Guitar Player Magazine says Abraham Laboriel Sr. is “the most widely used session bassist of our time.” Musician Larry Carlton says, “There are a lot of great bass players in the world, but there is one and only one, Abraham Laboriel.” What does First Entertainment say? He’s an artist who is as humble, passionate and inspiring, as he is talented. We also describe him as a glowing example of our credit union’s unique membership.
We caught up with Abraham during some of the rare minutes when he’s not in a recording session, performing live, teaching or traveling the world. Sharing anecdotes and attitudes, he painted a colorful tale of life as a musical magician.
“I was born and raised in Mexico City. My parents are from Honduras, and we belong to an ethnic group called Garifuna, which means ‘Black Caribbean.’” Abraham’s father was a talented musician and tried to teach him classical guitar at age six. “But when I was four – from being mischievous – I lost the tip of my index finger on my left hand. Fingering chords became very difficult – the tip of that finger is very important to play guitar. There were a lot of chords and things that I was not able to do. So when I was eight years old, I gave up.” Fortunately for the music world, Abraham’s “retirement” only lasted until age 10. “ I started to play by ear with American pop records and developed my own unorthodox style that included adding the bass lines on the guitar with my injured finger while playing the chords with the rest. It changed my technique and musical tastes forever. I fell in love with American music at age 10 and have never stopped loving it.”
Back on the musical track, Abraham moved to the U.S. in 1968 to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While studying to earn a composition degree, his teachers learned that he could play the electric bass. There were no teachers of electric bass at Berklee at that time. “I discovered for myself how the bass served as a floating anchor for the music both rhythmically and harmonically and my unique approach to the instrument was born.” Abraham credits his father for imbuing him with a deep understanding of the role of the bass. “I knew the function of the bass and would approach it as a real bass player, as opposed to other guitarists who switch to bass.” When he got his degree, he was already established as a bass player at school. From there, the doors flew wide open. Henry Mancini encouraged him to “head west, young man,” and off he went to Los Angeles.
Today, with nearly 5,000 recording sessions to his credit, Abraham has worked with a list that reads like a “Who’s Who” of entertainment royalty. The names range from jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Herbie Hancock, to pop legends that include Burt Bacharach, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand. In addition to albums, he’s done movie scores, TV recordings, jingles and live performances.
How does he manage so many different genres, project types and personalities? “A lot of that has to do with being in Los Angeles. The studio musicians here specialize in being versatile.” It also traces back to childhood. “At an early age, I started listening to every style of American music. I was playing country and western, jazz, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Doris Day. So my approach was not one-dimensional. I really fell in love with music as a whole. I approach it as music and then the heart that I play with is the heart of a servant. I go to Diana Ross or Quincy Jones or Lionel Richie and I say, ‘What can I do with my instrument to help you achieve what you want to do with your song?’ Dolly Parton would call and I would come to her with the same attitude: ‘How can I use my instrument to help you accomplish the song?’ As opposed to walking in with an attitude of ‘This is how I play and if doesn’t fit your song, it is your problem.’”
Outside of the studio, Abraham performs live with his band Open Hands (www.openhandsmusic.net). “I’ve also been teaching at Shepherd University. Increasingly, I’ve been devoting more time to education, traveling the world doing music clinics and seminars.”
When it comes to First Entertainment, Abraham finds complete harmony. “First Entertainment is an idea whose time has come. They are so personable and accurate and honest. “Nowadays, the big banks don’t recognize anybody; there are different employees every day. They don’t know who you are. So it is beautiful to walk in and shake people’s hands and have them know who you are and care about you. We are very, very happy. They respect us for being their clients and they also respect us for being people.”
Abraham and his wife enjoyed taking advantage of First Entertainment’s auto loan program – topped off with personalized service. “First Entertainment gave us the absolute best rate on the planet, and when the time came to send the dealership money, the branch manager said ‘I’m on my way to FedEx, so I’ll drop the check off there personally so that it gets to the dealer on time.’ I cannot commend him enough. I think First Entertainment has to do with what I was talking about. Musicians are servants. It’s nice to bank where people treat you with the same attitude of service; What can I do for you?”
Thank you, Abraham, for hitting such a high note on our behalf. It’s music to our ears.