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You might call Ladi Geisler the Carol Kaye German pop. That is, if you knew who Carol Kaye was. For like Kaye, Geisler played on thousands of pop music sessions, laying down bass or guitar lines in hundreds of Top Ten hits, without any credit outside the union session sheets. In Kaye's case, you can hear her all over the charts, from Motown soul ballads to Beach Boys surf songs to Ventures instrumentals.
In Geisler's case, it was on most of the 1960s recordings by Germany's pop triumvirate, Bert Kaempfert, James Last, and Freddy Quinn. In Kaempfert's case in particular, Geisler made a pivotal contribution--the plucked-suppressed bass beat that gave Kaempfert tunes like "Danke Schoen" and "That Happy Feeling" a hook that could catch a 500-pound marlin.
Geisler became a German thanks to Hitler's 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland. In 1943, at the tender age of 15, he was drafted into the Luftwaffe, where he was trained to fly the Messerschmidt 262, the first combat jet fighter. Luckily for his sake, he was captured by the British before he completed training: the casualty rate among teen-aged Luftwaffe pilots was almost 100%!
Already proficient on trumpet and violin, while a POW, he learned the guitar from a fellow prisoner. He also became acquainted with pianist Horst Wende (who later recorded as "Roberto Delgado"), and after the war, the two formed a combo. Around the same time, Geisler heard the electric guitar for the first time, played by Oscar Moore on Nat "King" Cole singles. Inspired by the sound, he studied electronics and assembled his own amplifier. Electric guitar (and bass) has remained his instrument of choice ever since.
In 1955, he joined the orchestra of Radio Hamburg, where he met Kaempfert, and soon after, became one of the studio regulars at Polydor, where Kaempfert ran pop music production. Polydor's Hamburg studio was the premier factory in the European pop music industry, so Geisler and his colleagues played on over 1,000 sessions a year, adapting to styles from polka to rock-and-roll. Work at Polydor brought him into the periphery of Beatles history: early Beatles bassist Tony Sheridan borrowed Geisler's amp to record the band's first session.
Geisler spent most of the next 20 years in the Hamburg studio. Kaempfert rarely toured, and Last and other bandleaders hired other musicians for their road bands. Geisler occasionally recorded instrumentals under his own name, sometimes with a backing band known as the Playboys. He had German chart hits with covers of "Calcutta," "Wheels," and other tunes. A selection of these can be heard on the Bear Family compilation.
Since his retirement from studio work, Geisler has focused on jazz work. He's performed at festivals and clubs around Europe, and has recorded several CDs, often playing in the style of one of his early influences, Django Reinhardt.
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