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Victor Bailey, 56, Weather Report bassist who battled ALS

Victor Bailey, 56, a former Olney resident who gained acclaim as a virtuoso electric bassist for the jazz fusion band Weather Report, died Friday, Nov. 11, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Victor Bailey
Victor BaileyRead more

Victor Bailey, 56, a former Olney resident who gained acclaim as a virtuoso electric bassist for the jazz fusion band Weather Report, died Friday, Nov. 11, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

He died at the Fredericksburg, Va., home of his sister, Brenda B. Williamson, where he spent his final days.

"He died young, but I'll tell you, he didn't mess around, and we're proud of him," she said.

Mr. Bailey followed Jaco Pastorius as bassist for Weather Report during its final years, from 1982 to 1986. The group, formed in 1970, featured keyboards, saxophone, bass, drums, and percussion.

Two years after leaving the band, he launched a solo career, and over the next two decades, even as he battled ALS, Mr. Bailey played with the singer-songwriter Sting, the saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders and Kenny Garrett, the drummer Lenny White, the rapper LL Cool J, and the pop stars Lady Gaga and Madonna.

He composed music, produced other artists, and in 1989, released an album, Bottom's Up. "It was the first time I was ever recorded playing the way I REALLY PLAY, instead of just playing grooves for other people's records," he exulted on his website.

Mr. Bailey's was a musical family. His father, Morris Jr., was a composer, arranger, producer, and saxophonist.

At age 7, Mr. Bailey could pick out any tune on the piano. At 10, he wanted to play the drums, so his parents gave him a drum set for Christmas.

"When we set them up, I started playing immediately," he wrote in his online autobiography. "My mom said, 'How do you know how to play?' I said, 'I don't know.' I just did."

He joined his first band within a week, and immediately began playing gigs. A recording session followed three months later.

His switch to bass came by accident while still a boy. After he annoyed the members of his band by bossing them around, the group broke up. The drummer, however, wasn't ready to quit.

"'I'll play bass,'" he recalled telling the drummer. "That moment changed my life forever. Although I had never played before, I instantly understood the instrument. I not only played all the songs, but even added fills or 'runs,' as we called it at the time.

"My father, who never came downstairs to listen to any of my bands, came charging down the stairs yelling, 'Who's playing bass, who's playing bass?' When he saw it was me, he said, 'You should be a bass player.' I said, 'I know.' My days as a drummer were over."

Mr. Bailey graduated from Olney High School in 1978, and was accepted as a scholarship student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

During his second year there, drummer Poogie Bell came to Boston with the South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela's band. The band needed a bass player. Mr. Bailey was hired on the spot. He went to New York and took a room at the YMCA for $14 a night.

"When I think of that now, moving to NYC with $100 and no apartment was insane," he wrote online. "But I believed in myself that much, and told everyone that as soon as I arrived in the Big Apple, I would be as busy as any bassist in town."

It was no idle boast. The first year, he played behind other musicians on 50 albums. He also toured in South Africa. The drummer on tour was Omar Hakim. When he saw Hakim a year later, Hakim told Mr. Bailey that he was with Weather Report, which needed a bass player. "My eyes became the size of the Earth," he recalled.

A week later, Mr. Bailey joined Hakim as the group's rhythm section. "We laid down the definitive bass and drum performances in the band's history," Mr. Bailey wrote online.

After 1986, Mr. Bailey played on more than 1,000 recordings. He spent the 1990s on tour in Europe and Japan. In 1999, he signed a recording contract with ESC Records, which released Low Blow. In 2002, he released a CD, That's Right!

He started a band, CBW, with Larry Coryell and Lenny White, which produced two singles, Electric and Traffic. Both were done on the spot with no rehearsals, he wrote.

In the last two decades, Mr. Bailey lived with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that also struck his father and grandmother. The effects came on gradually, attacking his legs, then his upper body, but he kept touring, with the help of a cane and then a scooter.

He also taught at Berkelee. In October 2015, however, when the disease grew worse, his sister went to Boston to bring him home.

"I did it. No luck. All work," were his final words.

Besides his sister, he is survived by a brother and three nephews.

A viewing starting at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18, will be followed by a life celebration at noon, both at A.L. Bennett & Son Funeral Home, 200 Butternut Dr., Fredericksburg. Interment is private.