Bassist Bryan Dondero was an original member of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals during which time he became known for both his upright and electric bass work. He played with the band from 2002 until a messy-split with the group in 2009, appearing on the band’s first three studio albums. Since his departure from the band Dondero has kept a relatively low musical profile.
Honest Tune had the chance recently to catch up with Dondero to reminisce about some of his favorite memories from his time on the road with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and to find out what is in store in the future for the bassist.
Honest Tune: When was the first time you played the bass in a live setting?
Bryan Dondero: The first time I played bass live was during my first semester at Penn State. I was eighteen-years-old at the time, and aside from a few talent shows, had never played in front of people. I was actually really new to the bass. A couple of friends of mine were forming a band and they needed a bass player. I had played guitar for a number of years, so I figured I would give it a try. My philosophy Professor loaned me his bass since he wasn’t using it. I think I learned eight or nine songs in two rehearsals with those guys, so needless to say I was really nervous. It turned out that the bar was a biker bar and the crowd was pretty rowdy. The band before us was really good too. I remember them rocking out some heavier tunes, and here we were about to get on stage to play some Dave Matthews and a few originals. I thought for sure they would eat us alive. It turned out great actually. The crowd was really supportive. It definitely helped that our drummer was a monster behind the kit and our singer had a really great voice. We played there a few more times and made a bit of a name for ourselves.
BD: Well, I got to break this down by upright and electric. For upright I would say Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, and Chris Wood. I am really lucky to have gotten to tour and learn some things from Chris. I was a huge Medeski Martin & Wood fan in college, so his upright and electric playing was definitely a big influence.
For electric I would have to say that John Paul Jones, Duck Dunn, and George Porter Jr are the biggies. Sharing the stage with George Porter Jr was a major highlight of my musical career too. I’ve been revisiting some of the old Zeppelin tunes recently. I absolutely love John Paul Jones’ fingerstyle, but recently I’ve been trying to emulate some of his picking style. His tone on “Heartbreaker” where he runs the bass through a Leslie is fucking amazing. It’s got such a heavy dirty sound on top of the chorus that he gets from the Leslie. It would be hard to emulate that tone with just pedals, but I am determined to find a way.
HT: You have become known for your ability to switch seamlessly from the upright to electric bass, which do you prefer?
BD: I really like playing both. I enjoy playing a lot of different styles. I can get down with some “Whiskey before Breakfast” on the upright or be just as happy rocking out some Nirvana. Both of which were recent musical ventures for me. I love playing old R&B/Soul stuff too.
BD: There are so many great bands out there now. I love the way their bass players play, so I’d almost rather watch them side stage. As far as backing up an artist goes, I’d love to back up M. Ward or Neko Case or maybe sit in for a few with the Alabama Shakes. There are a lot of great local artists here too that I’d love to sit in with as well. It would be a blast to sit in with Madaila or Rough Francis. Those guys are so good!
HT: During your time with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals you were constantly on the road, do you have any favorite memories from that time that really stand out for you?
BD: There are so many it’s hard to single out one.Some of the festivals that we did were really amazing. Playing acoustic jams with Jay Farrar and Shannon McNally back at our RV at Bonnaroo was areally great time.We also dragged some of the guys from My Morning Jacket back with us to theRV once. Several bottles of bourbon were going around which culminated in us doing anappropriately inebriated version of “Every Rose has its Thorn.” Who knew Poison was such aninfluence on Jim James?
HT: What have you been up to lately? Are you still playing music?
BD: Right now I am in my second year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Vermont. It’s a very different lifestyle from my days with the band, but I am really happy withwhere I am. I still play music regularly and look forward to being done with school so that I canplay even more of it. I’d love to get an original band together again someday too. I’m happy just playing whenever and wherever I can.