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The value of a hired gun. Session musicians who make it big.

Posted: August 19, 2023
Hired Gun - Session musician or "hired gun", a musician who's been hired by a studio or band to play his part on the album or record.
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It isn’t a new term. However, it has become popular in it’s use. Especially since there are more musicians that are getting notoriety for their accomplishments. Back in the day, we never defined them as anything less than a band member. When you heard that that one of the original members died or left your favorite band, the new guy was just a replacement. Usually, they would pick up where the last mate left off. Who knew there was so much involved in melding the right with other members? As I dove into this issue recently, I discovered that there was so much more than playing the same chords and notes for popular songs. There is a style, character, and talent that goes with it. A hired gun is more than just a new hire, or replacement. They should come equipped to bring out the best in the hiring band. However, the hired gun is not always a fit. There are plenty of talented musicians. Just not enough to fit the entire dynamic.

Even if the hired gun isn’t needed to replace band members, there are sessions in the studio that require the right fit. There could be short-term and long-term projects. Nonetheless, the hired gun is extremely important and could make or break the task they were hired for. Some popular hired guns are as follows:

  • Mike Portnoy
  • Rudy Sarzo
  • Tim “Ripper” Owens
  • Slash
  • Mike Inez
  • Steve Vai
  • Nita Strauss
  • Vinny Appice
  • Nuno Bettencourt

 

These are just some from the rock or heavy metal genre. There are many more, thousands even, when you factor in other genres. Some hired guns go on to having their own successful solo career.

 

There is one session musician or hired gun that we want to talk about today. His name is Derek Frank. Here is a short list of his achievements and who he’s played bass for:

2015-present: Shania Twain
2018-2022: Gwen Stefani
2021 - present (subbing): The Kelly Clarkson Show
2022 (subbing): Exposé
2021: Orianthi
2018 (subbing): Shakira
2018-19 (subbing): Paulina Rubio
2018: Daniel Powter
2016-17: Air Supply
2010-2018: Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers
2012-13: Victoria Justice
2012: Roman Arkhipov
2011-12: Jeff Golub
2011-12: David Pack
2007-9: Dancing With the Stars
2006-8: Aly & AJ
2002-2015: Brian Auger's Oblivion Express

We could spend hours talking to Derek Frank about his experiences as a “hired gun”. However, we want to jump right into this interview and find out more about Derek Frank. First let’s review some details about the bassist Derek Frank.

 

ABOUT DEREK FRANK

Bassist Derek Frank arrived on the Los Angeles music scene years ago with one goal in mind: To create good music with good people. That goal continues to be realized year after year, and Derek has made a name for himself as one of the hardest-working touring/studio bassists in Los Angeles. Building a career based on versatility, professionalism, and integrity, he has traveled the world several times over with a “who’s-who” of A-list artists and bands. Currently, he is touring with country-pop superstar Shania Twain, while also making time for his own instrumental solo project, UK Acid Jazz group Down to the Bone, plus other gigs and recording sessions with various bands and artists. As a solo artist, Derek has released two albums under his own name; 2009's "Let the Games Begin..." and 2020's "Eleven Years Later".

 

INTERVIEW WITH DEREK FRANK AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

GT: Hello Derek. Thank you for joining us today. Welcome to Guitar Thrills Magazine. We enjoy talking with bassists. Especially when they have a long history of succeeding in the music industry. What do you think about the title of “Hired Gun”? Do you think that it’s applicable to your type of work?

Derek: Thanks for having me! Well, “Hired Gun” sounds a lot cooler than “Hired Help”! And yes, that’s a term that’s often used for what I do. Some will also call it being a “sideman” or “auxiliary musician”.

 

GT: I initially thought it must be difficult to be uncertain as to what your next job will be. However, a musician of your caliber must not worry that much. I would say that you are in high demand. Are you ever concerned on when your next gig or job will come? Is that even a factor?

Derek: That’s always a concern for us hired guns, and I’ve definitely had some worrisome moments in the earlier parts of my career. But I’ve been on the scene for quite a while now, and somehow seem to manage to keep my schedule full. And when the schedule isn’t full with higher-profile tours and whatnot, I tend to do fun gigs around LA with friends… and often THOSE gigs are what lead to the next call for a touring artist.

 

GT: What has prevented you from just focusing on your own solo project?

Derek: Funny you should mention that… While I’ve been on tour with Shania this year, I’ve also been writing songs for my next solo album. I’ve made a commitment to myself to focus more on my solo project in 2024, and I’m already looking into some opportunities for taking my own band on the road a bit. Playing my own music gives me a lot of artistic satisfaction, and I’m looking forward to making that a bigger part of my musical life.

 

GT: Are there any drawbacks to becoming a session musician?

Derek: Well, the obvious one is the instability of it… It’s a constant hustle, and we don’t always know where our next paycheck will come from. But for me personally, I love getting to contribute my musical skills to other people’s projects, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s not an easy way to make a living, but when it’s all working, it sure is enjoyable.

 

 

GT: We named several of your achievements. Is there one that stands out the most? If so, why?

Derek: Every gig I’ve done stands out for different reasons, and I can’t say one stands out more than another. Having said that, my very first tours with Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express were invaluable. They maybe weren’t the most lucrative monetarily, but I saw the world with Brian and learned the ins and outs of life on the road. I think those years I spent slugging it out in a van playing clubs prepared me for what came later. Of course my larger-scale touring with Shania Twain, Gwen Stefani, and Air Supply have provided SEVERAL career highlights, but I don’t think I would have handled it the same way if I hadn’t put my time in with Brian and the gang.

 

GT: What are you working on now, from both a solo perspective as well as session work?

Derek: At the moment I’m on a 6-week break from Shania’s “Queen of Me” tour, and I’m currently in Telluride, Colorado trying to decompress and NOT work! But we resume touring in mid-September, with a string of dates in the UK and then back to the USA and Canada, wrapping up mid-November. I’ll continue to write, and I hope to have an album’s worth of material by the end of the year. If all goes as planned, I’ll bring my band into the studio in January, release an album shortly after, and then start booking shows.

 

GT: For musicians that are entering into the music industry, do you have any suggestions on being classified as a “hired gun”?

Derek: First of all, do it for the right reasons; do it because you enjoy contributing to other people’s projects, and remember that it’s a CRAFT. And I highly recommend having your own creative project in addition to working as a hired gun… For me, it keeps my soul happy and makes be a better sideman. And then the usual stuff… always show up on time, do your homework, play for the song, and don’t be a jerk!

 

GT: Working for time that you have, is there a preference to the type of bass that you perform with? Are the bass guitars interchangeable with the artist that you perform for?

Derek: When it comes to basses, I don’t discriminate, and I’ve become somewhat of a collector over the years. I play the bass that I think best suits the artist’s music, and yes, sometimes I’ll change my mind and swap them out here and there. On my current tour I’ve been using two passive Sandberg basses, tuned BEAD and BbEbAbDb, respectively. I’ve found that the Sandbergs work better in those tunings than any other 4-strings I’ve tried; the low B-strings are crushing! I’m also playing a Music Man short scale Stingray (passive as well), strung with flats and tuned down a step… that works great on Shania’s more country-esque songs, and it’s also become the main bass I play on my solo project. It sounds great, and is SO fun to play. Obviously, I’m not a big 5-string player, and I much prefer to play tuned-down 4-strings when the music calls for notes below E. All my basses are string with LaBella strings.

 

GT: Have you encountered a demanding artist and if so, what is your response or attitude towards them?

Derek: I’ve had this conversation with many of my colleagues, and I feel very fortunate that no, I haven’t had to work with any excessively demanding artists. Every artist knows what they want, and some express those needs better than others… but I always try to apply a bit of psychology to rehearsing/performing with artists, and give them what I think they want before they even have to ask for it.

 

GT: We really would like to hear more about your experiences working as a session musician as well as your solo projects. Can we schedule another interview soon?

Derek: Anytime! I’m an easy guy to track down 🙂

 

GT: Awesome. We look forward to it. Thank you for taking the time today.

Derek: Thanks for the chat!

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