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Low Notes: A Tribute to Some of the Best Bass Players

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Melodic percussive Thunder holding down the bottom end, sticking the rhythm and the foundation of chordal progressions.

Such is a partial description of what the electric bass means in all forms of today's Music.

I'm going to pry open my skull for a bit, and allow some thoughts on the lineage highpoints of the 4-string to spill onto the screen in hopes of sharing a glimmer of my perceived evolution concerning the bass.

We'll be exploring the subject by having a look at some of the players who I think made a big difference in style, technique, and approach to the instrument and its Rockin' role.

E = John Entwhistle of the Who broke the mold with his intricate use of the pentatonic scale, incredible breakthrough in fingering techniques, and the struggle to be heard amidst Townshend and Moon. A pioneer of the Marshall stack and bi-amping, it might have been his cranking of the treble control all the way up that helped foster the unique sound he continuously explored and developed over his career.

Yet few can argue that "My Generation" is the song that cast aside old views about what the bass was for, and took those first steps onto the role of the 4-string as a "lead" Instrument.

R.I.P. John, you are sorely missed, but never to be forgotten.

A = Geddy Lee of Rush who took up the cause of the bass as a lead with a fervor. His left hand is renown for its virtuosity coupled with the rhythmic intensity and odd time counts of his right hand which created a sound and approach to the 4-string that has earned him six times bass player of the year and induction to the Bass Player Hall of Fame according to Guitar World magazine. His influence on so many other players is incalcuable, but your humble narrator freely admits he bought his first bass guitar after seeing Rush in the Felt Forum for the 2112 tour.

Currently touring their latest album… go see these guys if you never have, you won't regret it.

D = Lemmy, the Master of Motorhead. "Everything louder than anyone else" is not just a slogan with Lemmy, but a philosophical mantra. Coming from the prog-rock band of Hawkwind, Lemmy stepped out on his own to do something radically different. Standing astride both the nascent punk and fledgling metal genres, Lemmy introduced sheer speed into the mix with his pick strumming power chords on the bass at ludicrous velocity. All controls on his signature Richenbacher turned all the way up, Marshall amps with bass and treble controls turned all the way down, and mid-range cranked to 11 provided a unique and blistering soundscape that ripped your face off. Still rocking strong past the 60 year mark, a Motorhead show is not to be missed.

"Don't try and dance to this song, you'll break your fucking neck"Lemmy, nuff said?

G = Les Claypool of Primus is last, but certainly not least. His superhuman agility with the Instrument and bizarre sense of sonic propulsion places Les in a category by himself. Snapping, popping, tapping, strumming, fingerpicking… any technique that could produce a sound is accomplished with seeming ease by Claypool. Quirky and innovative, he achieves sounds like no other, and demonstrates an impish glee in spewing it all over his audience like they are in on the joke.

After Cliff Burton died, Les auditioned for Metallica and didn't get the job because as James Hetfield said, "he's too good".

There's a sampling folks, and a brief touch upon 4 of the greats. Sound off with your thoughts in the comments section and let the Discussion begin!


The preceding was merely one sixth billionth's of the World's opinion… your mileage may vary.

Excelsior?

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About gonzo marx

  • http://mondoproject.com Mark Saleski

    hmmm, never thought of Lemmy…though i have to admit that every time i DO think of Lemmy it’s from the episode of The Young Ones when Motorhead appeared to do “Ace Of Spades”

    Claypool is crazy. not only a monster on the bass but a head full of ideas too.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    thanks Mark hope ya enjoyed…

    note for the Record – my title for the piece was simply Low Notes, but it seems that no matter what, editors will change things as they see fit (some of my strange capitalization, but the rest appears as i submitted it…besides the title)

    this one was for Jon Sobel here at BC..i had promised it to him some months ago

    first Article in a year…hope yas enjoy

    Excelsior?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Great Article….

    I’m sure we can all rattle off a list of the bassists that made us,at one point, aware of the endless landscape that Bass has to offer. But, my four would be:

    1.Steve Harris(Iron Maiden)- Not following the drums but being more a leader of the band.

    2.Michael Manring(Windham Hill,Solo,Attention Deficit,etc..) Truly breaking all boundaries & genres – A true monster on the bass!

    3.Steve DiGiorgio(Death, Autopsy, Control Denied, Testament, Vintersorg, Iced Earth, and Sadus)- Probably the first bassist that got me digging fretless, but, nonetheless a f*cking killer musician!!

    4.Billy David Gould(Faith No More) – Just a solid, funky,thrash type slap bassist that doesn’t get enough credit under Flea’s shadow.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    well, nobody so far has sounded off about their Thoughts on the topic…

    so let’s take a look at some others i think are Monsters in the Realm of the hallowed 4-String

    1990 and my drummer/housemate comes home with a new CD and a big ole grin pasted on his face, shoving the case of Infectious Grooves the Plague that Makes your Booty Move into my face to see the cartoonish lizard and killer clowns…and my first hearing of Robert Trujillo.

    this guy has 4 picks for fingers, a great ear and digital timing, as some say his style is Violent and Funky

    Robert now plays with Metallica, not one of my favorite bands…seen them twice…but i’d see them again to see Trujillo in action

    Excelsior?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well for some reason my post did not show up last night when I typed it…and now it is there.!Voila! I actually wrote it twice but I’m glad it didn’t double post.

    I loved Infectious Grooves second CD better but you are correct, Robert Trujillo was great. I really don’t think he gets the chance to open up w/ Metallica as they are pretty much stale now. (Don’t get me started).

    *Side Note* Michael Manring also helped develop the Hyperbass because in alot of his songs he does alternate tuning as well as tuning while playing.

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Brian, sometimes the anti-spam software brainfarts and blocks comments it shouldn’t. This is the most common explanation for comments not appearing on site. No need to double up when this happens just trust that the cleaners will fix it!

    Cheers

    Blogcritics Janitorial Services

  • Jetroark

    My only quibble with the list is it omits Chris Squire of Yes. Big oversight.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    shoot, i’d go see Metallica just to see Trujillo. the bits of footage of him during his tryouts (in Some Kind Of Monster) were scary. he really owned that material.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Nice piece and good use of media. I am waiting for Irving Cohen to come in and say, “Give me a C, a bouncy C!”

    Other bassists I enjoy (I hope this qualification keeps me from getting flamed) in no particular oder Flea, Roger Waters, David J, and Charles Mingus.

    The title change should help with search engines (you do want people finding it and reading it, don’t you?) and don’t see that it diminishes the piece. A rose by any other name.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    well now..some good folks being mentioned here

    part of my criteria was Innovation, bringing something new to the table…

    so while i enjoy Flea and think he’s awesome..it woudl have been Bootsy Collins i would have mentioned as an innovator in slap/pop/funk

    but ya get the Idea…

    Mingus, Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) and of course Jaco Pastourais have to make any list

    as fer the Title…meh..i choose my words with some care, and the Title was the way i wanted it…search engine keywords? changes the Game of naming things then…but nobody Asked me..

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    some of my favorite bass players are not associated so much with innovation as the ability to play just “the right notes”:

    Charlie Haden – though he did sort of invent his own thing during the early Ornette Years

    Mark Sandman – Morphine

    Joey Spampinato – NRBQ

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    My top five in no particular order would be:

    1.) Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane)

    2.) Gary Thain (Uriah Heep)

    3.) Chris Squire (Yes)

    4.) Paul McCartney (some band called the Beatles)

    5.) John Entwhistle (The Who)

    Fun article, but I’m kinda pissed that you beat me to it.

    -Glen

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    well Glen, didn’t know ya played the 5-string…

    heh

    all good Players mentioned, McCartney’s sense of harmony is impeccable, Casady held together quite a few bits of insanity with his low end…Squire a perennial master of his Instrument…Thain way overlooked by many (as so many great bassists are)

    and that Entwhistle guy…well i mentioned him, didn’t i?

    now here’s an unsung blast from the past…that should twist some younger kids heads around…

    Excelsior?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    And on the funk front, I’d put Larry Graham ahead of either Flea or Bootsy … much as I love them both.

    -Glen

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    “ahead of Bootsy”…..?

    blasphemer!!!

    Bootsy stretching out

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    There are bazillions of bass players that could be added to this but how about whoever it was that played bass in Chic?

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    gonzo, it may be kind of tedious but it really helps us to get readers if the titles of articles can draw in googlers and the like…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    Christopher – yes there are a bazillion great bass Players…

    but the title subhead that i did NOT write is misleading to my thrust, as it were

    if it had said “4 Influential Bass Players”, i could have lived with it…note the sub head i DID write was “4 Strings of Excellence and Innovation”….much more accurate to my Intent…if i had been Asked to come up with something more google-worthy that would be one thing…but to change a Considered title for a piece?

    not a happy gonzo about that…

    however, what bass Players would you put up there as Influential, Chris?

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    gonzo, your article was published by our esteemed Music Editor. Perhaps you could contact her directly in future and negotiate about titling? I’m sure she was doing her best to be helpful.

    Personally, if I had seen “Low Notes – 4 Strings of Excellence and Innovation” in Google, I’m not at all sure my first guess would have been that an appreciation of bass players was what it was about.

    Anyway, moving on, there are literally thousands of great bass players that could have been chosen so your article was pretty arbitrary really. I can’t help noticing that the music section of BC is by and large resolutely 20th Century. I’m uncertain as to whether that is something to do with the writers we have or, worse, something to do with music itself…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    well the excellence (technical virtuosity) and innovation descriptors i used narrow it down a lot…i went with the 4-string bit so i had to think of the 4 that i felt were both great technically but who had brought out something innovative in approach to the Instrument…

    i couldn’t even begin to count how many great Players there are…so many approaches and Style

    i was keeping it to Rock, because adding jazz Players into the mix gets real sticky really quick…and not in the good kind of way either…more like radioactive crazy glue toxins kind of sticky….

    but i digress

    Excelsior?

  • http://jonsobel.com Jon Sobel

    Let’s not keep repeating my embarrassing mistake (and thanks for the shout-out, gonzo) of putting an “h” in Entwistle where no “h” belongs. Are ya with me, fellas?

    I had the opportunity to play on one of Entwistle’s basses the other day. It’s crazy long. Many many many frets. Action extremely low, which certainly must have helped in his amazing technique.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/scott_deitche Scott Deitche

    At least bass players are easier to parse out into a list than guitarists- too many bass players are simply there, not adding anything to the song.

    Glad to see Geddy listed- there is no bass player that plays the way he does, especially with his single finger flamenco style he developed over the past decade.

    Some other faves of mine- Jack Bruce, Steve Harris, Stanley Clarke, and whoever is the guy playing bass with Ben Folds- cool tone and interesting parts.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    christopher, what do you mean by “resolutely 20th century”? what exactly would you like to see the focus on?

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Hi Mark,

    Well, to consider just the artists above:- The Who formed in 1964; Rush 1968; Motorhead 1975; Primus 1984; and so on.

    I’m not complaining about these bands or the othe artists mentioned in the comments, don’t get me wrong, there’s a load of great players and bands getting namechecked, but it just gives me pause to wonder why there doesn’t appear to be any more recent artists, that’s all…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    Jon – i stand corrected and color me embarrassed, i even link the wikipedia page which has his name spelled correctly!!

    d’oh!

    hope ya liked the Article

    Scott – can’t go wrong with Bruce,Harris and Clarke!

    Christopher – well now, ain’t heard many new bass players this millennia who satisfy both the excellence and innovation criteria…

    best i can do is the early work of D’amour with the song, Sober

    then you have Justin Chancellor in the current line up, so this millennia would be a bit Vicarious..

    which is a good live clip…but….

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    this clip of Schism has better sound, and a chance to hear Justin spread out and show off a bit more about just what he brings to the Instrument

    so, out of the 21st century guys..i’ll put Justin Chancellor of TooL up there…

    any others?

    Excelsior?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    bah..i messed up an earlier link…

    it should be TooL here… and Sober, live and then we will toss in as a bonus Sober, the original TooL video for good measure

    enjoy!

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Not to burst your bubble but Tool started in 1990!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    Christopher – which is why i separated it between the 90’s bass player in D’amour and Justin Chancellor who first appears on Lateralus in 2000!

    heh…notice that never once do my fingers leave my hand

    i even give you a link to Vicarious, which is a single from the 10,000 days album released last year, and whose live show i saw on Friday the 13th of this month

    so Chancellor is my choice for this new millennia’s Bass Player who fits the criteria

    you have any others?

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Of course the year 2000 was still in the 20th Century but never mind! The point I’m getting at is that either we’re a bunch of old farts or the standard of music has changed, possibly a bit of both.

    Arctic Monkeys are good but I wouldn’t call their bassist innovative…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    i think it has to do with the business of Music, Christopher

    the A&R folks don’t want to take any chances, so it’s more of the same, over and over and over

    leads to less exploration of Music and not enough new musicians are motivated enough to try and stretch out into something New, and Innovation is actively discouraged by record labels

    of the bands/Players i listed, only the Who really got radio airplay and big Recognition…

    Rush has remained huge , selling out every arena they played in for over the last 25 years plus, but never really got traction in popular culture, or much in the way of radio time…they hold true to their Art, and have stuck by thier guns…and made it bigtime by virtue of what they can do onstage and in the studio

    i know Motorhead are bigger in England and Germany than they are here in the States, but here i have never heard ANY Motorhead tune besides Ace of Spades on the radio in all my years…yet they still will play anywhere if they get paid and can fit it in the schedule…you can still catch them in large clubs to this very day, but never hear them anywhere else

    Primus has had 3 songs on light rotation during their heyday on the alternative rock stations (Jerry was a Race car Driver, My Name is Mud, and Winona’s big brown Beaver)..but not much else, and never any push from their label…they have always been just too weird

    yet for all of that, ask a Musician in Rock, and they know who these folks are

    not many of these new folks reach these heights….yet

    time will tell, eh?

    Excelsior?

  • duane

    Can’t argue with Entwistle, Geddy, and Les. Lemmy, I dunno. I haven’t listened to him much. My inclination would have been to give Jack Bruce (#22) the nod over Lemmy. And, as has been mentioned already (#10), Geezer was something else.

    I have heard people talk about Noel Redding as being an innovator, maybe not a virtuoso, but innovative, supposedly introducing the repeated note as a mainstay in rock music. Anyone know about this?

    Concerning Squire, my brother, who is an expert on things bass-ic has this to say (paraphrasing): “If you listen to Squire, you realize that he is unlike any other player that you have ever heard. Nobody would choose the notes he chooses. A big part of the ‘feel’ of Yes songs is owed to Squire. His playing makes sense in the context of a Yes song, but he would be just plain weird playing more conventional music. That’s why he’s not particularly influential. He’s too unconventional for most tastes.”

    As for Les, was there ever a more pleasing bass/drum combination than him and Herb Alexander? Maybe Geddy and Peart, but those guys need each other to really shine. The interplay between Peart and Geddy is often masked by the big Rush sound of guitar, synth, and vocals. Les and Herb play in a more barren ‘musical landscape’ (haha — sorry), which allows the interplay to be more apparent to the listener.

    Along the lines of #11, supposedly one of the bass players who is known for playing just ‘the right notes’ is Lee Sklar, session player extraordinaire.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    thanks for sounding off duane…

    “if Lemmy and God arm wrestled, who would win?”

    “it’s a trick question…Lemmy IS god!”old Rock Proverb

    on Rock n’ Roll when hairmetal was the craze…

    Lemmy brings pure speed to both Metal and Punk with that as an example…

    from Iron Maiden to Anthrax to Pantera, among the speedsters of Rock, all hail Lemmy as the Beginning of Thrash, hence my inclusion of him as a String…

    Excelsior?

  • Jetroark

    If you want to see one of the best bass players out there, check out this video of Yes’ Chris Squire doing a solo from the song Ritual.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    thanks for bringing some Squire goodness to the Thread!

    fine Choice indeed, and right up there in the top flight echelon

    Excelsior?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Though he is not “New Millenia”(?), Michael Manring is my top choice for innovation & invention from the 80’s all the way till now. As seen Here Mr. Manring uses three bass guitars to communicate his love of music with the brillant song,“My Three Moons”.

    He also developed the Hyperbass:click here

    This master & soulful explorer has recorded with Spastic Ink, Michael Hedges, Alex Skolnick (in the bands Skol-Patrol and Attention Deficit, also featuring Tim Alexander from Primus), Larry Kassin, Tom Darter, Steve Morse, David Cullen, Alex de Grassi, Will Ackerman and many other noted musicians.

    Again, he is a bass virtuoso if not The Bass God!!

  • Jetroark

    I may be showing my age here, but does anyone remember Jon Camp of Renaissance? An excellent prog rock/folk band from the 70s. Camp played a Rickenbacker solo on the live version of Ashes are Burning that was incredible.