last August. We subsequently recorded the album and it has done pretty well.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Did you personally pursue the recording label?
WT: No, actually I was going to record the album and put it out myself. I was hoping that somebody would hear it and like it and whatever, but what happened was that a gentleman named Frankie Ross, who is now my manager, got a hold of a copy of a tape that had seven masters on it. He really liked the tape a lot and he walked it into MoJazz and didn’t tell them who it was on the tape. The people at MoJazz sat down and listened to the tape and by the end of the seventh song, they were saying, “We want to sign it. Who is this guy?” Frankie told them it was me and they were really blown away.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: That had to make you feel good that you got signed on the merits of your music and not on your NBA fame.
WT: Exactly. And that’s what it says on the inside cover of the CD. Steve McKeever states that they signed this project not because I’m a basketball player, but because they really liked the music. It had nothing to do with my basketball playing.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Can you remember back to your first gig on the bass?
WT: My first gig was at church. I can remember playing onstage with this group and I was very shy. I turned sideways and wouldn’t look at the audience. It was funny. I can still remember in those days that my friends would always get on me. They would always tell me to turn around.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Do you still get nervous before gigs?
WT: There’s a little rush, but I don’t get too nervous. It’s more the anxiety about getting ready to go play. I love to be onstage and I love to perform. When people see my performance they are pretty much blown away. They don’t expect a 6 foot nine inch basketball player to get up there and do the things that I do.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Do you play Fender basses primarily?
WT: I pretty much play Fender most of the time. I use Fender strings also. They have been really responsible for a lof of my tone. They have a new string out that is really awesome.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: You play your bass left-handed, and upside down, the same way that Jimmy Haslip does, is that right?
WT: Yeah, in fact I bought two of Jimmy’s basses-the ones made by Tobias. I have one of his Killer-B’s and one of his Classics. I used to just turn right-handed basses over, but I now need a left-handed body so I can play on the upper register of the neck for solos. But I still string the left-handed basses as if they were right-handed.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What sort of things do you work on when you sit down to practice your bass?
WT: Sometimes I try to pick things out off of the radio, but mostly it’s just me and an amp, just going over stuff I hear in my head. I work on different techniques, too, like tapping or different thumb methods.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: There had to be some challenges when you first learned to slap, because your strings are inverted?
WT: Exactly. I have to both slap and pluck with my thumb, and by necessity I have gotten pretty quick at it. It’s weird how I have to slap. It trips everybody out when they watch me slap.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: You probably avoid some of the standard clich lines, because they’re not as available to you?
WT: Yes, exactly. it is so funny that you say that. I do avoid sounding like many other slappers. I have sat down and learned many of the standard slap grooves, but it is really funny to watch me play them. People are always approaching me after shows and asking how I slap all backwards and stuff! (Laughs)
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Are you going to be releasing another CD soon?
WT: Year, we’re putting out a second CD. It should be out by June or July. We are recording it now, as we speak. So we are really excited about that. This disc will feature some new-sounding material and we will just have to see how it goes.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: Are you going to try to tour with your band when the NBA season is over?
WT: Yeah, we will have a full-fledged tour this Summer.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What do you do to relax from both basketball and music?
WT: I use them to pretty much relax each other. I also like getting out with the family. That relaxes me too. For me, though, there is no better relaxation than getting with the fellas and just playing music-and that really makes it great for me.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What music or artists are you listening to now?
WT: You know what I really like? I really am liking a lot of live recordings. I also like a lot of acoustic music like James Taylor. I’m also listening to the Gin Blossoms. I really like the sound of the acoustic guitar in music, so you will be hearing a lot of acoustic guitar on this next album.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What advice would you give to other musicians that want to pursue two demanding careers?
WT: I would say that you need to really be focused. If you think you have to be focused for one career, then you have to be three times as focused to do two careers. Never give up on your craft. Always try to better yourself everyday. That’s what I try to do. Whenever I am playing with the band, I am always trying to play new licks and ideas to put me up on that level and keep me up on that level. So I definitely suggest that musicians always try to improve everyday. Be relentless.
Bass Frontiers Magazine: What does the future hold for Wayman Tisdale, the bassist, and Wayman Tisdale, the basketball player?
WT: I am going to try to do both careers as long as I can. Right now, there is no end in sight for either one.