Bass players … you need ‘em.
The unsung heroes of the rock band. The dude or dudette in charge of makin’ sure the booties be shakin’. The ‘holder downeth of the low endeth.’ I remember as a kid growing up, my dad always played ‘air’ drums in the Volkswagen driving us around when we lived in St. Thomas. Bob Marley was playing on the radio at the time. THE RADIO. BOB MARLEY. What? “Family man” played some wicked grooves on his Fender bass. I heard Robbie Shakespeare. Then it happened. I heard Sting.
Sting is a yoga-doin’ bass player whom we have all heard of. The Police was his band, and they played reggae. Sorta … go back and listen to ‘Walkin on the Moon’ or ‘Bed’s Too Big Without You.” Reggae bass with a high lead vocal. Very cool. I guess for a long time I had no idea he was playing bass while he was singing or how difficult that actually was. Ask Gary Pratt, Clarence Williams, Billy C. and Eric Moore.
These local guys make it look easy. I went to see Les Claypool from Primus fame when he came to play the now defunct Shoreline Ballroom on Hilton Head Island. Great show, huge bass sound. Les made it look effortless. Same thing when I listened closer to The Beatles. Wonky, crazy bass lines going on during these intricate harmony vocals. Wow. Maybe the first guy to really come out and play bass in a melodic style and sing too.
Throughout my life I have been into a bunch of different styles of music.
I went through a Rush phase. Getty Lee had a high soaring voice and a very growly bass sound. Maybe he heard Jack Bruce from Cream. Jack had a high, grainy voice and played very melodic bass through Marshall Stacks! Gene Simmons from Kiss also turned me on to the fact that a bass player could sing, play his instrument and move around or maybe even dress up a little. Bootsy Collins sang a little here and there (his solo albums are a bit weird) but maybe inspired Esperanza Spalding, a modern ‘jazz’ singer who sports a super sweet afro and sultry vocals. Thundercat is another guy who I like that you might have only heard recently on Kendrick Lamar’s newest album.
Of course, in the ‘80s we had Kip Winger, doing some hair metal with difficult playing and singing, maybe inspired by Brian Jones of the Beach Boys. Two totally different sounding guys, but both had high voices and liked hair. Lemmy from Motorhead is a great writer, and has a young man that he hired to walk around and make sure his drink is always full. Was Phil from Thin Lizzy inspired by Jack Bruce? Is this getting confusing yet? Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth plays bass. Tom Araya from Slayer is a bass player with beautiful long hair and a very fast right hand.
Next time you’re out and about, you can ask Marc Cote (local hair metal connoisseur and avid runner) or Super Dave Mckinley (drummer and captain) how many left handed bass players they can name that sing.