3 June 2011

holiday, celebrate – Bashiri Johnson speaks


Summer has officially arrived, so let’s celebrate with percussionist, Bashiri Johnson’s memories of playing percussion on Madonna’s summer anthem, Holiday:

“My first time working on Madonna’s music was on Holiday with Jellybean as the producer on that particular session. She really struck me because she was really, really beautiful, really vivacious and she was very into everything that was going on. She was really into what I was doing and into the whole process and she was 100% aware of everything. She wasn’t like some artists, who might just hang out in the lounge, or other artists who just sit back and take everything in, or some other artists who might not even be present almost. She was definitely present at all of the sessions.”

thebeatswithin: Did you record your percussion parts on top of an existing track?

“Yeah, I did. I came in and I overdubbed my stuff to the track that was already laid down. It was a rough mix, but I wouldn’t say that it was completed. I heard her vocals and everything else was there, all of rhythm section stuff was there and I just added my bit. It wasn’t mixed yet and it might not have been fully edited yet, but it was definitely a version I could play to and I remember when I walked out of the studio it stuck with me.”

thebeatswithin: What percussion instruments did you play on the track?

“On that track I just played cowbells – the cowbell part that you can hear that goes all the way through it. I think I might have also played shakers on that track, but that track was mainly just a simple cowbell part. The great thing was that the cowbell part was really like a signature part of the song and it really helped to drive the track. As a matter of fact, a lot of people called me up to come in and play on their records because of that track. They were like, “Oh yeah, you played on that Madonna track. I need you to put some stuff on my record.” So, although it was just cowbells on the album version, I played a lot more on the remix, including congas, shakers, timbales and tambourine.”

thebeatswithin: Did you have any idea that Holiday would become not only Madonna’s breakthrough hit song, but such an enduring pop/dance anthem?
“It’s funny because I’ve played on thousands and thousands of records and there are records that you just know are going to affect people and have mass appeal. I’ve experienced that on many occasions, but the way that the music business is set up, it’s not always based on the highest quality product and sometimes other factors make a song a hit. So, even though I might be in the studio and getting goose pimples from playing on it, the machinery of the music business might not be able to follow through and make a great song a hit. But I did feel something special about that track. I felt that it was going to be a powerful track and that people were really going to be into when I worked on it.

She was talking about something that’s universal – taking a break, having fun and just letting go and releasing your stress, your cares and worries – “Take a holiday!” That’s something that’s sort of put down, but yet that’s something that’s very important to people.”

thebeatswithin: I heard the original Holiday demo by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stephens, at the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in Washington.

“Wow! Those guys wrote some great stuff and they came up with some really, really cool ideas and cool hooks that people could really get into. That’s why I think the song was such a great success. It was a really great, well written song.”

Click here for more about Bashiri Johnson


Rabbitbunny said...

Bashiri is right! Holiday is definitely a brilliant dance anthem in Rock because what Madonna is singing, crying and smiling about is this-Let's all love and take care of each other and strive for world peace! No wonder it has become an anthem and the encore at many of her concerts! I rest my case-Holiday is a brilliant and beautiful song

Pud Whacker said...


sonicboy19 said...

Very intesting! One thing I wondered about though - Bashiri talks about how the only thing he played on the album version was the cowbell. But if you check the album's liner notes, he is credited with percussion and Madonna, strangely, is credited with "cowbelle". With that odd spelling, I wonder if it was some kind of inside joke? I had always assumed by the credit that she did play the cowbell on the track (she did used to drum after all and this particular cowbell part doesn't exactly require a huge amount of skill so it wasn't too far of a stretch to believe it). Now that I've read this, I'm assuming she didn't play it but am more curious than ever about the credit.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sonicboy - it's true that anyone can pick up a cowbell and shake it, but it requires a LOT of skill and musical talent to do it well - that's why Bashiri was hired by EVERYONE for his amazing percussion playing. That man sure has RHYTHM!

Through all of my interviews I've discovered that there are often errors in the sleevenotes. In addition to that, it was also common for a session musician to come in and play on a song, only for another musician to come in later and play the same instrument on that song. Then, when the song was being mixed, the most suitable track would be chosen.

This has led to some musicians being mis-credited and some not being credited at all due to a simple clerical error.

Having heard his trademark percussion on countless amazing songs, and spoken to him at length, I have no reason to doubt that it's Bash we can hear on Holiday.

The album credit is a bit confusing though. Jellybean - wanna clear this up?

sonicboy19 said...

Very good point and I agree with you, Peter. It definitely is one of the song's signature parts. And to loosely paraphrase your quote from Guy Sigsworth, what may sound simple on the surface can in reality be very difficult to do well. There's certainly no denying the scope of Bashiri's talent.

Fantastic blog, by the way...I look forward to each new article you post!