Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine, Issue 8

It’s 9:00 a.m. and bassist Lori Friday has quite the rock and roll morning planned: post-interview, she will be on her way to her young daughter’s school to assist with a pancake breakfast. There, she will be joined by a host of other musician parents, including cellist Melora Creager of Rasputina. Troy, New York, it seems, has no shortage of established talent, including Friday’s band, Super 400, and the many students of all ages who study at the Troy Music Academy, which Friday and her husband/bandmate, guitarist Kenny Hohman, opened in 2012.

Friday joined Super 400—which is rounded out by drummer Joe Daley—in 1996, after graduating from the University of Albany. Two years later, the trio signed a deal with Island Records and released their self-titled debut album, only to find themselves caught in what became known as “Bloody Monday,” when the Seagram Company bought PolyGram Records and its subsidiary labels, and subsequently dropped almost all the rock bands from those rosters.

Friday, Hohman, and Daley circled their wagons and began rebuilding at ground level: playing locally, writing, and recording. They released three albums: Blast the Message (2004), 3 and the Beast (2007), and Sweet Fist (2009), and toured across the U.S. and Europe, steadily growing their fan base. Until, in 2011, Friday crashed her compact car head-on into a pickup truck, suffering a damaged disc in her neck and additional serious injuries that required spinal surgery and left her unable to play bass.

Hohman and Daley remained loyal, turning down opportunities to join other bands as they waited for Friday to recover. In the meantime, they freelanced on sessions and gigs. As Friday improved, she and Hohman focused on scoring music for television programs in their home studio—you can hear their work on numerous shows including Auction Hunters, Shark Week, Porter Ridge, Hollywood Medium, Lockup, and Duck Dynasty—and opened the Troy Music Academy, where they both teach. Late last year, Super 400 began gigging again around the Troy area and laying the groundwork for a long-awaited new album.

When and how did all of this begin for you? What led you to the bass?

I started taking piano lessons when I was 7. My instructor taught out of her home. It was a very short walk from my elementary school, so my parents trusted me to journey safely there after dismissal. She had a small arts-and-crafts-style house, really lovely, and a baby grand piano in her parlor. She was tall and thin and had about three feet of flaming-red curly hair. She wore makeup and lipstick and had long, painted fingernails, and she smoked cigarettes, and I was in love, because I grew up in a one-stoplight town where I had to go to the corner store and look at magazines to see anyone who dressed funky or lived any sort of a bohemian lifestyle—and I didn’t have any money to pay for magazines, so I would get yelled at by the proprietor not to read the magazines! This was before MTV. So I wanted to be just like this woman.

I took piano lessons and realized quickly that I had a natural ability on the piano. Unfortunately, I didn’t practice much. I played a lot, but I didn’t practice everything she had given me to practice. If I had, who knows the potential. I do regret that a little bit. But I played the stuff I wanted to play. I played what I heard on the radio, by ear. My dad had a RadioShack Realistic brand stereo component set, and I figured out how I could record and overdub on it.

My parents supported any inclination I had in the arts and music, and when I was 9 years old, I got an electric guitar and a Casio keyboard for Christmas. I knew how to write musical notation, thanks to my piano lessons, so I started writing songs and continued with that through elementary school.

There was a school band with the traditional instruments, but no one was playing a drum set, there was no one to jam with, and no one that I knew of was playing electric guitar.

In seventh grade, I really wanted to play the bass. My dad listened to a lot of Motown, the Beatles, the Stones, folk music, and artists like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. I loved that counter-melody and bottom end. The school music instructor said, “I think you’d be good on the bass. There’s a bass and an amp, and here’s a room you can practice in during your free period.” It was a black Gibson Explorer and an Ampeg SVT with 810s—the Berry Oakley bass rig—and you’re handing that to a kid? Are you kidding me? That’s what I learned on, in a practice room with soundproofing like a sound booth in a recording studio. I learned enough bass to start playing in the school jazz band the next week, and for six years that was the chance I had, once a week, to play with other human beings.

After high school, I had a volleyball scholarship. I did not want to go to college at that time, but my parents were very practical, so I took this scholarship to Syracuse. I dropped out after two weeks because there definitely wasn’t a scene that I wanted to be a part of. Playing a sport at college level is really intense. It took up too much of my life, and it wasn’t what I wanted. I came home to reassess, and my dad said, “You’ve got a choice. On Monday, you can join the military, go back to Syracuse and go back to school, or get a job.”

I got a job as an office clerk for the State of New York, and I learned so much. I was 18 years old, and it was my first time working with adults in a professional environment. I observed office politics and water cooler off-color humor, and I was sexually harassed by my boss and frightened by that. All this stuff came raining down on me, and I matured very quickly in that time. I came out of it saying to my dad, “I’m ready. I want to go to college.” That’s when I went to State University at Albany, and I thrived there. I loved it. So everything happened as it should.

You have a degree in vertebrate paleontology. What were your plans outside of music?

I went to college mostly to please my family, who were well aware of my artistic inclinations. But they were children of the 1950s, and so were preoccupied with my finding a vocation that would ensure I was taken care of in my later years. Now that I’m 46 and have a family, I get it. And I got it then.

I love to learn, so going to college wasn’t a bummer for me. I put my bass down and didn’t touch it at all for four years. I got into being a student, and I thought, While I’m here, I should study something that interests me. The university had a zoology department that offered a concentration in vertebrate paleontology, so I followed that thread. I loved it because it allowed me to research and write, which is something that I love to do. I also sought out the head of the department, Richard Wilkinson—I can’t believe I remember his name; that was 25 years ago! He was a renowned scholar, and he became my advisor.

I learned so much from that experience. I learned what it’s like to have a mentor, and what it’s like to have someone to look up to in the field that you’re interested in. I grew up in a small town, and there was no one to jam with. I learned to play bass in my bedroom, and here I was doing something a lot different subject-wise, but I found someone to look up to and emulate.

What was I going to do with my degree? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s fair to expect a kid to know what they’re going to do with their life. They want to be happy, and I wanted to be a musician, but I knew I had to do the school thing first. I’m an optimist, so to me, it was, “I want to do this school thing, and I want to be a musician,” and that was that.

You talk about having had a mentor and someone to look up to. Did that factor into your goals when you and Kenny opened the Troy Music Academy, and also when you teach?

Yes. Throughout my life I’ve had interactions with folks that have really stuck with me, and that has helped as well. When someone makes an impression on you, you get a glimpse into your higher self because it reveals a possibility for your growth. I shouldn’t say you; I don’t want to generalize. I saw possibility for myself, for my growth, because I never wanted to sit still. As a kid, I don’t think I once told my parents, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” I want to squeeze every drop of life out of the time that I have.

Mentoring these students—and they’re not all kids; half of my students are adults in their 40s to 70s—you become more than a mentor to them. You become a friend, a sounding board. You listen. You become involved in their lives peripherally because they come in to glean musical knowledge and to try to take another step forward toward their higher self and who they want to become, but at the same time, maybe they had a bad day at work and they want to talk about that, and I cherish that. I feel honored to be a part of those people’s lives.

With the kids, some of them have had problems with everything from bullying to a student being accused by a teacher of plagiarizing an essay. I remember what that felt like as a kid—to feel so powerless when an authority figure would come down on you. You have no power in those situations. You only have your word. So to be able to listen to that and then say, “We’re going to turn to music for the next half hour, or hour, and we’re going to go there instead, and we’re going to leave this where it is and maybe let it go”—I don’t know if that makes me a mentor. I think I’m just helping people facilitate finding enjoyment in their life through music. But through getting to know them, it’s through humanity, really.

I have no doubt that the description was well-intentioned, but while reading some articles from years back, I came across one that said, “Lori Friday is not your average female bassist, quietly plunking away in the corner.” What in the world does that mean?

The average female bassist is known to pluck 6.25 notes per bar! I don’t know what it means. Just being honest here—and I wouldn’t have been hip to this if I didn’t teach the bass—so many students have come through my door and, after a couple months of lessons, looked at me with astonishment and said, “You know, I never really noticed the bass before.”

I don’t think that the bass has been considered a very heroic instrument. If a cartoonist were to draw a caricature of a bassist, they probably have dark hair with bangs over their eyes, dark sunglasses, they’re tall and skinny, and they’re slouched over in the corner next to the drum kit, holding it down. Meanwhile the guitarist has more of a heroic persona. They’re up in front with a foot on the monitor and the headstock tilted. It’s not our job to change that. You just do the best you can do.

People feel the bass differently. Some students come in, and they’re very happy to play a meat-and-potatoes-style bass, where they’re playing eighth notes on the root and just holding it down. Guitar players love it because it allows them total freedom to play over the top of that. Then you come across other people who don’t want to stick with that style. They want to play more melodic-style bass, which is what I do. That’s especially fun because you’re taking these chord changes and working around their framework in a way that makes things more interesting and hopefully more funky and enjoyable for the rest of the band to play around.

People have approached me with…surprise, let’s say, over the past many years that I would have the facility to play that way. There have been more gigs than I can count where I walked in with the bass over my back and people still think, She’s the girlfriend of one of these guys. It’s a private joke in the band. You have to make light of it. What are you going to do? If you sulk about it and get defensive, then who’s upset? You are. It’s so much more satisfying to hold your head up, go onstage, plug in, and do what you do, because the reward for that is so much greater, and it’s fun to see the reaction of the person who thought you were the girlfriend or the roadie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not who I am.

You married a guy who thought that way!

And he’s so honest about it! You’re never going to meet a more humble guy than Kenny. Kenny has abilities that run so deep that it would be really hard for me to describe it to you.

When I first saw Kenny and Joe play, I had just gotten out of college and that was my time to pick up the bass again. I needed a band and did a lot of open mics at that time. I walked into this one particular open mic on a Monday night at Pauly’s Hotel. The stage is far away from the entrance, so this place is long and narrow. Albany is an old town from the 1800s, so you get a lot of city buildings that are long and narrow. You walk in; there’s a vestibule with a guy taking money at the door, a long wooden bar, some space, and three steps leading up to a postage-stamp-size stage. I’ve played there many times, and you’re eating your neighbor’s headstock on that stage.

These guys had bass, guitar, drums, and a Hammond B3 organ on that stage, and it was the biggest thing up there, so they were all together real tight. I hear this playing and singing, and I felt like I’d been lifted up on a cloud. I looked up there to see who was the source of this sound, and I saw Kenny and Joe playing. I couldn’t believe my luck. Just to hear them play would have been a gift enough, but me being me, I can’t help myself! They had a bass player onstage with them, but that was where I was supposed to be, so I went up to Kenny on a set break and told him I played bass and wanted to jam. I didn’t hear from them, but I didn’t let it get me down because I knew things would work out the way they were supposed to.

Luckily, Joe has the soft touch and a very open mind, so I was able to connect with him. He’s always had faith in possibilities, and I think he opened the door in that situation. But having to prove myself to Kenny is really funny in retrospect. At the time, I was hanging by my fingernails off a branch on the edge of a cliff, because I wanted it to work out so badly. Now it’s just a joke, of course, because when things work out, you look back and say, “Wasn’t that funny?” But you want the best life you can have, and I’m so lucky that it worked out with those guys.

Tell us about your basses—how they came into your possession and what makes each one right for you. Also, are there certain recording techniques you prefer?

For many years I’ve been playing a 1964 Precision bass. I saw it hanging from the ceiling at Drome Sound Music Store in Schenectady in 1996. The price was $1799. I was just out of college, living in an apartment with a roommate, working as a hostess in a restaurant, playing in Super 400, and I had no money. I had a black Jazz bass, it was fine, but when I saw the P bass, I wanted it. I scraped up $150 as a deposit, and I didn’t pay my rent or any of my bills for the next four months so that I could get that bass. I’ve had it all this time, and I love it. It’s my favorite. It feels like a piece of wood, it’s not very heavy, it conforms to my hand, and it’s wonderful. That bass is special, and hopefully I will always keep it in my collection.

I always had a steady collection of two or three Jazz basses that I would tour with, because I wouldn’t bring the P bass on tour. It’s my recording bass. But I was in a really bad car wreck eight years ago, and now I have a range of motion limitation and a weight limitation for what I can handle, and two pounds makes such a difference between being able to stand up with a bass and not being able to stand. I want to feel comfortable enough onstage to feel natural and not be distracted by how uncomfortable it is to hold a standard-size bass, and I want to be able to play more than one night in a row, so in order to do that, I had to switch.

So I got two Gibson SG basses. They’re very light, and the necks are shorter scale, so when I’m playing at the first fret, it’s very doable and not uncomfortable. I’ve had a bit of a frozen shoulder issue with my left shoulder, so when my left arm goes up at shoulder height, it’s not very comfortable anymore. These shorter necks are saving me. I don’t know what I would have done if there was no such thing as a short-scale bass. So those are working out great.

I also got a couple of Fender Musicmaster basses. They have a nice little pickup in them. It doesn’t have a very high output, so I had those outfitted with some hotter pickups, and those are the basses I’m playing live.

When I record, I generally plug my P bass into an Ampeg B-15, which has a microphone on it, and also run a signal direct to the board, which I can color after the fact, if there’s not enough dirt on the signal. Sometimes we end up favoring either channel, depending on which sound is best for the song.

With all that happened within Super 400, professionally and personally, how did you continue pushing forward?

We’re a family. It’s very precious, and we are loyal to the end. We’ve had an agreement for years that we would stick together. All three of us have been offered other gigs—more lucrative gigs, much more high-profile gigs—but we didn’t feel the pull strongly enough to step away.

Joe is such a special human being and such a singular drummer. I’ve enjoyed playing with other drummers, but with Joe, our souls connect when we play together. The other day we were recording a rhythm track for our new record, and I almost started crying. I’m looking at him playing in the same posture he’s had for 23 years, and so much love came pouring out of me. He listens intrinsically to what I’m playing and feeling, and he’s anticipating it, taking it in, and making it better. He’s like a ship. He’s strong and steady and true. I can’t get that feeling with anyone else.

We’ve all done different stuff here and there apart from the group, but when it starts to look like it’s going to get into a touring situation, we turn it down. A lot of people would say that’s crazy, but what kind of life do you want to have? I’m really happy with what we’ve chosen to do.

As far as the surgery and recovery, it was challenging. My pain levels were at the point where I isolated myself from my friends. We would try to go out to dinner, say, with a group of people, and I would be so uncomfortable sitting there that I couldn’t contribute to a conversation or laugh in any sort of a genuine way. It was isolating. But I got so much support and love from these two, and I always found something to do and a way to keep my mind occupied. When I was ready to start playing again, it wasn’t fun. It hurt. I will live with chronic pain for the rest of my life, but it’s manageable. I can deal with it. What got me through—everything’s relative. We all have stuff we go through. Everyone has had awful challenges, heartbreak, terrible disappointments, sadness, struggles. That was one of my struggles, but I never had any doubt that I would play again with those guys.

Late last year, the band was studio hunting and preparing new music. What is the status on the next album?

We’ve got a house in the country where we’ve rehearsed for many years, and we made a lot of the Blast the Message and 3 and the Beast albums here. We’ve got a little girl in kindergarten, and we’ve got “grownup time” from 9 in the morning until well into the afternoon, so we figured a great way to take advantage of that, instead of going to a studio, is to try to recreate a studio here and do the best we can with what we’ve got. We got some more gear, and we’re going to make a Super 400 record out in the country.

Kenny and I have done a good amount of recording in our home studio over the past several years. We’ve been writing and recording music for television and that has revealed itself as such an asset, because even though we haven’t made a Super 400 record in 10 years, we have been recording consistently in that time, so we’re still in the head of what it takes to get a recording, a good performance, what it takes to lock with a track. So everything is working out as it should. It always does.

According to Kenny, “Lori’s mind is filled with music, she thinks about it a lot, but she doesn’t practice a lot, especially with the physical limitations that she’s had. She does most of her practicing in her mind. I’ve never heard her play a scale or anything remotely like that.” Do your students know you “don’t practice a lot”?

My practice is in the form of performance. There are monuments I aspire to, every time, which are to play as deeply in the pocket as possible; to connect with the drummer through a dance with both the snare and kick, pushing and pulling, changing the shape of the thing; to reach for patterns that are unfamiliar and outside the safehouse of my muscle memory; to plough the path for Kenny’s guitar solos, intuiting his needs, building to the apex with a thunder of sound that I can feel in my bones; to make space for the vocal, the most important part of the song; and to put just enough strut in my phrasing. I hold myself accountable for this and always step onto a stage as though it could be my last time.

I’m fortunate enough to have played with world-class musicians for 23 years. I’ve met and performed with my heroes and studied every move! What better education could I receive?

When I talk with my students, I don’t make a distinction between them having to put the hours in and me already having done it. I demonstrate by trying my best to lead by examples within the lesson, treating each of them as a unique individual with their own special ability.

If they’re looking to learn something that’s outside of what they thought was possible, they’ve got to practice it to achieve it. If they’re the type of person who has such focus that they can visualize it, maybe they won’t have to spend quite as much time with their hands on their instrument, but it took me years of shedding on the bass to get to a point where I could do a lot of the work in my head.

I don’t have the physicality to practice anymore. If I practice the bass for even an hour a day, every day, I end up with quite a bit of inflammation, so I do a lot of work in my head. I’ve always had a strong connection between my mind and my body. Even as a kid, I would say, “The mind controls the body.” It was like my mantra. I believe it. I think the mind can heal the body and train the body, and so when I think about something I want to play on the bass, I’m not thinking about where my fingers are going to go. I’m thinking about where is the sound that I want and having faith that it will be there for me when I put my hands on the bass.

So how can I tell my students to practice? Every student is different. You can’t treat them all the same. There’s no one method. I have some students that don’t have to practice as much as other ones, and that’s fine. What is fulfilling to you? There’s no requirement that says, “At the end of six weeks, you must be able to play this Bach etude.” What makes you happy? What are your goals? I will help you reach your goals.

Looking over everything you’ve experienced and overcome—growing up in a small town, no one to jam with, sexual harassment at work, not being taken seriously as a woman playing bass, surviving a head-on collision, opening a music school, teaching, becoming a parent, having a daughter—do you have some words of wisdom or encouragement for young women who aspire to work in the music industry?

I think it’s crucial to have support. Whether it comes from a family member or a teacher, it’s so important to have support to reinforce the fact that you’re not alone. I think women tend to isolate themselves. They hold feelings in, if they’re feeling threatened, because there has been a taboo against women speaking their minds, or they are perceived as being weak, because it’s hard enough as it is.

If you are feeling threatened, it is crucial to get support and reinforcement from a trusted source. We all need support. We need support for our mental health, our physical health, and our emotional well-being. You can’t do it all alone. That’s a lesson that I’m still learning. I’m 46 years old, and I still have to relearn that I can’t do it all on my own. I do need to rely on help from other people sometimes.

It’s a cliché to say this, but be true to yourself. Serve yourself. If something’s not right, trust your instincts. If you want something, you can have it. It’s yours for the taking. The work is what needs to be done, and every situation is different.

Another thing I’m still learning as an adult, and probably always will, is to be a good listener, observe, and don’t just dive right into a situation. Observe it first. Check the temperature. Get to know people. Learn how to work with all different personalities. Not everyone is going to agree with you right away, and as a woman, you do have that extra boundary to be aware of. There’s also a balance of being a woman in a man’s world and not to approach things in a combative way. Learn how to have a soft but firm touch.

The older I get, the more important it is to me to see women succeed. I wish I could wrap my arms around them all and give them love and support, because I remember what it felt like to be a kid. You’re so full of life and so full of dreams, but you just don’t have the power yet. You don’t have a foothold in the adult world, and maybe you don’t have the means of that. Or you’re at a disadvantage economically or sociologically. I wish there was even more support for women than what I have seen, but I know there are a lot of really good people out there helping young women to achieve their dreams and to be able to stand tall with their chins up and not be apologetic for being smart or for having good ideas

Lori Friday Gear List

1964 Fender Precision
1975 Rickenbacker 4001
1970s Hagström 8-String
1970s Gibson SG basses
1970s Fender Musicmaster basses (modified)

For stage:  1970s Kustom 200 watt head on top of 2×15 closed-back ‘White Tiger’ cabinet with Sica speakers
For recording:  1970s Ampeg B15

Zvex Box of Rock
RGW Electronics Bad Bob Booster
Arion Bass Distortion
Whammy Pedal
Radial Active Direct Box
Sonic Research Strobe Tuner

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