The Bass Player

Stan Lark at B&J’s Guitars and Amps – 5/16/2013

Stan Lark died on August 4, 2021. It was just a footnote for many. But if you listened to the radio in the 1960s, Stan Lark was likely at the center of your consciousness.

Stan was the bass player for Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. That’s his bottom end on the George Tomsco-penned guitar instrumental tracks; Torquay, Bulldog, Yacky Doo, Rik-A-Tik, Panic Button, Footpatter, Vaquero, Chief Whoopin’ Koff, Quite A Party, Gunshot, and many others. His best known work was with Jimmy Gilmer, where his distinctive bass line kicked off the opening to Sugar Shack, Bottle of Wine and Come On React.

Lark was a southwestern precursor to a Motown Funk Brother, playing on tracks recorded at Norman Petty’s Clovis NM studio, including overdubs that filled out Buddy Holly’s early rehearsal and home demo recordings in the early ’60s.

The Fireballs took their name from the Jerry Lee Lewis‘ hit, “Great Balls of Fire“, and created a Tex/Mex sound that became popular in their neck of the woods. When Jimmy Gilmer took over lead vocals in 1961 and the band moved to the Dot label a year later, Petty rebranded the band with Gilmer’s name up front.

Dik de Heer picks up the tale in This is My Story, first published in the Yahoo Shankin’ All Over group.  “Late in 1962 Jimmy Gilmer got a song from Keith McCormack, a member of the String-A-Longs, who also recorded guitar instrumentals in Petty’s studio. Titled Sugar Shack, it turned out to be a crowd-pleaser wherever the Fireballs played. They recorded the song with Gilmer on vocals in April 1963, with a prominent place for the Solovox, a small keyboard instrument played by Norman Petty himself that gave the record a distinctive sound. Released in May, Sugar Shack had a slow start, but once it entered the Hot 100 on September 21, 1963 (at # 65) there was no stopping the record and three weeks later it was # 1, staying there for five weeks. By the end of the year, Billboard ranked Sugar Shack as the # 1 song of 1963.”

Unless you’re Paul McCartney or John Entwistle, or are an aficionado of the great artists who paired with awesome drummers to cement the backbeat of every hit record ever made, bass players don’t get nearly the love they deserve. Even in Tom Hanks’ 1996 film That Thing You Do!, Ethan Embry‘s character is only known as “The Bass Player,” and dubbed with that moniker in the credits.

But there would be no great music without the bottom end. You can place a subwoofer anywhere in the room, because low frequencies permeate the stereo field. When hi-fi systems started to appear in living rooms in the mid 1960s, the tracks that were lost in the tiny speakers we had in our cars emerged, revealing a whole new musical dimension. Our subconscious attraction to the bass line may be why humongous auto subs are so popular, shaking the windows of every car that surrounds them at a stop light.

We’re at that point in our lives where more and more of our Rock and Roll Revisited heroes are crossing over into the ages.

Stan Lark’s obituary notes he was born on July 27, 1940 in Raton, NM, learned to play the piano at age four, sang in choir competitions and joined a band called Night Riders when he was 13. After the Fireballs success faded, he opened a nightclub, in Raton featuring his band Willow Springs. After moving the group to Vegas, Stan became a gold miner before rejoining The Fireballs and owning a pair of oil change operations in New Mexico and Colorado. He had an eye for art, was a draftsman, cartoonists and leatherworker.

We all bring a complex set of skills to the table. Stan Lark’s so mixed to inspire his musical moment in the sun. The Bass Player, remembered as multifaceted human being by those who knew him, writing his own memorable footnote in Rock and Roll Revisited.