While in Philadelphia wrapping up work on the MC’s 2002 album Electric Circus, the bassist rang his wife, Maz, who informed him he probably wouldn’t be leaving America. “You just got a call from The Who’s management,” she continued. “If you haven’t heard, John Entwistle’s died.”
The news floored Palladino. While he wasn’t exceptionally close with the virtuosic, outrageous, unforgettable Ox, he’d bumped into him here and there, and they’d had their share of laughs together. Palladino accepted the offer and joined a grieving Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend days later at the Hollywood Bowl. Did standing in Entwistle’s place — with all the scrutiny that entails — psych him out?
“I never let that come in,” Palladino tells Discogs. “I knew deep down in my mind there would be comparisons, of course. John was irreplaceable.” By being himself rather than slavishly imitating his predecessor — and not letting the pressure get to him — Palladino has turned one gig into 15 years and counting as The Who’s loyal sideman.
Such is the essence of Palladino’s musicianship. Over a career spanning nearly five decades, the amenable Welshman has worked in wildly divergent genres, effortlessly bolstering whatever song he’s playing. This adaptability means he’s backed visionaries from D’Angelo to Paul Simon to Adele. And his chops recently found their culmination in Notes With Attachments, Palladino’s collaborative album with guitarist-producer Blake Mills, which arrived March 12 via New Deal/Impulse!.
Warped, genre-blurring tunes like “Just Wrong,” “Man From Molise,” and “Chris Dave” show Palladino has always been a fully-fledged composer in his own right — not some garden-variety session player, holding down the root notes. He can play straight with Harry Styles, slurrily with Erykah Badu, bluesily with John Mayer, or anywhere in between. But beneath it all, Palladino’s only himself — a chameleon of the highest order, always inventively serving the song.
To mark Notes With Attachments’ release, here are ten essential albums featuring Palladino — with notes from the master himself.
Back in the late 1980s, Phil Collins was at a high commercial ebb, scoring heavy airplay both solo and with Genesis. To him, it was too high.
“There is always a risk that people get bored with Phil Collins,” he told The Sentinel in 1990. “That reached a peak in 1985-86 when we had five Top 5 Singles with No Jacket Required and Genesis’ Invisible Touch had five Top 5. The voice was constantly on the radio. There was a severe danger of overkill.”
To avoid saturating the market, Collins took a year off music and acted in the 1988 romantic comedy Buster. When he returned, he decided to write an album that dealt with weightier concerns, like homelessness, famine, and apartheid. The title: …But Seriously.
…But Seriously features an array of high-profile guests, like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and David Crosby plus Palladino, who appeared on Collins’ radar when he opened for him in the pop-soul singer Paul Young’s band.
Palladino says the session he participated in was “over within a few hours.” But more than 30 years later, he remembers it well, especially the mournful power ballad “I Wish It Would Rain Down.”
“I particularly like that song,” Palladino says. “I got to use my octave on the bass, and they were really into the sound of it. So, yeah, I feel like I put something on that tune that added to it.”
D’Angelo – Voodoo and Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
As the new millennium dawned, D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun grew out of simultaneous sessions with a nearly identical crew — drummer Questlove, keyboardist James Poyser, rapper J Dilla (then known as JayDee), and more.
“I met that whole team of brilliant, talented, innovative musicians through D’Angelo,” Palladino remembers, calling the neo-soul pioneer “my in into that world.”
Suffice to say, nobody in the R&B world had heard anything like Voodoo or Mama’s Gun. Many of their tracks hinge on a “drunken” rhythm feel between Palladino and Questlove.
To Palladino, this was a specific role that served those particular albums. “That approach of holding that feel of the bass back behind the beat to that extent certainly wouldn’t be appropriate in other musical situations,” he says.
“It’s about casting the right instrument, for one, and then casting the right feel that you’re going to impose on the song,” Palladino continues. “With D, the music was extraordinary. It was the right place, right time, and I just had the credentials to make that shit work.”
John Mayer arrived as the clean-cut heartthrob who breathed adult-contemporary hits about scampering through his alma mater and rolling in the hay. Palladino detected something unexpected under the surface.
“I’d heard a few songs from Room For Squares,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this guy’s got some interesting harmony going on. These are pop songs, but there’s quite a lot going on.’ What I wasn’t aware of was his passion for blues.”
Palladino came into Mayer’s orbit in 2005 by way of drummer Steve Jordan, who had been cutting sessions with the singer-songwriter. The pair needed a bassist to perform at that year’s Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope benefit; Jordan knew just the man for the job.
When the trio convened to jam on Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love,” they quickly surmised they had killer chemistry. “We sounded really good straight away, even though I wasn’t that familiar with John’s catalog, to be honest,” Palladino says.
Although Mayer, Palladino, and Jordan had one tune under their belt, Mayer asked if they’d hit the road with him as a trio. So they whipped up a few originals, like “Good Love Is on the Way,” and covers, like Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” and bashed out this unvarnished live disc at Chicago’s House of Blues.
As soon as Mayer lays into the scratchy Stratocaster intro of opener “Who Did You Think I Was” — essentially the theme song for his blues-rock makeover — it’s clear the floppy-haired crooner had rawer, edgier urges from the jump.
Paul Simon – Surprise (2006)
Of all of Paul Simon’s superb late-period albums, Surprise is close to the most underrated and under-discussed. (2000’s You’re the One takes the cake.) Even a casual fan would be remiss not to check out this spacey team-up with Brian Eno.
“Edie came into the studio one day and said, ‘Paul was asking about you,’” Palladino remembers. As Simon told her, he loved D’Angelo’s Voodoo, realized that the album’s bassist was on Brickell’s record, and “hadn’t put two and two together.”
Wanting Palladino’s touch on his upcoming record, he invited the bassist to work together. While Palladino says he was “over the moon” about the opportunity, he admits that working with Simon wasn’t always easy.
“He was looking for me to come up with an approach to a song,” Palladino says. “He was waiting for me to find something, and when I played something he liked, he let me know straight away.”
While he calls Simon “very particular” in the studio, “I really enjoy working with an artist when it’s challenging like that,” he adds. “They’re trying to find something specific that sets a song off.”
To the meticulous master, that could be one carefully-chosen note, plucked in response to a knife-twisting word.
Adele – 21 (2011)
Adele’s 21 is the best-selling album of the 21st century thus far. How does it feel to have one’s bass playing piped into supermarkets and Ubers the world over? Palladino hangs back from the question, instead shouting out one of the most revered producers on the planet for the honor.
“That came from Rick Rubin reaching out to me,” Palladino says. “We hadn’t worked together and hadn’t had any connection, really, other than somebody mentioning he was a fan of my work with different artists.” Rubin asked Palladino if he’d get on board with Adele, who was then a precocious upstart yet to pipe from said Ubers.
Alongside drummer Chris Dave — whom he’d later name a song after — and myriad other session pros, Palladino underpinned Adele’s hyper-passionate vocal outpourings on songs like “Don’t You Remember,” “He Won’t Go,” and “One and Only.”
“Adele, to her credit, was incredible,” Palladino says. “She sang so emotionally. Even on run-throughs, she was just killing those vocal performances. So, I had a feeling at the time that it was going to be a pretty special album.”
Was it a challenge for Palladino to transpose his style into an outlier genre like industrial rock? Not at all, he says. Exhibit A is Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks.
“My approach was just to try to make it funky,” he explains. “That’s what Trent [Reznor] wanted. He had reached out to me to collaborate on some music, and when I got to the studio, he and Atticus [Ross] played me a couple of tunes from Hesitation Marks and said, ‘I just want you to bring your thing to this.’”
“What do you think? What do you need?” the pair who crafted a litany of sullen masterpieces continued. Palladino’s response? “Just plug me in.”
Nobody has ever held and played a guitar quite like Uncle Keef; his strumming hand alone requires a doctoral thesis to grasp. “That guy has such a unique approach to guitar and songwriting,” Palladino exclaims. “Brilliant at both.”
While Palladino doesn’t recall whether he was in the room with Richards when he played on Crosseyed Heart — what we hear may have just been with Steve Jordan — he’s shared stages with the guitar god many times over the years.
How did he nest his lines into Richards’ slack, jagged rhythms? “You have to really try to tailor the bassline to fit those parts,” Palladino explains. “And stay out of the way most of the time.”
The Who – Who (2021)
Palladino’s first album with The Who was 2006’s Endless Wire, their first in 24 years. (The last one was fittingly called It’s Hard.) Featuring a sidelong suite called Wire & Glass, Endless Wire nodded to the band’s operatic 1970s peak.
However ambitious the effort — or unlikely the prospect of Palladino performing on it — the recording process for Palladino mostly consisted of sitting around a control room, plucking over Townshend’s demos. Which is cool on its own merits, sure, but not Live at Leeds cool.
Rather, Palladino says, it was the experience of recording 2019’s Who that more closely hewed to the walking-on-air rock and roll fantasy of Being In The F***ing Who.
Townshend and Daltrey reportedly never set foot in the same room — much less the same building — during the making of Who. Still, Palladino had a blast bashing out its tunes with Townshend and drummer Zak Starkey.
“I felt that one was much more representative of the band,” he says. “I felt I managed to express more on that record than on Endless Wire.”
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills – Notes With Attachments (2021)
Put on Notes With Attachments and you may notice a funny sensation: after a few tracks, the world of genre descriptors seems to evaporate. Hey, is that an Eno part, you might ask? Not really. Fela Kuti? Ehhh. ECM? On second thought … nah.
To call Mills’ and Palladino’s first collaborative LP’s genre “miscellaneous” isn’t a slight, but a compliment of the highest order. Because for sounding so alien — so uncategorizable — it’s deliciously listenable from front to back.
Palladino wrote the vast majority of Notes With Attachments over the past however-many years, shining his compositions through Mills’ warped lens. (Check out his past solo records, like 2020’s Mutable Set, to get an idea of his singular ears.)
Palladino’s wife coined the album title; he connects it to the years in which he carried around the tunes like souvenirs or talismans. “There’s an archival nature to me collecting all these pieces of music like precious artifacts,” Palladino says.
Taken together, that’s what the tunes sound like. They prove Palladino should be understood not as a session cat, but as a musician, full stop. There’s a reason for attachment right there.