Interview With Maurice Fitzgerald
A Bass Not Played By Hands
Maurice Fitzgerald is a minister of the Gospel.
— interview by Melanie Clark —
No, he is not a pastor of a church, although some would argue that his bass playing is as thought-provoking as a sermon.
If you are a fan of contemporary Gospel, you have heard him. If you pay even a little bit of attention to the credits on the top 10, you know him. Having cut his teeth with Dan Willis, honed his craft with John P. Kee, and perfected it with Fred Hammond, Fitzgerald is The Man when it comes to bass players for professional gigs. A great exhibition of humbleness and hard work, Fitzgerald shared with us just how he ended up thumping for a living and it wasn’t always the bass for him.
“I started out playing the drums at church at about twelve years old. But there was just too much competition like a hundred drummers and one bass player. So I figured I’d just play the bass where I’d get more playing time! That’s how I really started. I started to pick up really fast, and it came pretty easy. Within a couple years time I was able to play at church.”
“I grew up in the Apostolic church and [at some point] I met Dan Willis. He was putting together an interracial choir. I went to the choir rehearsal and there were like 5 or 6 bass players. We practiced and traveled with the choir for awhile, then came time to do the first record. Darius Brooks was producing.”
Mo's Listening Habits
Who does Maurice Fitzgerald listen to?|
“I would say Steve Huff who played with the Thompson Community Singers. He has always had the skill and excellence of an all around player. The Tommies band Percy Bady, Richard Gibbs, Al Willis, Kevin Brunson they really influenced by my playing. Fred, of course, with Commissioned. He was just phenomenal. When I got to play with him, I was a fan playing for the artist.”
Fitzgerald had practiced and practiced and had prepared for the recording. But when the time came, Brooks decided that Willis’ crew was not ready for the session and brought his own guys in. Fitzgerald was a little hurt, but not discouraged.
“This is the choir I had been traveling with and working so hard with, but I knew he was right. When he brought the guys in that ultimately did the record, I knew I wasn’t ready. These guys had a “sound”. They were playing together and it was just awesome!”
He observed the professionalism of the session musicians and took note of what he had to work on. The next year, when the time came for the next album, he was ready.
“I was practicing a whole lot and I was working toward being the best at it. I listened to a wide variety of music and it was coming so fast that I figured that was the gift the Lord was putting in me. So I just pursued it like crazy.”
He was at a gig for the second Willis record when Kee first heard him. (Both Kee and Willis were signed to Tyscot at the time.) When Kee asked him to come audition and play with him a bit, Fitzgerald took $400 earned from the Willis job to take a Greyhound to Carolina to play with the Charlotte-based choir. After touring with Kee for a number of years, many began to take notice.
Pastor Kee has launched the musical careers of many musicians, validating them by including them in his always-hot band. As tremendous as this experience was for Fitzgerald, life just kept on happening.
“From the time with John, that exposed me to some other artists. At home was I gaining responsibility and [some bills] and I had to broaden my horizons and start doing more recordings. I knew I had to make myself more visible so I could do other work.”
It was at that time that God began to confirm the call that comes with the gift.
“The turning point for me was when I started dating really heavily and started even thinking in terms of marriage. I had to look at the big picture and where I was going as a musician. I knew God gave me this gift and it had made plenty of room for me. I asked the Lord if it was going to be consistent for me to go ahead and get married and take care of a wife with this. Or, was I going to have to work for the cable company and play bass in my spare time.”
“I prayed about it and came to a crossroads. I was engaged to be married and I had no regular, consistent gig, and felt like I couldn’t go ahead like that. So I asked the Lord for [clarity]. Through praying and counsel from Kevin Bond, I was really prayerful about it. And then doors opened up. He started exposing me to bigger records and doing stuff with different people and making me more visible. And I did get that confirmation from the Lord. The Lord dropped in my spirit that ‘I gave you this gift and you can definitely live off of it, trust Me.’”
Other Gospel Bassists
Several other Gospel bass players have made their mark, including: Joel Smith, Reggie Young, Steve Huff, Fred Hammond, Abraham Laboriel, Andrew Gouche, Reggie Parker, Kevin Stancil, DeAndre Thomas, Tony Russell and Chuck Smith.|
Several have also recorded solo bass projects, including Smith with his funky collection of tracks on Afinia Records entitled Basically Bass.
Produced by the wondrous Alex Asaph Ward, this project contains tracks of thumping, bottom-dwelling, bassness that satisfies and draws. The same sounds that drew attention with his work on projects from James Moore, Kim Burrell and Karen Clark-Sheard are here, with transitions between the smooth and the funk.
“So I trusted Him, and in trusting Him, doors just started opening up.”
Lately Mo has been playing with Fred Hammond. An extraordinary bass player himself, just to be considered by Hammond, much less ultimately chosen is an honor. To provide the bottom for this bass player’s bass player is a complement that any musician would covet.
“I’ve always looked up to Fred and enjoyed his ministry. Pages of Life helped me through my low point. Fred’s record meant so much to me and really ministered to me. I had no idea that a few years later I’d be in the position to be working for this guy. I love working for Fred, he’s your friend. He’s like your pastor, he ministers to his organization. I see God doing humongous things with his career and in his life.”
And things keep getting bigger and bigger for Fitzgerald. So big that artists outside the Gospel arena are calling. While to date he hasn’t done any R&B gigs, he doesn’t consider it to be out of the question. Either way, Fitzgerald knows that his personal relationship with God is what will help him make the right decisions.
“I’m trusting God to work it out. When you work at the electric company or whatever, most of the time your boss is not saved. But at the same time, particularly with music, you don’t want to just play for anybody. The secular arena can be a hostile environment, but you really have to know yourself. It all depends on your relationship with God. He’s been good to me. Ultimately I’m trusting Him wherever he takes me.”
So with a cautious but wise heart Fitzgerald moves on learning more about himself as he learns more about God.
“I grew up in the Apostolic church. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do like wear shorts or go to the movies.”
Still, with reverence and respect for the teaching, Fitzgerald learned partially through his musical development that there was more to it than that.
“I started to really know God for myself and to gain a clearer understanding of the Word; He clearly states that [He] deals with people’s hearts. That’s why the woman who was wiping His feet with her hair got His attention. All the sanctimonious people were standing around calling her a prostitute, but He felt her heart. She was pouring her heart out to God. None of them were worshipping Him! God deals with the heart and not with rules and regulations. Sure there are things that you know you are not supposed to be doing, but if you are really and truly saved, the Holy Ghost and your spiritual side will let you know you’ll feel it!”
It’s the pouring out our heart to Him that gets His attention, and that arguably translates in music as well.
“I go to churches and hear musicians that have ability to play, but they don’t have a passion and a heart for the music or the instrument. That’s definitely something that God has to give you. It’s something that you just can’t teach anybody. Then in other churches, they sound so fantastic and they don’t play for the Fred Hammonds or John P. Kees they're just in church serving.” Pouring out their hearts whether anyone notices or not.”
And it is usually when we are so deliberately focused on God that people notice.
“It’s so incredible to me that people notice me. I mean I’m the behind-the-scenes guy, and with all that’s going on in a song or on stage, that someone would know my name really trips me out!”
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