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"Yeah, that guy. He came in and ran down every Return to Forever album, every solo record I had at the time, named all the tunes... I was amazed. I mean, a guy wearing a clock around his neck -- I was surprised he knew his own name."
Clarke's last chance to break into radio on his own was a rockist effort from 1985 called Find Out!, which included a steaming, funked-over attack on Springsteen's "Born in the USA." A masterful, declamatory jam, the tune was about to introduce Clarke to a new audience -- again -- when an abrupt regime change at Columbia/Sony and a rash of firings left the album stranded.
"Find Out!was my most commercial-sounding, and least popular, album," Clarke says.
By that time, he was beginning to channel his compositional sense into safe, if not always respectable, stocks. Pee-Wee's Playhouse came around, as did a gig as musical director for a Barry Manilow television special. By 1995, a label called Epic Soundtrax released Stanley Clarke at the Movies, a collection of themes he'd scored for Passenger 57, Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, Little Big League, Higher Learning, Panther, and What's Love Got to Do With It. His latest film composition was for last year's Eddie Griffin comedy, Undercover Brother. More recently, Angela Lansbury has called on him to provide Celtic soundtracks for her last several two-hour Murder She Wrote TV events. "It has absolutely nothing to do with any of my music, culturally, but the beauty of it is, you're a neutral person," he says.
Listeners are bound to make discoveries on Clarke's new album, 1, 2, To The Bass. For unfathomable reasons, Oprah Winfrey appears on it. George Duke, Q-Tip, and Joe Satriani are among the guest musicians. Though his distinctive electric bass work is in full effect on 1, 2, To The Bass, for years Clarke has threatened to put down the plugged-in version for good, retiring it in a dignified return to the stand-up bass.
"I think in another four, five years that'll be it on the electric bass for me," he says. "The acoustic bass is much more noble. I'm too old! It's the worst thing in the world to see an old black man playing the electric bass!"