Just about any Deadhead is familiar with the Phil Lesh bass known as ‘Mission Control’. What is hazy are many of the details, as this bass seemed to simply disappear over 40 years ago. This astounding custom Alembic bass, with serial number 74 00008, was played by Lesh on stage with the Grateful Dead from June 16, 1974 until July 1, 1979, and was hand-built at Alembic by luthier Rick Turner. Only the eighth instrument built by Alembic, Turner started it in 1972 and completed it in mid-1974. ‘Osiris’, aka ‘Mission Control’, ‘Osage Orange’ or ‘The Omega’, was built not just for, but as part of, the band’s historic Wall Of Sound.
The significance of the Wall Of Sound, another brainchild of Alembic co-founder Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley III, cannot be overstated. This grand audio experiment spawned the modern PA system, and set a standard still unmatched today. However, that is only part of the story of this bass and its builders at Alembic. This instrument and a handful of its contemporaries set the stage for the modern ‘boutique’ instrument. Consider the construction of this bass, beyond its exotic inlays and electronics. When this instrument was built, you could count on two hands the number of instruments built this way. It featured laminated neck-thru construction, coupled with sandwiched, exotic tone wood wings known as ‘The Hippie Sandwich’. These techniques, pioneered by the builders at Alembic, have paved the way for countless luthiers and instruments that now use these elements as the standard for today’s boutique instrument. Jerry Garcia’s Wolf guitar, built by Luthier Doug Irwin in 1972 to 1973, featured the same type of construction, and was also used with the Wall Of Sound. Irwin also came from the Alembic tree of luthiers.
Used by Lesh at over 250 Grateful Dead shows in that five-year period, the Mission Control bass became iconic in its own right, with Rolling Stone magazine featuring the instrument in an Alembic article in September 1973. It was also featured in its own scene in The Grateful Dead Movie the following year. It was used at the hiatus comeback show at the Great American Music Hall in 1975, and the Day On The Green show in 1976, as well as the May 8, 1977 gig at Cornell University— possibly their best-known performance.
Osiris even visited the Great Pyramid in Egypt, where it was played during the lunar eclipse, in September 1978; it also closed down the famous Winterland Ballroom not once, but twice, in 1974 and 1978. The bass was also used to track Mars Hotel (1974), Blues For Allah (1975), Terrapin Station (1977), and the Shakedown Street 1978 studio albums, as well as countless live releases.
Its specifications are extravagant, with red and green LED dot markers in the neck—quite a rarity back then. In fact, they were only the third set ever installed, after David Crosby’s set in 1970 and a set in Alembic 72 01 for Jack Casady in 1972—all three sets still work. Turner carved the top and back from Hawaiian koa wood, which is prized for its tone, and formed the wings from mahogany core and maple and walnut veneers.
The ebony fingerboard is covered in 11 different exotic inlays. For the record, these are:
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
BASS CENTRE Ashbory
Time for something a little different, suggests our Editor...
In every issue, we bring you a noteworthy interview from the bass vaults, from far-off times when gigs were plentiful and a virus meant no more than a day in bed. This month: Marcus Miller, interviewed in 2012
FOUR of the BEST
It’s 50 years this year since Led Zeppelin released their immense fourth album, cementing their position in music history and inspiring the playing of a million guitar-shop visitors. The band’s Quiet One, bassist John Paul Jones, was on astounding form throughout Half a century since that high point, we revisit his bass parts and ask how it was that JPJ became the leading rock bassist of his generation...
Bassist and songwriter Lena Morris on the catalyst that sent her into the low frequencies
Spice up your bass tones, says Mike Brooks
PICKING LARGE INTERVALS
Welcome! To finish off our exploration of pick playing, we’re going to look at a couple of things related to playing bigger intervals. As we’ve noted before, every technique takes on a whole new level of difficulty when we start to move it across the strings, but it can get even harder when we want to be able to control how long each note lasts.
With his new album, Two Roses, Israeli upright bassist Avishai Cohen achieves a career high. We meet the master
PUTT IT THERE
We meet the veteran jazz bassist— and occasional James Bond adversary —Putter Smith.
Carlos Santana’s long-time bassist Benny Rietveld reflects on a career at the front line of expression
The Atlanta-based rock quintet Blackberry Smoke return with a new album, You Hear Georgia. Bassist Richard Turner explains the thinking behind the big tones