Wes Wehmiller, bassist, composer, photographer, athlete, enthusiast, lover of life’s infinite sources of inspiration, loving brother, son and friend, was born September 12, 1971 in New York City.
Wes was born hearing music. He began creating music of his own at a very early age and, by age seven, had begun to study classical piano. At age thirteen, Wes taught himself to play the bass. He went on to earn numerous honors during high school, including being named to All State Jazz Band, where he received the Delaware Music Educators’ “Award of Distinction.” In 1989, Downbeat Magazine named Wehmiller to the “MusicFest USA All Stars.” Prior to his high school senior year, Wes attended “Berklee in Santa Fe,” a workshop where he earned a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston.
While at Berklee, Wes was mentored by bassist/professor Danny Morris, who became a close colleague and friend. He returned to Berklee many times to teach master classes in Morris’ Survey of Bass. In 1993, Wes moved to the west coast where, as part of a vibrant Los Angeles community of Berklee alumni, he collaborated with Colin Keenan, Shawn Pierce, Bryan Beller, Griff Peters, Jackie Daum, Joe Travers, Rick Musallam, Tom Langford, Dorian Hartsong, Dan Rockett, Ali Handal, Eve Buigues, Keith England, Lisa Loeb, Dweezil Zappa, Chip Vayenas, Yogi Lonich, and many, many others.
From 1997 through 2001, Wes toured worldwide with the multi-platinum pop band Duran Duran, and appeared on many TV shows with them as well, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Today Show, VH-1’s Storytellers and Hard Rock Live. Since that time, Wes has performed with Missing Persons and several other L.A. based bands, and his work appears on numerous recordings produced in the L.A. area and in Vancouver. He gained endorsement deals with SWR bass amplification systems and La Bella Strings. In December of 2004, Wes realized a lifetime dream gig, playing with ex-Frank Zappa guitarist and avant-garde solo artist Mike Keneally in San Diego. Wes’ friend and mentor, Danny Mo, writes, “Wes gave back to us bass tracks and live performances that capture his unique and touching style, his generosity of spirit, his humility, and his brand of musicianship carried out by that group of artists who possess the intangible ingredient of SOUL present in everything they do.”
Wes was an extraordinary photographer, working in both the studio setting and in the natural world. He used the camera in much the same way he used his music – to create and to speak about his original view of the world. In a reflection on Wes’ art, his aunt, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot writes, “It turns out that Wes’ eyes were as amazing as his ears; that the auditory genius of his music was matched by the visual aesthetic of his photographs. In the last several years, photography became Wes’s new creative frontier, a place to record—in another medium—his sensitivity to things subtle and small and barely noticed by the rest of us, a place to work his unusual wit and funky perspective, a place to see the universal in the particulars and a place to transform struggle and suffering into pathos and beauty.” Wes’ uncle, Chuck Lawrence writes, “When a fellow photographer asked Wes who had inspired his brilliant photography he answered, ‘My Dad.” And you could see it in his work – the love of the aesthetic and the love of mastery of technique. There is a wonderful pair of photographs, taken by John and Wes – each shooting a picture of the other – sighting down the rails of the track between them – each intensely regarding the other and the planet’s beauty.” Wes’ photography appears on the album covers and notes as well as the websites of several of his musician colleagues. His recent work can be seen at http://wez.smugmug.com.
Passionate about athletics, Wes and his brother Abe grew up outside of Philadelphia where they spent their days playing street hockey and riding bikes with neighborhood friends. Wes played catcher on the local and high school baseball teams and goalie for the soccer team. When Wes moved to L.A., he lived out his passion for in-line skating, gliding along the paths of the Santa Monica beaches and, when he wasn’t touring, playing in a roller hockey league. Soon Wes had become a serious ice hockey player whose insights and talents in hockey were nourished by his many Canadian friends from Berklee as well as by his friendships with several NHL players. More recently, he returned to his love of cycling as a way to maintain his strength during the past year, and he quickly found that he was able to climb the toughest slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains with the most experienced riders in the area. He had been invited to join a sponsored racing team for the upcoming season. In an interview with ActiveBass, Wes said, “I find that my life in music stays fresh if I stay active in other ways. I love staying in shape playing hockey, hiking, water skiing, softball, photography, whatever. There have been times in my life when I was focusing on nothing but music, and it seemed to make things very stale for me. You need to stay active to be healthy and happy. And if your life is enriched with other hobbies besides your livelihood, your music will be much more enjoyable when you come back to it.”
Wes was named for John Wesley Powell, a visionary scientist and anthropologist who explored and documented the American West in the late 1800’s. Among Powell’s many skills was his knowledge of the languages and cultures of the Native Americans of the West. At a Tribute Concert held by Wes’ extended musician family on February 4th in Los Angeles, it was very clear that Wes, like his namesake, had truly learned the languages of the many worlds in which he journeyed. Cyclists, hockey players, musicians, photographers, family and friends all spoke in words and through music of his genius, humor, passion, vision, humility and love of life.
Wes died of thyroid cancer on January 30th 2005. At the March 6th Celebration of Life held in Wes’ honor, his Aunt Sara said, “Wes was a fighter. Sometimes I think that his gentleness and his powerful listening made people miss his extraordinary intensity, focus, drive, and fight – a fierce spirit he brought to his fight for life at the end. He battled the cancer, and then the treatments that were supposed to save him from the cancer, with the same ferocity. But there was beauty and creativity in his battle. He refused to waste away, even when the medicines made eating impossible. Instead, he gave himself the biggest physical challenge, and began a rigorous training, cycling up the side of mountains; climbing above the clouds, loving the feel of disciplined muscles working overtime, loving the views at the top, communing with nature, spirit soaring. Wes turned his fight for life into an extraordinary adventure.”
In the last weeks of Wes’ life, in spite of the cancer and its debilitating treatments, Wes was still playing gigs and laying down bass tracks (appearing at the NAMM show just a week before.) He was producing an enormous body of work in his photography studio, and was still riding his bike up the toughest climbs in the Santa Monica Mountains – 70 and 80 miles several times a week. Most of Wes’ huge community of friends from all over the world did not even know he was sick. He preferred it that way. That was Wes. A few months before, when Wes had returned home from a challenging and triumphant ride, he told his Mom on the phone, “If I can’t conquer this cancer, I will conquer these mountains.” And he did. That too is Wes.