Feature Stories

Dallas' Nigel Rivers is the Go-To Bassist for Artists Around the World

Nigel Rivers may be the most nomadic bass player in Dallas. His abnormal versatility, which covers seemingly every genre in the musical spectrum, leads him to continuously roam various cities of the world with a range of different artists. It's uncommon for a for-hire musician to make a name for himself the way Rivers has without a backing band's name. As the go-to bass player in Dallas when anything needs gone to, he's so high in demand, that he won't claim any particular band as his home.

Rivers began playing at age 12 when his grandfather bought him a bass. "What's a bass?" was the first thing he asked, admitting now that the only instrument he knew of then was Lisa Simpson's saxophone. He was sent to lessons with an instructor who didn't speak English, but a few years later, his grandfather bought him a car and asked him to play bass at his church to repay him.

After "playing off" his debt, Rivers was asked to join his high school marching band at the Townview Magnet Center, which had the highest prestige in the country, and relates proudly that he hasn't heard of an electric bass player in a marching band since. While studying music at UNT, Frito Lay was sponsoring a John Legend show in Dallas and somebody suggested Rivers as bass player. "It was a one-time deal," he states, but a significant one that started an enviable music career. Legend would be one of many, well, legends, that he would come to work for in the following years — Eric McFadden, Erykah Badu and Gladys Knight, to name a few.

After playing in Top 40s bands, he got into what he calls "The Prophet Bar Scene." The Deep Ellum venue hosts a weekly open mic led by R.C. Williams, Erykah Badu's producer and band member. The event attracts a swarm of hopeful neo-soul, hip hop and R&B musicians. Williams took Rivers under his wing. "He came down to the jam sessions. After I played with him, I had him sub some Badu gigs, and now I recommend him for everything," Williams explains. "He's a great bass player, definitely a professional, and he brings a sound to the table that no one else has. I've seen him grow as a musician with his own writing and producing," concluding: "He's one of the best."

"It was big shoes to fill, and I had to learn on the fly. I had to learn RC's whole library onstage," Rivers says of his gigs with Williams and Badu. "But I made the sound my own. Finally!" The first time he played overseas with Badu was in Cognac, France. "They gave us two bottles of cognac each and we had a lot of downtime at the venue. I was the new guy, I was nervous. I kept sipping and sipping. And then holy shit!...I was wasted my first time playing overseas. It was fine, though, I had to drink a lot of tea." He's soberly touring with Badu still, going to NYC and Canada at the end of this month.

About a year ago, when Dallas producer extraordinaire S1 (who, among other things, produced Madonna's last album), was looking for a bass player for some upcoming recordings, his wife took to Facebook. "About ten people tagged me on her post, so she sent me a message. I didn't know who she was, I didn't know who he was. When I found out I was really flattered," Rivers recalls. Through S1's employ, he describes an endless sea of opportunities that allowed him to play on the theme song for Common's new TV show and record on the iconic Gladys Knight's new album. It seems that when anybody comes through town — artists as disparate as Q-Tip or the guitar player for the Korean group Big Bang — somehow they all end up recruiting Rivers.

In turn, S1 praises Rivers highly: "Nigel is a master of his craft. When we work together he knows exactly how to translate whatever bass ideas I have in my head and bring it to reality." The respect is mutual: "The S1 stuff is what's most interesting to me," Rivers says. "Being on records, that's what everybody wants."

But he also chooses jobs with the dreamy mind of a backpacker, ultimately deciding on gigs based on which location he wants to visit, be it Anguila or Brooklyn. Even though he plays with some of the greatest names in music, his heart and loyalty ultimately lie in the local talent he believes in the most, he says. Like the gifted vocalists Chrisette Michelle (with whom he opened for Keyshia Cole for a month) and Dezi 5. Of the latter, he says "For him I'll say yes, even if someone is paying me more. I believe in Dezi 5, so I give him priority." Of abiding by loyalty he says, "A lot of guys don't. That's why I'm here at 26. You gotta bet on the right horse, think about long-term goals and honor prior commitments. Mike Leigh from Snarky Puppy said that to me one time, and you see where he is."

And yet with all the exciting work that Rivers picks up around the world, he considers his role as musical director at the church he's at now to be his "real job and weekly gig." "Not many churches have bass players as MDs, so that was a dream," he says. But that doesn't mean he isn't still thinking big: His ultimate ambition is to put on monthly large-scale free concerts in Dallas with various artists, describing a vivid fantasy of lights, vendors and dream acts. "We ourselves can do it," he says. If ever such a project comes to light, he'd be the first called anyway, as usually is the case with Nigel Rivers.