By MIKE CHAIKEN
Talking to bassist Doug Wimbish is like talking to a living breathing exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The number of legitimate name drops he can offer is impressive.
He was part of the rhythm session for the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” He was part of the house band at Sugar Hill Records, which played on groundbreaking rap tracks like Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “White Lines.” He also worked with producer Arthur Baker (Afrika Bambaataa). All three credentials put Wimbish at the birth of hip-hop as a commercial force.
Wimbish has recorded with the likes of Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger. He laid down the bass lines for groundbreaking metal band—-and Grammy winners—Living Color.
Locally, Wimbish worked with Hartford jazz legend Jackie McLean and the Artists Collective.
The Bloomfield native, in a phone interview, will admit that music has made a huge difference in his life. He said the opportunity to play and the opportunity to interact with musical elders, helped his life move forward and upward.
“I had support… That gave me direction and clarity,” said Wimbish.
To share that same kind of uplifting experience with other young people today, Wimbish established WimBash—- a musical fundraiser that benefits music education programs all over the world.
On Saturday, Wimbish brings his 53rd installment to New Haven.
The event features performances by Brandon “Taz” Niederauer of Broadway’s “School of Rock” fame, internationally renowned guitarist Marcus Machado, youth sensation Unlocking the Truth, Connecticut’s own Funky Dawgz Brass Band, and Living Colour’s Corey Glover and Will Calhoun (who will team up with Wimbish). The event will be hosted by producer and mix engineer Chris Lord-Alge (who has worked on records by Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, and Prince).
“I was fortunate to grow up in the era when there were music programs in school,” said Wimbish. But, he said, music programs are dwindling in many schools today as funding for schools in general dwindles.
“Over the years (to help combat this),” said Wimbish, “I always found a way to lend my time to community centers… church programs… (and) after school programs.”
Talking about WimBash (whose title was inspired by a misspelling of his name at hotel), the bassist spoke about how he spent some time in England in the 1980s as a musician. In 1995, however, he returned to Connecticut.
Once back in his home territory, Wimbish said he was looking to catch up on some homegrown original music and found it at Sully’s Pub in Hartford. Wimbish said he spoke with the owner of the club and complimented him on the focus on local music. Within the course of the conversation, Wimbish said the owner offered Wimbish the opportunity to use the club for an event if needed.
Wimbish took up the offer after he met with musicians who he used to work with when he was younger. The local musicians lamented that there was nowhere to play original music. That was when Wimbish remembered, Sully’s invite. So he pulled together an evening of local music.
“It caught fire and became like a reunion of musicians,” said Wimbish.
The event grew and grew and began to spread beyond Hartford, said Wimbish. Soon not only was he inviting adult musicians but kids who would have the opportunity to play with the veterans. His band mate in Living Color, guitarist Vernon Reid, joined the roster of musicians who played at some of these gatherings, as did Bernie Worrell of Funkadelic, Bobby Kimball of Toto, and so on.
One of the educational opportunities provided by WimBash came in the Dominican Republic, said Wimbish.
Wimbish said he and guitarist Eric Gale visited one of the Montessori schools in the island nation, which has the lowest academic scores of any nation in the Western Hemisphere. Wimbish and Gale spoke to the kids and showed them their instruments and then jammed with the students.
After the visit, Wimbish said he provided the teacher at the school with the money to buy an acoustic guitar. The teacher said he would teach the students how to play the guitar.
The following year, Wimbish returned to the school and found six kids could now play guitar.
Wimbish organized a concert with Lauryn Hill to help buy more even more instruments for the kids at the school. Soon, 20 kids could play. These days, he said, 250 kids can play instruments and the school’s focus is now on music. And two of the students who benefited from WimBash are enrolled in the Dominican Republic Conservatory of Music.
“All because Eric and I went down,” said Wimbish.
The focus on the New Haven WimBash this weekend will be special, said Wimbish. It will go toward buying instruments for kids in New Haven Schools. There is money, he said, for music programs but not for instruments for the kids to play.
WimBash is about helping the community. But it is also about entertainment.
“It’s a great lineup,” said Wimbish of the show on Saturday.
Wimbish had high praise for young guitarist Brandon “Taz” Niederauer “The kid really is a true prodigy…. Your jaw will hit the floor (when he plays). He’s that good”
Unlocking the Truth is a young band, which also happens to include Wimbish’s nephews. The group recently signed a $1.6 million deal with Sony Records, which generated a lot of buzz, earning them headlines on TMZ and ABC. Additionally, he said, “They played on the Warped Tour.”
The WimBash New Haven Music Festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 18 from noon to 10 p.m. at New Haven’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park at Long Wharf. Admission is free. Donations will be accepted.
For more information, go to www. gofundme.com/wimbash-music-festival-new-havenct
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.