Oftentimes, when people think about rock bands, the bass player is not the member that comes to mind first. Especially, for guitar-oriented rock, it’s usually the singer and especially the lead guitarist who get most if not all of the attention – after all, the lead guitarist is the guy who gets to play the cool solos. But while typically being less in the limelight, the bass player actually is an essential part of any rock band!
As a former hobby bass player, I’m of course completely unbiased here. But let’s face it, what would music be without a great groove? And that’s exactly where the bass player comes in, together with the drummer. These two guys form the core rhythm section of any rock band, and they better are on the same page!
Okay, so after having reiterated the importance of the bass player, now on to the fun part: yet another list, specifically of great bass players. There are actually many who come to mind. Undoubtedly, I don’t know all of them – not even close! But with a little help from Bass Player Magazine, the task becomes less daunting. So let’s get to it, in no particular order:
Of course, I have to start with somebody who is associated with The Beatles – I just can’t help it! McCartney is not a technical virtuoso, which I recall he has admitted himself in interviews. The thing that’s great about McCartney is not technique, but his beautiful melodic style. As The Beatles became more sophisticated in using recording technology in the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded the bass part as one of the last tracks of the song. That way, he could hear the other instrumental parts and truly add to the music with a nice bass melody. While Rubber Soul only represents The Beatles’ early transition to more advanced studio work, McCartney’s bass part on Drive My Car is among my favorites.
In some regards, John Entwistle to me falls on the other end of the spectrum when compared to McCartney. While according to Bass Player Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time, Entwistle did not consider himself to be a “proper” bass player, his virtuosity was off the charts – and he played all his crazy parts in such a cool and relaxed manner! I was fortunate enough to witness this myself during a great show of The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2000, less than two years prior to Entwistle’s untimely death at age 57 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Perhaps, the ultimate Entwistle part is his epic solo in My Generation.
Together with drummer Ian Paice, Roger Glover forms the kick-ass rhythm section of Deep Purple. My favorite Glover part is the terrific bass solo in Pictures of Home, one of the great tunes on Machine Head; if I would have to choose one 70s hard rock album, I think it would be this record. Undoubtedly, there were other important bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but to me it’s still Deep Purple. I’m actually going to see them for the first time ever at the end of August. Three of the legendary Mark IV members, Paice, Glover and singer Ian Gillan, are still part of the mix! Glover’s solo, BTW, starts at 3:40 minutes.
Graham Maby is best known for his association with Joe Jackson with whom he has worked since Jackson’s 1979 studio debut Look Sharp! One of my favorite Maby moments is his bass part on Geraldine and John, from I’m the Man, Jackson’s best album in my opinion. It’s another great example of melodic bass playing, though Maby also plays hard-pumping, punk rock-oriented bass parts on that album. I just dig the man’s sound!
This 30-year-old lady from down under simply is an amazing overachiever. Tal Wilkenfeld has worked with the likes of Jeff Beck, Prince, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock – oh, and this band called The Allman Brothers. In addition, this Australian dynamo is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who fronts her own band. Is there anything she can’t do? While in 2008 Wilkenfeld was voted The Year’s Most Exciting New Player in a poll of readers of Bass Player and was also recognized by the publication in 2013 with the Young Gun Award, surprisingly, she’s not on their 100 Greatest Bass Player list – definitely an oversight! Just watch this amazing clip of Wilkenfeld with Beck and you know why. BTW, she was 20 years at the time!
Apart from being a songwriter and talented acoustic guitarist, Sting is also a great bassist. Bass Player credits him for bringing reggae influences into rock when he was still with The Police, citing tunes like Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You. One of my favorite Sting bass parts from his time with The Police is in Spirits In the Material World, from the band’s fourth studio album Ghost in the Machine, released in 1981.
To me, this exceptional session bassist will always remain synonymous with the fretless bass. And perhaps no other tune captures this better than Paul Young’s cover of the beautiful Marvin Gaye tune Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) – ah, the 80s are coming back to me! For the record, at the time, I owned a fretless in addition to a regular bass, but whatever I tried, I just could never create that distinct fretless sound – not even close!
Jack Bruce is considered to be one of the greatest rock bassists. When he passed away in October 2014 at the age of 71, there were countless tributes from fellow music artists. According to Rolling Stone, former Cream band mate Eric Clapton said, “he was a great musician and composer, and a tremendous inspiration to me.” The same story also recalled Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters saying in his 100 Greatest Artists tribute to Cream that Bruce was “probably the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been.” While Bruce had a serious career prior to and post Cream, he will probably always best be remembered as the singer and bassist of the rock supergroup power trio, who also co-wrote some of their best known songs like I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love and White Room. Here’s a nice clip of Sunshine of Your Love from Cream’s 2005 reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Just like Cream, Canadian rock legends Rush are a power trio. And just like Jack Bruce was, Geddy Lee is Rush’s singer and bassist. In addition to a remarkable vocal range, Lee oftentimes uses his bass as a lead instrument. His signature style is characterized by high treble sound and furiously hard playing of the strings. Bass Player also notes his “multi-tasking chops: His ability to trigger samples, play keys, step on bass pedals, and sing vocal parts in odd time signatures while nailing Rush’s complex yet catchy bass lines…” Here’s a nice illustration of Lee’s playing – a live performance of the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone, which first appeared on Rush’s 1993 studio album Counterparts.
Stephen Oliver Jones
Who? Stephen Oliver Jones (Ojay) currently does not play in any famous band, but maybe he should. Also known as the Jimi Hendrix of the bass, he used to be a professional musician. Now it appears he’s a street musician and a YouTube sensation. During a 2015 interview with the Draper on Film blog, Jones explained he is self-taught and used to play in a rap rock band called Dust Junkys from Manchester, England. The following YouTube clip, which has more than 1.6 million views, showcases Jones’ incredible talent. When I first saw it on Facebook, I was blown away. And since this hasn’t changed, it was an easy decision to include Ojay in this list. He is going full-blown Hendrix at 2:48 minutes – unreal!
Sources: Bass Player Magazine: The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time (Feb 2017); Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Draper on Film, YouTube