Top Ten: Bassists You Should Listen To
Maybe it’s because I’m feeling nostalgic now that David Letterman has announced his retirement, and with that comes the retirement of his infamous Top Ten List. Maybe it’s because I enjoy sharing my opinion on bassists you should listen to, and like reading a lot of angry retorts. But maybe, as a musician that works hard to continually improve, listening is one of the easiest things we can do to achieve that goal. And with that in mind, I present to you yet another TOP TEN list, but this one’s a bit different. These are guys/gals that you probably haven’t heard of, but you owe it to yourself to listen to them. Let us begin.
Insert Disclaimer Here: This one purposely has musicians that, given the responses that have accompanied the previous lists, you haven’t heard of. Instead of being upset that your favorite musician was omitted and how that’s a huge slam against any sort of credibility this list may have, listen to some of these players first. You might find some new sounds to enjoy.
Seth Horan: A lot of people really admire Victor Wooten. A lot of people really like Sting, Geddy and others because they can sing while they play. Well, what if there was a guy that could play like Wooten AND sing on top of it? Meet Seth Horan. He’s got killer chops, and it’s only rivaled by his musicianship and songwriting abilities.
Evan Marien: Evan uses technology in ways that no bass player really has yet. He’s not just playing with effects and creating sonic landscapes (although he does that too). He’s using loopers, delay pedals, samples, etc.. basically everything that’s available right now and applying it to his performance as a whole. PLUS, he has walk-through videos of many of his tunes, so if you’re inspired enough, you can learn how to play them from the man himself. That should be enough, right? He’s also got chops in spades.
Cliff Williams: I can see the pitchforks getting raised now, and the shouting that I’m recommending the wrong Cliff. While AC/DC is largely known for their flamboyant frontmen and lead guitarist, the fact is that Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams are a textbook example of what a rhythm section is supposed to do; hold it down, and move that song. Cliff OWNS the quarter note and the eighth note and plays then with a smoothness and evenness that studio guys look for.
Rhonda Smith: Usually when people talk about Jeff Beck’s band, they’re talking about a different woman. And while that one is impressive as well, Rhonda Smith is an underrated powerhouse. She played for Prince. That bears repeating. SHE PLAYED FOR PRINCE. For those of you that don’t understand how big of a deal that is, or how demanding the Purple One is, look into it. She’s played with a lot of big names, and now is on the road with Jeff Beck.
Tony Levin: I’ll admit, this was one musician I was surprised that few if any people named. He’s one of those guys that you may not have heard the name, but you’ve probably heard him at some point during your life; he’s that prolific. Tony’s understanding of groove and the pocket is amazing, and the basslines that he produces are siiiiiiiiiiick.
Milt Hinton: When you have the nickname of “The Judge,” you had better drive the bus. Hard. Milt was one of those guys that EVERYONE in the jazz world looked at. One of the greats from the Cab Calloway Orchestra, Milt’s slap bass style (that’s right kids, slap bass has been around since the 20’s, if not earlier) has never been duplicated.
Davey Faragher: He was only in the band, Cracker, for a couple of years. However, that’s when “Kerosene Hat” dropped, which is probably their most well-known album. What impressed me (back in my angst-ridden, alternative 90s days) was that Faragher was playing a lot of funk lines and grooves in this alternative rock genre. It planted the seeds of the concept to play the song, and not the bassline.
Melvin Gibbs: I’m a really big Henry Rollins fan, whether he’s in Black Flag, Rollins Band (the many incarnations) or onstage for his spoken word stops (of which I’ve seen him twice). My favorite Rollins Band lineup included Melvin Gibbs, a guy whose musical history might seem odd for this group (if you read some of Rollin’s books, you’ll find out that originally Gibbs didn’t want to join the band, but was finally convinced). Gibbs has some really sick grooves, that added a complexity to the guitar riffs that were being put on top of it.
David Friesen: Friesen is one of those bass players that defies categorization. He is best known as a jazz bassist that’s a master of the duo and trio, but also is a major solo bassist in his own right. One of the early adopters of the electric-upright bass, Friesen has opened jazz festivals by himself.
Jonas Hellborg: I first heard Hellborg after grabbing a copy of his solo album, Elegant Punk, in college. Wooten’s second album had just dropped, and I was looking for some other inspiration. I remember being very impressed with Hellborg’s stuff, and then my jaw dropped when I realized that album of his was released in 1984. I now have 13 of his albums, all with different lineups covering different genres of music, and am constantly impressed and awed.
So, there you have it. Ten bassists that you probably haven’t heard of (and if you have, great!), that hopefully will have you expand your musical palette and see the immense potential that the bass has. Because all of these musicians, while pushing the envelope of what the bass’ boundaries are, still have an extremely firm grasp of what the prime role of that bass is.