Benny Rietveld – Smooth Operator
Bass Player|July 2021
Carlos Santana’s long-time bassist Benny Rietveld reflects on a career at the front line of expression
By Joel Mclver

The Holland-born, Hawaii-raised bassist Benny Rietveld is no stranger to demanding gigs, having played with the late Miles Davis towards the end of the late jazz icon’s career, and holding down the low end with the mighty Carlos Santana since 1990. His most-heard bass part is undoubtedly the line anchoring the inescapable ‘Smooth’ in 1999, but he has also delivered miraculous contributions to recordings by Herbie Hancock, Eagle Eye Cherry, John Lee Hooker, Sheila E, and as a solo artist. Let’s find out what he’s up to...

What’s happening, Benny?

We just came back from a week of doing some recording with the Santana band—just personal projects that Carlos wanted to do. That’s what all the rock stars are doing now: They can’t play live, so they want to record. I’ve been writing a lot and doing bass lessons, but the bass is a hard one to do remotely. It’s a rhythm section instrument, and I can’t even clap along with the students to give them a sense of where to go in time. I don’t do a lot of those lessons, because they don’t really work.

Do you still need to practice to keep your chops up?

Oh, I think everyone can benefit from practicing. I know I can. If I wanted to try to do some of the things that Victor Wooten does, it would probably take me the rest of my life. It’s the whole body stamina thing—like, this is more tiring than I remembered. There’s a little bit of work on chops, but it’s mostly about the stamina and the physicality of it.

After decades of playing bass, have you managed to escape injury?

My basses aren’t that heavy, and I stretch a lot. Relaxed playing helps, too: I tell my students only to put their energy where it’s supposed to go. Everything else should be relaxed. So far, knock on wood, I haven’t really had very many problems.

What was your journey into bass?

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