Toledoan Derrick Anderson tours with The BanglesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a wet and snowy day in Toledo as bass guitarist and songwriter Derrick Anderson sat down for an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. Just a couple of days after an unseasonably warm Christmas, Anderson, who now resides in Los Angeles, looked out at the wintery streets of his hometown and smiled.
“It was great until today,” he said of the weather, with a laugh.
Of course, Ohio’s climate is nothing new for the musician. Years before a career that has seen him perform with a number of great names in pop music — the Kinks’ Dave Davies, the Smithereens, Bob Cowsill of The Cowsills and his current gig with ’80s pop sensations The Bangles — Anderson cut his musical teeth in Toledo.
Anderson said he always makes it back for the holidays. “I don’t think I’ve missed any since I’ve been gone. I left in July of ’90,” he said.
Anderson’s first musical memories are tied to Toledo area radio, back before FM was a serious force on the dial.
“I’d say the whole AM radio of the late ’60s, early ’70s. That was kinda the main, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ I can remember as a little kid getting in the car and dad turning on the radio. Back then, AM radio was everything. And that was when I like to think my musical sensibilities came into play, in 1966 when I was 3,” Anderson remembered.
There were certainly worse eras for a budding musician to grow up in, with influences as varied as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Stones scattered across the dial — but it wasn’t any of those who inspired a young Derrick to take his first stab at playing himself.
“It was The Partridge Family. They came along and I was like, ‘That looks like a good job,’” Anderson said with a smile. “So I think that’s around the time I started playing guitar. Had lessons for two years, then kinda put it down. Then, in junior high, The Beatles animated series, they were rebroadcasting that. And I was kinda like, ‘Oh, what’s this?’
“I went to the Toledo library and checked out The Beatles,” he remembered. “Got that, brought that home, then it was all over.”
After his aborted early lessons, his true training came at the feet of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. “The way that I learned how to play in the first place, when I tapped into the whole Beatles thing — buy one album, learn all the bass, buy another one, learn all the bass on that one, until I had them all and knew them all,” Anderson said. “I never had a bass lesson in my life, I just taught myself how to play.”
Walk like a Bangle
Anderson committed to the idea of being a full-time musician in 1984, and hasn’t looked back since, contributing the beautiful melodies of his self-taught bass skills to a wide variety of pop bands — a musical style rooted in the music that inspired him.
“Everyone that I’ve played with, we all kinda have the same sensibilities, which go back to the ’60s. The melodic rock and the harmonies and all that stuff,” he said. “Pete Townshend coined the term ‘power-pop.’ It’s all kinda that thing.”
His roots in that music scene make him a perfect addition to the resurgent Bangles, who after a split in the late 1980s have been touring and recording together consistently since 2000. Anderson joined the group through Bangle Vicki Peterson’s husband, John Cowsill.
“I had played with The Cowsills, which was one of my all-time favorite gigs ever,” Anderson said.
“This was in early ’08, it was just at a little local club … I got to play with all of them, and Vicki actually came with John to that show. It was maybe six months after that when [The Bangles] knew that instead of the girl that was playing with them, they wanted to find someone else.”
As the group searched for a new bass player, Anderson was recommended to them. “When I got the call from Vicki to come in and audition, I had to remind her, ‘You know you’ve seen me play with your husband, right?’ And she was like, ‘Oh, that was you?’”
He’s performed with the group ever since, heavily contributing to their new album, “Sweetheart of the Sun,” which released in September.
“In their case, the thing that tends to irk me a bit is that people tend to think of them as a kind of ’80s or kind of nostalgia act,” he said, pointing out that even though the group has been putting out new music for quite a while, they recently played on “Dancing with the Stars” — on ’80s week.
Derrick’s muse is not limited to backing up others, though. He consistently works on his own material as well, most famously with his own band, The Andersons, which formed back in the mid-1990s.
After moving to LA, Anderson had put together a demo tape of material, which somehow got into the hands of fellow musician Robbie Rist — who, for trivia buffs, also played Cousin Oliver on the last season of “The Brady Bunch.”
“He got a tape, and I kinda knew him a little bit. But I remember he called me and he said, ‘If you ever put something together … ’ And I said, ‘Oh! All right,’” Anderson said.
The third member of the trio, Wil O’Brien, came in shortly afterward, and the as-yet unnamed group began to develop.
“We’d been playing together for a while, had a set worked out, started to do some shows,” Anderson said. “We had a gig, and what we actually did was we handed out a pad of paper to everybody, like, ‘We’re looking for a new name.’ And among those names was ‘The Andersons.’ And it turns out it was Robbie who had actually written that.”
The group released several acclaimed albums in the following few years, but sadly time and distance have put a halt to The Andersons — for now.
“When Wil moved, he moved back to the Detroit area. He had a kid, and he didn’t necessarily want to raise the kid in LA,” Anderson said. “So once he moved, the core of what we are and what we did was so defined by … those three people, you couldn’t take one out.”
Do as much as you can
Anderson hasn’t given up hope that the group could work together again, though, especially with technological advances that make distance less of a factor for modern musicians.
“I still have it in my mind, since it’s so easy now to send files back and forth, we can still record, still have an album together or something,” Anderson said.
When asked what advice he might have for young musicians in Toledo, Anderson thought for a few seconds.
“Do as much as you can on your own. Utilize all the modern technology — but kids do that now, on their own,” he said. “Learn as much as you can from the players you admire. Try to develop your own style at whatever it is that you’re playing. And play with people better than you. That always helps to up your game.”
He looked out at the snowy streets of Toledo once more — a city that held so many personal memories, but a city that he had to leave behind to follow his dream. He added, “And if you need to move someplace where there’s more like-minded people to do what you wanna do, by all means, go.”