They Call Him Mr. Bass, by Katherine R. Dougan

Everybody knows him, either by name or reputation.


When I first met Raphael Semmes, I didn't realize he was a legend on bass guitar. My first impression: Semmes was a super-nice guy who played bass. Moments later, I learned better.

The man is an extraordinary bass guitarist and has a terrific voice. His playing style is effortlessly clean and flawless.

A bass player for more than 35 years, Semmes is also a vocalist and plays some guitar and keyboard, "enough to write and record." He gained most of his music education by osmosis from great musicians at gigs and in the studio, he said, adding that he plays by ear and has little formal education. "Or, as they say, not enough to hurt me."

Semmes is a relatively tall guy with sandy blond-brown hair. He has a wonderful booming laugh and a huge, toothy infectious smile. He exudes beautiful spirituality and makes lovely music. He was born in Grenada, Miss., in 1954, the same year that rock 'n' roll was born.

Scott McWhorter, 18, is a manager at MusiQuarium. He, like just about everybody else around here, knows Semmes. When asked what came to his mind first when I mentioned Semmes' name, McWhorter had an immediate response: "The time he rocked MusiQuarium— he played a bass solo and was screaming in pitch with his bass. It was incredible. He's a monster musician, a great technician on the bass. He's a very sensitive; tasteful musician and that says a lot. He's always the nicest, most interested-in-you guy that there is."

Semmes, who plays by ear, said he's always continuing his education through books and more great musicians.

"I've never played with him, but I've known him for 12 years or so," said Don Morrison, 41, sales and guitar department manager for Morrison Brothers Music. "He seems to be a magnanimous, unselfish force in the area music scene. He's very unselfish and very concerned about the health of the area music scene. He is patently supportive of anybody who is going out there to create and perform music..

I can't begin to tell you who all he plays with; McWhorter and I decided the list would be shorter if we tried to think of bands he doesn't play with.

But I'll try anyway. Here's a list of associations and regular gigs, courtesy of Semmes: These Days with Jewel Bass, RSO (Raphael Semmes Orchestra: jazz & blues); Project X, Lisa Palmer and Knight Bruce Group, Jerre Jackson's "New Age Jazz," "Trieaux" (Sundays at Char) and others.

In his career, Semmes has played with Skeets McWilliams, Mose Allison, Katie Webster, Dorothy Moore, John Lee Hooker, John Mohead, Nielsen Hubbard and many others. Semmes recently composed and recorded a new song for Mississippi Tourism, "Mississippi Feels Like Coming Home," at MALACO records, "to entice Yankees to come down here and spend their money," as Semmes put it.

Here's my advice: If you haven't heard him, get out to hear and watch Semmes play. If you don't know him, introduce yourself. You'll soon have your own Semmes story to tell.


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