People tend to think that if you play in one of the hardest and heaviest heavy metal bands of all time you must only listen to music that sounds similar to your own. However, most great musicians will tell you they draw inspiration from a wide variety of influences across the musical spectrum, regardless of genre. Such is the case with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. He first came to prominence playing with skate punks Suicidal Tendencies, then played funk metal in the spinoff group Infectious Grooves before landing a gig with Ozzy Osbourne and eventually taking over the 4-string in the biggest heavy metal band in the world. And his greatest influence is a jazz fusion bassist who is best known for his guest apperences on other artists’ albums and only released two proper solo albums before his tragic death at the age of 35. During his all-too brief life, Jaco Pastorius raised the musical bar for bass players with his innovative and unrivaled technique and helped redefine its very sound, popularizing the fretless electric bass. Trujillo was first exposed to his music in his youth and after befriending the Pastorius family is producing the new documentary Jaco about the bassist’s life and music. Though it will not be released until the fall, the documentary was named the Official Film Of Record Store Day, which is a tie-in with the new Jaco demos collection Modern America Music…Period! which will be released tomorrow as part of the annual event. Robert was kind enough to talk to us about the movie, how he came to be involved and how Jaco’s music has left an a permanent mark on his bass playing and writing.
What was your first exposure to the music of Jaco Pastorius?
Robert Truillo: You know, back in the day, being a young, inspired bass player, I started to gravitate toward jazz fusion. I almost would have called myself an elitist. I got to the point where for a little bit there I was more interested in instrumental music. Not for long, but I was more appreciative of bass solos and ripping Al Di Meola guitar solos, and John McLaughlin. So I got into that, and I started hearing about this bass player called Jaco—one name, right to the point, you know—and it was intriguing; everyone started talking about this guy. It was like, “Whoa.” I was intrigued by the mystique of the name alone. Before that, it was all about (bassist) Stanley Clarke and there were a couple other players. I was really into Anthony Jackson. And then Jaco just kind of came out of nowhere and started tearing it up.
And then I actually went to see him when he came through the Santa Monica Civic Center, in ’78 or ’79. My parents would actually take me to shows. My Dad lived in Venice, not too far from the Santa Monica Civic and was able to drop me off and pick me up and I was able to witness Jaco for the first time live. And that was when he was really full-steam ahead. I mean, there was baby powder on the stage, I remember him sliding into his bass guitar like it was home plate. You know what I mean? And the backdrop was the New York City skyline or something. And it was really an entertaining experience. I’d been to a lot of rock shows already by then, and this was just as exciting. Of course the first solo album was mind-boggling. It was kind of like hearing Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” for the first time and here’s this dude ripping on the electric guitar and I can’t tell if it’s a keyboard, a synthesizer, I didn’t know what to make of it. It was the same thing with Jaco. Here’s this guy playing this composition, all harmonics and cordal movements and then he’s ripping on a, it would have been “Donna Lee,” like “What is this? A saxophone?” A fretless bass wasn’t as common to the ear, so the growl and everything just kind of swept you away. And then when you saw this guy, what he looked like and how he played, it was just its own, you know, beautiful monster so to speak.
Mike Muir and Robert Trujillo on stage with Infectious Grooves. [Photo: Getty Images]
Are there any Metallica or Suicidal Tendencies or Infectious Grooves songs that you can think of where fans could hear his influence on you?
It’s funny because we did a show here at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood for their fiftieth anniversary and Infectious Grooves had the main closing ceremonial show. In reuniting with that batch of music I realized that all that music—I wrote all that music actually—and that music was completely inspired by Jaco with, of course, elements of Slayer and Suicidal. So all of that music was inspired by it and if people go on there and they give it a good listen, they’re going to hear it. They’re going to hear the moments of harmonics. They’re going to hear the real staccato technique in the bass lines. And 8th notes and the pulse, all that stuff. At the time, I didn’t want to necessarily copy Jaco’s solos or his work directly, so I made a point to not do that. I made a point to try and use his technique and his style in the context of writing.
With Suicidal, actually, that’s very interesting because the opening track on Lights… Camera… Revolution! is “You Can’t Bring Me Down.” There’s a whole little thing at the beginning where I’m playing the fretless bass and it’s a slight little tip of the hat to Jaco. So little bits and pieces. With Metallica, a little less, you know. I’d say more maybe in the pump and drive of sticking on one note and “duh-duh-duh-duh-duh” you know? I’d say the closest thing to that, though it’s not fretless, is “Day That Never Comes.” There’s some stuff in there where it’s driving kind of like a Deep Purple and then, I’m thinking, sort of Jaco in there even though I’m not playing the fretless though the other thing is Jaco didn’t always play fretless. That’s another kind of misunderstanding. We recognize him and his sound on his fretless but he crushed on a fretted bass as well.