Memorial Celebration Tribute by Bryan Beller
This tribute to Wes was presented by Bryan Beller at a memorial celebration on February 4th, 2005.
There are so many stories to tell, so many incredibly unique and charmingly idiosyncratic things about who Wes was and what he chose to do, that it defies logic and sense to try and pick a couple and just tell them—for me at least.
So how do you celebrate someone whose talents and interests were so mind-bogglingly diffuse? I stopped and thought for a second—what did Wes really want? What did he really see?
I think he looked around this earthly plane and saw imperfection. Lots of it. Some times he noticed a concentrated amount of imperfection in someone—a “loser.”
Some times this concentration of imperfection was centered in a group of equally flawed people, who earned the official pluralization of this sentiment: “What a bunch of losers.”
This critical—some would say “discriminating”—eye towards life in general betrayed an essential truth about Wes, one perhaps not widely known enough. Sure, he was the quiet one in a group, and wasn’t always the first to offer his opinion. But if you got to know him, and he got going on a subject that he cared about, he was utterly transformed, and he’d produce a flood of words and ideas and thoughts about the way things should be. It was startling, and yet reassuring—in Wes’ world, there was a vision, an ideal, a “perfect life” to be had.
The only question is, what was it? Well, I can guess at a couple of things.
First of all, Canada is the most powerful and influential nation the earth has ever known. And the Greater Canadian Federation has its own laws, all vast improvements over our current setup.
Every night is Hockey Night in the Greater Canadian Federation. TV programming becomes very simple under this arrangement.
The basic Canadian laws are actually the unwritten rules of the players in the National Hockey League. Everyone knows what to do and what not do to. If you take a cheap shot at life, an enforcer settles it with you the next time you’re out in public. A good, clean shot, of course. Justice becomes very simple under this arrangement.
Tap water is abolished. Pellegrino and various brands of spring water are available both on tap and in bottle dispensers stationed in every home. Cars are fitted to accommodate 32 ounce water bottles.
Socks come off automatically—you just look at them and they roll up off of your feet. This prevents unwanted sock removal injuries, a major factor in the cost of health care in the Greater Canadian Federation.
Motorists must be respectful of bicyclists. Any motorist who gets in an accident with a bicyclist must serve a mandatory one-month sentence as checking dummy for the Los Angeles Ice Dogs—Los Angeles being the capital of the southwestern province of the Greater Canadian Federation, of course.
There are laws governing gigs as well. First off, the serving of a deli tray backstage can result in a venue’s license being revoked. Instead, hot, steaming plates of chicken and asparagus are standard in every green room, with a new, freshly cooked serving brought every 6 minutes.
Special rules apply to those who overplay and showboat on a gig. This is a respectable family establishment, so we can’t really discuss what happens to those people.
Manufacturing is big in this great new world power, this Canadian colossus. Factories work double shifts churning out the very best hockey gear, bicycling gear, photography equipment, and specially-enhanced music computers pre-loaded with Pro Tools and every patch known to man.
And, best of all, Jim Tyler is the national luthier, and his factory runs like a clock, producing a brand new, handcrafted bass every hour on the hour, which Wes would personally inspect and decide whether or not he wanted to keep.
Of course, this is all a fancy, rhetorical way of saying that Wes wasn’t nearly as passive as some might have believed. He was a force in motion, deeply passionate about what he enjoyed in life—the music, the cycling, the hockey, the photography, the rock climbing, the off-roading, the rollerblading, and plenty more—and pursued those passions with as much vigor as anyone, but all with an effortless grace. Just because he made it look so easy doesn’t mean he wasn’t out there going after it. He just did it all without breaking a sweat, without making a scene of it…without showboating… without being a “loser” about it.
So we can all rest easy knowing that, wherever he is, it’s a world of his choosing, where what he does and what he knows is without limit, a world where the perfect groove is playing over the PA system of a gorgeous hockey rink with perfect ice, where everyone he ever loved and respected was in the stands, watching as he controlled the puck from one blue line to the other, deking out both defensemen, breaking away and going 5-hole on the goalie as the red lamp lights and the sirens wail…and afterwards, as in a dream sequence, he suddenly finds himself standing before Tony Amonte, Eric Lindros, James Jamerson, Pino Palladino, Danny Morris, his family, his friends, and everyone who ever mattered to him.
The whole crowd before him isn’t saying anything.
They’re just nodding respectfully, murmuring, “Yeah… yeah.”
And he smiles, and says, “Wicked.”
A First and Lasting Impression
Having known Wes for fifteen years makes picking out a single standout memory difficult, if not impossible. The one thing that I keep coming back to, when I think of Wes, is how I grew as a bassist just by knowing him, being around him, watching him play, and feeling the depth of his musicality. But I have to admit that I wasn’t always this serene about his seemingly limitless ability on the bass, and that’s why I’ve chosen the first time I ever saw him as the memory I’d like to share first.
It was the fall of 1990, and I was a sophomore at Berklee College Of Music. After a year of heavy practicing in private, I felt ready to make my mark as a hot-shot bassist, and was eager to get playing with as many people as I could.
When semesters at Berklee begin, there’s a fairly intense peer-connection period in the first couple of weeks, where people begin jamming with each other, and reputations are born as word spreads about who the new hot players are, and who the established “name” players are working with. It wasn’t but a few weeks into that fall-1990 semester that people began coming up to me and telling me about some new bassist named Wes Wehmiller. He played a yellow Kubicki X-Factor, they said. His technique was flawless. His groove was intense. His thumb was seriously funky. And they never failed to mention that he looked like he was about 15 years old. I was understandably curious. I noticed that he was playing a recital and made a note to attend.
The show day came. He looked young, to be sure, but carried himself onstage as someone who’d done it a million times. His hair was long in the front and back, and it covered half his face, and he made sure to look down so the other half wasn’t readily visible either. He was just buried in his instrument, grooving, nailing everything. His sound was so fluid, so graceful, it made me ashamed to be working so hard at what I was doing. This was the way it was supopsed to be – natural, musical, spiritual.
Then the band launched into an extremely difficult song by John Patittucci, called “Scophile.” I recognized it right away, because I’d had the misfortune of trying to play it myself just months ago with a different band, and we crashed and burned badly, including me. I was nervous watching it, both for myself and for Wes.
Well, he just aced it. The melody in the head of the tune, a series of blizzard-like sixteenth-note runs, was nothing to this baby-faced Berklee freshman. He just blew through it like it was a pop tune. I was stunned, but not as stunned as when the song neared its end, and the guitarist’s amplifier failed, leaving Wes to play this insane melody by himself in front of a typically discerning and skeptical Berklee crowd. And, again, he nailed it to the wall.
The crowd went nuts. And I walked out feeling, to be honest, like someone had punched me in the stomach.
Fortunately for both of us I got over my jealousy, and realized that I wanted to get to know him better. Just a few weeks later, we found ourselves jamming with each other in a practice room. Two Berklee bassists jamming generally doesn’t make for an overly musical experience, but this was transcendant. I felt so comfortable playing with him, so relaxed in his broad musicality, that it exceeded the musical relationship I had with any other instrumentalist at the time.
Three years later, when it came time for my Senior Recital, I felt it would be incomplete without Wes being a part of it. We performed a classical duet, and then segued into, appropriately, a John Patittuci bass solo vehicle called “A Better Mousetrap,” in which both of us took turns soloing and supporting each other. I knew while it was going on that what he was doing was at a higher level than I could reach, but I was no longer ashamed. I was just happy to be sharing a musical experience with him.
So, I suppose my first memory of Wes, among many, many others, was that, when I saw him play, I thought to myself, “That’s the bassist I’d like to be someday.”
As the years went on, I watched as he wrote songs, changed styles, changed instruments, and evolved muscially in fascinating ways, all the while still retaining the core musical identity of Wes Wehmiller: mature, understated, and precise, yet soulful, emotional, and deep.
I consider myself lucky to have seen this genius of a bassist and musician up close for so long, and will feel his presence inside my own musicality for as long as I’m able to pick up a bass and play it. Because I’ve never been a serious bassist without him being there.
That hasn’t changed.