Bass of the Month
My friend Bernd Eltze in Essen, Germany, an early rock’n’roll player, aficionado and collector, picked up this S-8 Swing Master from the son of Russ Smith, bassist with Ron and His Rattletones out of western Connecticut in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Available 1938-’54, the Supreme-series S-8 is the non-blonde sibling of the S-9, and together they represented the top of the Kay bass line for the postwar period, inheriting the Swing Master nickname from the S-5/S-6. This one comes with a great story.
Based at the famed Crystal Lake Ballroom in Ellington CT, The Rattletones was the first band Gene Pitney appeared onstage with, and was Chuck Berry’s first choice for backup on New England dates during his peak years. The band recorded two singles on the Glo label and backed up many touring performers, including Don Gibson, Bobby Darin, Dion and the Belmonts, Bo Diddley, Neil Sedaka and Frankie Avalon.
Smith held the chair in this band throughout, and the bass still carries fingerboard decals spelling out RUSS. Built in 1953, it remains in exceptional condition. To me it speaks eloquently of the thousands of hard-working musicians few remember who built American popular music.