Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Baker's Dozen Best Bassists Ever

I think it’s time for another list to stir up endless comments, disputes, and general name-calling towards yours-truly. Here’s a Baker’s Dozen of the Greatest Bass Players that ever walked the rock ‘n roll landscape. The criterion was simple: it’s a list of bassists that I’ve heard over the years and gone “that dude is a fine fucking bass player.” I’ve missed a bunch, which is where your comments come into play.

I use the word “dude” affectionately, because there might be some chick bass players out there that would qualify as both a “dude” and a “great bass player,” but I’ll be damned if I can name one right now. I’m just sayin’…

At the end, I’ve put together a few honorable mentions, because narrowing it down to just 13 is hard enough. And then I’ve thrown together a quick list of bassists that I think are totally overrated. You know, the kind that gets name-checked or mentioned in some circles without really demonstrating what makes them so great at their craft.

Disagree with the results? Speak up and comment or get your own website and make your own fucking list.

Here are my favorite thunder-broomers that tickle my anus.

1.) John Entwistle

You know, I had reservations with this one, but not because I doubt John’s worthiness on this list. If you may recall, I placed Who drummer Keith Moon at the top of the rock drummers list last year, and Entwistle’s inclusion here means that the entire rhythm section of The Who is the best rhythm section ever. Not really. When you look at both Moon and Entwistle’s playing, they hardly qualify as a traditional rhythm section since both parties seem to be playing whatever the goddamn please. Somehow, this weird algorhythm of soloing manages to blend together in a very unique way, but it’s the duo’s individual contributions that are both easy to hear and admire. There’s an extra feature on The Kids Are Alright DVD that enables you to isolate Entwistle’s playing and if that demonstration doesn’t turn your head in admiration, then you probably have no respect for the instrument itself and what Entwistle can do with it.

2. Paul McCartney

Have you heard this guy? I mean heard his playing on those old Beatle records? Sir Paul doesn’t just plod along, laying down simple 4/4 notes, he’s all over the frets. While Entwistle may be coming up with more technically proficient licks, McCartney uses for creative use of the low-end that manages to both complement Ringo Starr’s drumming and sound perfect for the song itself. Those “songs,” by the way, may just be some of the greatest compositions in rock history, so to fit in so wonderfully and be as complex as they are is amazing. People tend to forget that McCartney spent a number of years playing two/three shows a night gigs that helped him become intimately familiar with his instrument.

3.) Jaco Pastorious

I thought about removing Jaco from the list because he really didn't fit the rock mode. But he probably influenced more rock bassists than jazz ones, and like a lot of other players on this list, he was so good that he transcended most genres.

4.) Steve Harris

I believe that if it weren’t for Steve Harris, there wouldn’t have been a Cliff Burton. There wouldn’t have been a lot of high-profile metal bassists for that matter. Not only did he increase the visibility of the instrument, he raised the bar in terms of its performance.With three guitar players competing beside him, Harris’ lightening fast fingers put it at a level of any hot shit six stringer and it helped place Iron Maiden at a different level than most heavy metal bands. While most bands may have been content with one or two top-notch guitarists, a notorious front man, or a stunningly quick drummer, Harris was a part of a band that had greatness around every corner, occasionally stopping people dead in their tracks before they had a chance to admire anything else.

5.) Mike Watt

The story goes, D. Boon’s Mom was the one who suggested Watt take up the bass after noticing her son wasn’t really showing proficiency at it. The thing was, Watt didn’t know how to play it either, so he approached it like a regular guitar-albeit with two less strings-and he got good. Really good. He played with his fingers, emulating both funk and jazz while being fueled by punk, a genre that praised those who couldn’t play their instruments. It was hard to hate someone like Watt who practiced what he preached when he wasn’t practicing his instrument. And every time a roadblock was thrown his way, Watt picked up his thunderbroom and moved on, picking up new friends, new admirers and new techniques every step of the way.

6.) Peter Hook

Hook played with a pick. He played high on the neck. And he usually provided the melody in a band that was too bummed to worry about things like melody. The “riffs” he came up with were awesome, and when the lead singer killed himself, he took his riffs, applied them to electronic beats and-surprise-kept on winning. I think a lot of gearheads would find Hook's inclusion arguable, but for me I love his style so much that every time I pick up a bass guitar, I end up playing like Peter Hook.
For a visual reference, here's a picture of me "playing" the bass over two decades ago from a flier from my band's 1987 "Steaming Weenies World Tour."

The joke of that picture is not the long hair, but the fact that I don't play bass.

7.) Bootsy Collins

When a guy manages to lend jobs with both James Brown and George Clinton, you know he’s pretty decent. Such is the case for Bootsy, one of funk’s premier bass players and a performer that has created such influence that his style transcended his confines of his genre. He’s a man so good at what he does that you can stop with only his first name and people know exactly who you’re talking about and what he does for a living.

8.) John Paul Jones
My guess is that John Paul Jones is probably so talented that he could probably take any instrument, master it in a few hours, and end up being able to teach a newcomer that instrument in a matter of days. With that being said, he shows an enormous amount of respect for his primary instrument and is wise enough to know when to play and when to lay off. It makes him somewhat invisible in a lot of Zeppelin’s material, but when he turns it on, he’s as good as anyone on this list-and probably better. Take a listen to “Immigrant Song” and pay attention to what he’s doing. It’s a great example of Jones playing what’s required-until the “On we sweep with threshing oar” part where he just destroys the bottom end. He’s also the kind of person that is smart enough to know that the bass is a vital part of any band.

9.) Robbie Shakespeare

If you’ve ever heard a reggae song, there’s a good chance that Robbie Shakespeare plays on it. Seriously, at last count, he’s been on probably 200,000 songs and during that prolific output, he (along with drummer Sly Dunbar) changed the face of reggae music a few times in the process. His playing is slow, deep, and sexy-but that’s just one of his many styles of playing. In others, he’s quick with pops and grooves. More than anyone else on this list, Robbie Shakespeare is probably responsible for how an entire genre sounds and his impact on that genre is hard to measure. One thing is for sure, without him, Reggae as we know it wouldn’t exist.

10.) Cordell “Boogie” Mosson
What does George Clinton do after his bass player-one who happens to be one of the greatest bassists in the world, mind you-decides that he’s big enough to go solo? He goes out and finds another bassists who just happens to be almost as good as the man he’s replacing. The way that Clinton is able to recruit talent is amazing, but the real amazement is with the player’s own performances. Collins and Mosson did double duty on the low end for many years, but Mosson’s parts are often overlooked or assumed to be by Collins who was the more flamboyant performer. Make no mistake, though, Cordell “Boogie” Mosson was “the bomb” is a line-up already filled with weapons of mass destruction.

11.) Cliff Burton

The argument could be made that when Cliff Burton died, so did the metal spirit of Metallica. It would have been interesting to see where the band would have gone if Burton would have lived. I’m not suggesting the band didn’t release anything worthy after Burton passed, but I don’t think the released anything as good as when he was alive. His playing was aggressive, fast, and complex. He played with his fingers, giving the instrument and even deeper sound as well as a unique one since metal players generally played with picks. One thing is for sure, Cliff Burton was probably the most talented musician in Metallica and when he passed there was nobody left in the band to challenge the authority of Ulrich/Hetfield. When Burton was alive, the only higher authority was the genre itself.

12.) Colin Moulding
Clearly from the school of McCartney, XTC’s Colin Moulding could recreate Macca in his sleep, but he also brought that deep reggae tones to the mix and complex rhythms to hold down the band’s frequent left turns. You’ve heard of playing in the pocket? Moulding is so far down in the groove that he’s covered in lint.

13.) Geddy Lee

There’s a theory that power trios are essentially three dudes with an ego problem and I could probably see that if we’re discussing Cream. But Rush always seems like three very talented guys who get off on playing together and when you’re in a band like Rush, you’ve got to be really good at what you do. He made Rickenbacker basses cool to metal kids and he got so good at it that he began playing keyboards while playing the bass at the same time.

Honorable Mentions:

• Jack Bruce
• Billy Cox
• Geezer Butler
• Les Claypool
• John Deacon
• Sting
• Flea

Most overrated:

• Gene Simmons
• Nikki Sixx
• Noel Redding
• Glenn Hughes
• John Myung
• Jason Newstead

The worst bass solo of all time:
• Michael Anthony


Kiko Jones said...

My list would be different, but I can't really knock yours. But I'll share w/you 5 of IMHO underrated low-end merchants. (Btw, who ever rated Simmons or Sixx highly?)

Here they are (in alphabetical order):

GEEZER BUTLER (Black Sabbath)
ANDY ROURKE (The Smiths)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction), Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots), Norwood Fisher (Fishbone), Duff McKagan–also a killer drummer!! (Guns’N’Roses), Quique Rangel (Café Tacuba).

(I go into further detail here:

Tanja said...

The only thing that surprised me was that you didn't put McCartney as #1. Here's 2 of my favorites, not as well known as the ones on yours: Rob Wright of Nomeansno and Simon Templar of the Rezillos (In the liner notes of one of their albums, J Mascis calls it the "hottest bass playing ever" High praise.

Todd Totale said...

Kiko, it was tough coming with this list and immediately I felt like revamping. One of them is indeed Geezer. When I saw him live with Heaven & Hell a few years ago, that was one of the things that my cousin and I first commented on: Whoa! Geezer is an awesome bassist! I think I would put him where I have Cliff Burton now-or maybe Boogie since he hasn't done much in the last few decades. But everything else is pretty well set.
Or is it? I totally forgot about Mike Gordon from Phish and Dave Schools from Widespread Panic is pretty awesome too.
I'd add them to the honorable mentions list, but I'm too lazy.

Todd Totale said...

Tanja-Macca is so clever on the bass, but The Ox is just so dominating on his instrument that I had to put him in the top spot.

Cousin J said...

Like Kiko, I might add one or two but that's a damn fine list. I thought that everyone always knew Gene that sukked it. I'd rate Geddy higher but I'm biased. Geezer Buter really did shine live. I'd probably add Dave Ellefson to my honorable mentions. Duff too for adding some interesting melodies behind the guitars. Can't wait to see Steve Harris live! Also, It would be neck & neck between Anthony & Simmons for worst Bass solo ever but Gene wins only because he spits blood while detuning his bass.

Kiko Jones said...

Cousin J,

Dave Ellefson is a nice honorable mention; good one.

As sucky as Michael Anthony may have been, he gets over-all points over Simmons for those great harmonies he sang on the early VH records. I mean, Gene couldn't sing, couldn't the fuck is this mofo a so-called rock'n'roll icon? Ugh...

DJMurphy said...

Donald "Duck" Dunn

Otherwise, yeah, the Ox belongs on top of the heap. Hands down.