Tina and Tracy: Punk Poetesses of the Bass

If Rock ‘n’ Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner wishes to make amends for proclaiming female musicians not “articulate” enough to be included in his recent book The Masters, he could add a wing to the Hall devoted to “Women Who Rock the Bass.” The inaugural member would have to be Carol Kaye, whose discography runs from “A” (Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights) to “Z” (Frank Zappa’s Freak Out!).

Also included would be the Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and the Waitresses’ Tracy Wormworth. While there was no doubt in the Waitresses’ camp that Tracy had the chops, Heads’ leader David Byrne had misgivings about Tina, making her audition three times for the gig.

Her drummer husband, Chris Frantz, noted in his excellent autobiography Remain in Love that David wanted to fire Tina before their debut album was released. Chris explained why David wasn’t Tina’s biggest fan: “Tina had not played rock and roll before Talking Heads and did not have a repertoire of standard blues and rock bass licks in her musical vocabulary. Her approach was more classical. She invents every part anew. This was one reason Talking Heads sounded so unique.”

In recent interviews promoting the re-release of their joyous 1984 Stop Making Sense film, whenever the group was asked if they would reunite, a peeved David Byrne looked like he wanted to disappear. The bad blood may have started when David took full credit for “Life During Wartime” from 1979’s Fear of Music.

When his bandmates protested, David finally gave them credit. He admitted: “As a younger person, I was not as pleasant to be around. When I was working on some Talking Heads shows, I was more of a little tyrant.” Tina begged to differ, saying in 2023 that David was the same as he ever was. She stated in an interview with American Songwriter: “In interviews, David always says he’s happy and I’d like to believe that. But if he’s happy, why does he refuse to refer to Chris and I or Jerry [keyboardist Harrison] by name? He calls us ‘people he used to play with.’ I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve realized that people act like animals. Some are doves: beautiful and peaceful, like Chris. Unfortunately, some are sly foxes.”

If it wasn’t for Tracy Wormworth, the Waitresses would be known as a one-hit (“I Know What Boys Like”) wonder—instead of a two-hit band. Waitresses’ songwriter/leader, David Butler noted that Tracy’s work on “Christmas Wrapping” drove the song: “You give something like that to Tracy Wormworth and she just runs with it.”

Tracy remembered: “’Christmas Wrapping’ became popular way after the band broke up. Chic was really popular with ‘Good Times’ and that’s where the inspiration for that bassline came from. I was so inspired by what Bernard Edwards played.”

She recalled how she got into the band: “A friend of the Waitresses saw me when I was walking down the street with my bass. He told me they were looking for a bass player, so I called them and auditioned.”

It was the first of many auditions she passed, including one for Sting that got her off cramped tour buses and into spacious private jets for his 1987-1988 tour. Other successful auditions for a touring bassist role included ones with Cyndi Lauper and Wayne Shorter. Those pale in comparison to one superstar who, in 1991,  invited her to try out for his band.

Tracy stated: “I was working with a friend of mine on a musical, and I was workshopping it with him in a studio in Philadelphia. In the middle of it, I got a call from the front desk, so I went down and picked up the phone. The person at the other end said ‘Hi, I’m with Mick Jagger’s management, and Mick would like to speak with you.’ I said ‘What? Okay!’ and made the call to Mick, trying not to lose it. He was super nice and asked me if I wanted to come down and audition with the Rolling Stones. I was given a list of songs they wanted to do and I went down to the audition. As I arrived, Garry Tallent of the E Street Band was leaving. It was that level of audition! I was like ‘What am I doing here?’ but I did the audition anyway. I think Charlie Watts really wanted Darryl Jones because he had played with Miles Davis. Word came to me afterward that ‘Tracy is the one to beat’ and I was like ‘Get the hell out of here!’”

She recovered from Mick’s rejection and since 1992, has played with the B-52s on two albums and their never-ending farewell tour.

Tina and Tracy have certainly done and seen it all in the music business, except write the obligatory autobiography. If Tracy doesn’t know where “the bodies are buried,” she might ask former Waitress bandmate David Butler; he lives in the childhood home of Jeffrey Dahmer.

-Mark Daponte

Photo composite:  Tina Weymouth, 1977 (Michael Markos via Wikimedia Commons); Tracy Wormworth, 2009 (Angie Garrett via Wikimedia Commons)



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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

1 comment on “Tina and Tracy: Punk Poetesses of the Bass

  1. Cliff Cherry

    Very cool! Loved The Waitresses and Tom Tom Club

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