The following is an interview between Johnny Pastorius, Jaco’s oldest son and president of Jaco Pastorius Inc., and Larry Hartke, founder of “Hartke” bass systems. Residing as this month’s home page feature, this interview should clear up any and all questions as to just what Jaco’s relationship was with Hartke. As told by Larry Hartke, there was a legitimate relationship, and here is his story.
JP: When and where did you first meet my father?
LH: I met Jaco in New York in the early eighties. In around 1984.
JP: What was your capacity at that time, I mean, were you experimenting or working with audio equipment. Was that your profession?
LH: My partner (then and now) Ron Lorman was engineering for Miles Davis at the time and I was working repairing Ampex studio tape decks. Ron and I had been working together on an aluminum cone speaker design since the mid seventies and were planning on producing a line of studio monitors and home speaker systems at some point.
JP: Do you remember what amp my dad was playing through around the time you were first getting to know him. I heard he wasn’t using his Acoustics in his later years in N.Y. Do you know anything about that?
LH: I’m not sure really, but as much as I can remember I think he was using his Acoustic amps right up until the day we brought him the very first Hartke cabinet with the eight 10-inch aluminum cone speakers.
JP: Did he actually ask you to create a custom amp or cabinet for him to play?
LH: Jaco had listened to our studio monitor prototype and was aware of the strength and clarity of the bass in the design. He asked if the aluminum speakers could be used in a bass cabinet. Being a bass player myself, I had thought of the concept a few times before, but it was Jaco who actually inspired us to build a bass prototype. Ron and I designed and tooled some 10″ cones, built the drivers, put them in a modified SVT cabinet, and took it to Jaco at the “Bottom Line” in New York. He used the cabinet that night and every night from then on as far as I know.
JP: What did you guys use for an amp at that time?
LH: In those days, before we designed our own amplifiers, we used an amplifier actually called “AMP” (Amplified Music Products) with our cabinets.That was the amp Jaco used with his Harke cabinets. By pure coincidence the “AMP” amplifier was made by a new company formed by some engineers from the then defunct Acoustic company.
JP: Do you remember what clubs he was gigging at during the time he was using your new “prototype” bass cabinet?
LH: There were a lot of places that stand out, The Blue Note, The Lone star, 55 Grand, SOB’s and the Bottom Line to name a few.
JP: Bob Bobbing told me something about how my Dad was actually the one responsible for getting you the deal with Guild in the very beginning. How did that go down?
LH: Mark Dronge, the owner of Guild at that time, was developing a new Guild Pilot Bass. Mark went to see Jaco at the club to show him the bass. Jaco liked the Pilot Bass, but came back at Mark with the comment that his new experimental bass cabinet that he was using was the “real deal,” and “IT” was what he really should be interested in. Shortly there after Mark actually contacted me, and BAM, just like that, we got a distribution deal. The rest is history.
JP: Actually, I was always a little confused when I saw that ad with my Dad holding a Guild bass. My Dad always played Fender jazz basses when he recorded and played out… He was playing his Fender jazz in New York during the period you knew him wasn’t he?
LH: Jaco did like the pilot bass that Guild made for him, and he did play it live a lot during that period. They had early EMG pickups and they sounded very full and clean. The Fenders were always around though and he did continue to use them.
JP: Did the cabinet kick ass right from the beginning, or was it an evolutionary process?
LH: The cabinet kicked ass right away, the sound was, and is to this day unmatched. Everybody knows Jaco was an innovator, but what I think most people don’t know is that he was right there at the very forefront, leading the way, when all the new technology was changing the sound of bass. People know him for his Acoustic Amps and Fender basses, and of course they should. But what goes pretty much unknown is that he had embraced the new technology before anyone. That was the way he was, always moving forward. We just never got to see where he was going to take it.
JP: Bob also told me that Marcus Miller eventually ended up playing thru that exact same “Hartke” prototype, the same one my Dad was using. Is that true?
LH: Jaco used the original prototype 810 cabinet until we made the first small run of 410’s. The 410’s were of course much easer for him to move around the New York club scene. Because we didn’t have many cabinets at that time we continued to use the 810 for our other artists. That first 810 cabinet built for Jaco has a lot of history. It went on several Miles Davis tours with Marcus Miller, several Miles Davis tours with Darryl Jones, and the Born in the USA Bruce Springsteen tour with Garry Tallent. It was taken off the road in the eighties, its the prized possession of Hartke Systems, and has not been played by anyone since Jaco passed away in 1987, and thus it shall remain.
JP: Well, I know that Acoustic Amps haven’t been manufactured for years, but from what I hear “Hartke” is widely considered as state-of-the-art bass gear. In your own words, what exactly is so special about Hartke bass equipment?
LH: Our bass amplification products have a history of being the most innovative in the industry. That’s why Hartke has continued to grow year after year. Almost everything we do is widely imitated. We popularized the 410 bass cabinet, we were the first to use the metal grills and locking corners you see on most other products, everybody and their brother has copied our kickback combos. We make a wide range of traditional paper cone products for people who desire that kind of coloration. Our amplifiers are some of the most reasonably priced largest selling amplifiers of all time, clean, quiet, powerful, flexible and reliable. But most of all, our aluminum speakers, were then, and are now the best speaker systems on the market. There is no more accurate or truer reproducer of bass guitar than our aluminum coned speaker systems. Ours is the sound that clearly defines modern bass.
JP: Thanks for taking the time to tell this story. Its very interesting and one that I never knew before today. Congratulations on your great success.
LH: Thank you Johnny, and thank you Jaco.