A Selection of Great Bassists

(Pictured – Ron Carter)

Sometimes as a blogger you either have no particular post in mind or perhaps some other one entirely. And then something comes your way that compels you to write a post. Such an occasion happened today when Rolling Stone – a magazine I know you all love(?) – released their 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time list. If I have any disappointment, it is that the Allmans’ bassist Berry Oakley did not make the cut. Anyway, here are a few of my favorites from the list.

[RS]. “My name is John Francis Pastorius III, and I’m the greatest bass player in the world.” That was Jaco Pastorius’ opening line to Joe Zawinul when he met the Weather Report keyboardist backstage at a 1974 Miami show.

Wikipedia: Jaco Pastorius was an American jazz bassist who was a member of Weather Report from 1976 to 1981. He worked with Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell and recorded albums as a solo artist and bandleader. His bass playing employed funk, lyrical solos, bass chords, and innovative harmonics. As of 2017, he is the only electric bassist of seven bassists inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame.  

From Heavy Weather, here’s an example of his tasty playing on “Teen Town.”

Spotify link

I’ve always dug the Red Hot Chili Peppers and was, frankly, disappointed when I wrote about them a while back and no one seemed to care. Are they passe? Hell, I think they’re great. That funky rap sound they produce so eloquently and often shirtlessly is driven like a freight train by Flea as much as anyone else.

[RS] “My goal was to become a jazz trumpet player, but then I got into my early teens and I had to rebel against my parents. All I wanted to do was be a punk rocker and play the bass.”

Flea has done some outside work but it’s his playing with the Peppers that’s made him so beloved, from his Bootsy Collins–inspired slapping work (“Higher Ground,” “Sir Psycho Sexy”) to his poignant melodic moments (“Soul to Squeeze,” “By the Way”). “The Red Hot Chili Peppers are Flea,” Anthony Kiedis told Rolling Stone in 1994. “He’s such an essential portion of this pie that it’s impossible to think that the band would exist without him.”

From Mother’s Milk, the crazed “Stone Cold Bush.”

Spotify link

In my series on the Talking Heads, ME said this: Tina Weymouth’s bass playing is the propulsive engine of this band. Listen to her on any of these tunes and tell me I’m wrong.” She is the mistress of the deep, soulful, sexy bass.

[RS] “And it’s a grave injustice that Byrne has always gotten the lion’s share of the credit for their accomplishments. Weymouth was a critical part of Talking Heads’ songwriting team — even if she didn’t always get credited — and she brought an effortless cool to everything they did. “Had there been no Tina Weymouth in Talking Heads,” said the band’s drummer and Weymouth’s husband of the past 40 years, Chris Frantz, “we would be just another band.”

Coincidentally, Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by the Pepper’s Anthony Kiedis.

Here’s their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” from More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Spotify link

James Jamerson is a name that was, frankly, unknown to most of us back in the day. Other than the featured performers on Motown songs, the background guys’ names were largely a mystery. Nor frankly were most of us thinking about it as we were too busy getting our groove thang on. (I don’t even know what that means but I figure it makes me sound hip.)

Wikipedia: He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. As a session musician, he played on twenty-three Billboard Hot 100 number one hits, as well as fifty-six R&B number one hits.

In its special issue The 100 Greatest Bass Players in 2017, Bass Player magazine ranked Jamerson number one and the most influential bass guitarist. In 2011, Jamerson ranked third in the “20 Most Underrated Bass Guitarists” in Paste magazine. And Rolling Stone has him at Numero Uno.

Listen to how the bass rolls in Gladys Knight’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and ask yourself what the fuck happened to music like this? And why do people always say to me, Man, you’re a real pip. You know that?

Spotify link

For a guy (yours truly) who purports to play guitar, I sure haven’t written a whole hell of a lot about jazz guitarists. Certainly not, to my recollection, about Wes Montgomery who was probably the first jazz guitarist I ever heard. To this day, one of the most influential guitarists ever. But since this post is about bassists, let’s focus on his bass player, Ron Carter, for an album called SO Much Guitar!

[RS] “With more than 2,200 credits to his name as of fall 2015, he earned a Guinness World Record a year later for the most recorded bassist in jazz history. Beyond the raw numbers, the range of Carter’s CV is astounding, from anchoring the Sixties Miles Davis quintet that reshaped jazz on a molecular level to bringing an unshakeable drive to classic Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin sides, providing a plush rhythmic bed for bossa nova pioneer Antônio Carlos Jobim, and finding the swing in Bach.

Here are Carter and Wes together on “Twisted Blues:”

Spotify link

Lastly, what can I say about the Ox that hasn’t already been said? John Entwistle of the ‘oo is ranked #3 on Rolling Stone’s list (behind Jamerson and Charles Mingus. Rolling Stone says this: The Who’s John Entwistle had a lot of nicknames, including the Ox, due to his imposing build and endless appetites, and the Quiet One, because of his stoic demeanor.

But the most apt was one Thunderfingers, a name bestowed upon him because every time he played a note on the bass it sounded like a vicious storm coming over the horizon. It was a style he developed to be heard while playing on the same stage as flamboyant showboats Keith Moon and Pete Townshend, but he brought a remarkable fluidity and grace to his role that was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before.

“Entwistle was arguably the greatest rock bassist of them all,” said Rush’s Geddy Lee, “daring to take the role and sound of the bass guitar and push it out of the murky depths while strutting those amazing chops.”

And you know what we haven’t had yet in this roundup? A tasty bass solo. This one’s from Atlanta, 2000:

26 thoughts on “A Selection of Great Bassists

  1. Great list! I might have mentioned a few others, starting with a dynamite female bassist who Rolling Stone sadly ignored: Tal Wilkenfeld. Admittedly, I know about the 33-year-old Australian lady because of her association with Jeff Beck.

    As a yuge Beatles fan – and as such completely unbiased – I have to mention Paul McCartney, who I would argue has played some of the most beautiful melodic bass lines. BTW, McCartney has identified James Jamerson as one of his key influences.

    Next is Pino Palladino. His bass part in Paul Young’s ’80s cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Wherever I Lay My Head (That’s My Home) ” is some of the most beautiful fretless bass playing I know.

    As for The Ox, watching this solo with him remaining nearly motionless just wants me to throw away my bass – what’s the friggin’ point? Even if I’d practice 8 hours every day, I wouldn’t be able to play something like this – not even close! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To bring it all full circle, Tal’s band opened for the Who when Sonny Boy and I saw them. And yes, I’ve seen Beck playing with her on the tube. McCartney is high on RS’es list and of course, mine as well.

      I know Pino’s name and playing. Again – the Who. After Ox died, he took over from him and plays on Endless Wire.

      Isn’t that solo incredible? They played one like that as a video when I saw the guys. My having seen the Who exactly once is a crime and a travesty of justice. No excuse.

      As to your own playing, just say to yourself the following: I am a fucking genius on the bass. Say that every day. Live the dream! One way or the other, something will happen. 🙂

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    2. My immediate reaction was that Tal Wilkenfield was missing as well. The one thing about publishing lists is that inevitably folks get their knickers in a twist cuz someone’s missing. I think that’s half the fun: provoking folks. Aside from Tal, I’ll throw out “Leo Lyons from Ten Years After is missing!”. There was often some nice bass work going on when Alvin Lee went off on extended jams.

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      1. Agree on those. I reviewed TYA “Undead” a while back. My own pet peeve, as mentioned, is overlooking Berry Oakley. His bass playing was key to ABB sound. And frankly he crushes Phil Lesh.

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  2. I like this list a lot – Jamerson is unimpeachably great, and Pastorius is amazing. I’ve been listening to Ron Carter recently on Aretha Franklin’s Soul ’69 too. For me, Flea is an amazing bass player who I don’t hear enough of because I can’t handle Anthony Kiedis.

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  3. So many good ones Doc. You featured a couple I really dig. Jazz is sprinkled with so many, Carter left Davis when he went to do Bitches Brew if I remember correctly. Because I was introduced to the rock thing first, the 3 that stand out for me were Bruce, Entwistle and Squire.So many other good ones.

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    1. Did you go over to the RS link that was in the piece? I used that list to choose from. Your guy Mingus is second on the list. It’s funny that you mention Bruce and Squire as I was tempted to do them. But I’ve done both of them before. And I knew I had to get that great Entwistle solo in.

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      1. Just had a quick look at it.
        I remember a solo by the Ox that you featured before. It was long and really good. He really was amazing. I would have liked to see him branch out and do more instrumentals similar to what Bruce did. Similar to the Apostrophe cut he did with Zappa.

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        1. I thought I might have done that wasn’t sure. As good as the Who were with him and Moonie, they were never really an instrumental band. They do longish passages on “Tommy,” but they’re not jams, that’s for sure. Jim Gordon was the drummer on the ‘Apostophe’ cut of course. That guy was everywhere before he took a nutty. Happy belated Canada Day BTW. Hope you played a lot of hockey or whatever it is you do.

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        2. You are right. The Who were all about .. the The Who. One of the reasons I loved them. About making their sound. I just skimmed the list. I dont think I saw Ray Brown. He probably played on half of all jazz albums ever made. A neighbor of yours. A good Pennsylvania kid.
          Yeah, I played with my new pet Grizzly, hung out in a sweat lodge with my native friends. Had bacon and eggs with Bob and Doug and got shit faced with a few hockey buddies. See if you can top that tomorrow.

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        3. That sounds like more fun than a barrel of Molson. I plan on going to our beloved President’s “Set South Dakota on Fire” tribute out at Mt. Rushmore. My sources tell me you may be just somewhere north of that. Come on down and we’ll roast weiners while we listen to Ray Brown records.

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        4. I cant even question the validity of that outing. That’s CB country. From what I gather Don isnt to popular back home. but a weiner roast puts everyone in a good mood. Bring your guitar and well crank up some good American music like Louie Louie, Sounds like my kind of party.

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        5. Just clued into the Rushmore thing. Where’s El Kabong when you need him. I dont watch the news so I was out of the loop. Maybe getting a handle on a heath and safety issue should be first up down there. Second state of business is to … Rock On Doc! Have a good 4th

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  4. Man there’s some real talent on this post… I’ve since revisited your RHCP piece. If I were to sit down and put such a list together of my favourite bass players (I’ve got a lot of time on my hands these days and I’ve still got drummers and guitarists to go) I’d have to include someone like Novoselic or Jeff Ament. I’d also add Susan Stenger from Band of Susans

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