Top Ten: Influential Bassists

Posted on by Jon Moody

As someone that’s been a working musician for a number of years, I’ve found that I try to keep my mind – and ears – open to all sorts of music, as you never know when inspiration is going to hit you and inspire you to new heights. It gives you a more well rounded view of music, which is always good (especially when that music is paying the bills). So with that, here’s a list of the Top Ten Influential Bassists worth checking out.

A Quick Disclaimer: As with ANY top ten list, there is a lot left to the personal preference of the person making the list. In my case, I approached this much like you would if a young, eager musician came up to me during a set break and said “Who are some bassists I should listen to?” Here we go.

James Jamerson: Groove really starts and ends here, period. His basslines helped to shape Motown as a musical genre, let alone the countless bassists that have come after him.

Berry Oakley: The Allman Brothers was the first band I really listened to intently, and made it a point to see them live and “take in” the ambiance. Yeah, that’s it, ambiance… “Blue Sky” was the first rock tune I sat down and transcribed. I was taken by Oakley’s way to hold down the solid groove, but do it in a way that made the bass line dance over and through the tune.

Oteil Burbridge: What immediately struck me about Oteil’s sound was its authentic voice, and his harmonic knowledge and foundation. I mean, he’s got some brilliant chords that he plays, and then he sings/scats on top of it. And then, like any truly professional musician, when he joins a band like the Allman Brothers, he tailors his playing to fit that band, while still staying true to his voice (if you want to read more on Oteil, please check out my interview here).

Flea: I know, the bulk of bassists will immediately rip into the intro to “Higher Ground,” but there is a lot more soul, funk and groove in his fingers than just the slap skillz. Flea’s got some insanely tasty chops that can be super simple, to compliment the melody and guitar part perfectly.

Jack Bruce: I got into Jack’s playing based solely upon my bass instructor highly recommending that I listen to Cream. The driving groove force of his playing made the bass an integral part of the overall sound, instead of just something in the background that you don’t really pay attention to (Embedding disabled by request: click here to open this video in a new window).

Slam Stewart: One of the very early jazz bassists, I was impressed that he bowed – and sang! – all of his solos. His duet album with Major Holley (Shut Yo’ Mouth!) is easily one of my most favorite albums ever, as it captures the levity and skill that Slam had. I had the honor of meeting Bucky Pizzarelli many years ago, and when I asked if we could talk about his time playing alongside Slam, his face lit up.

Marcus Miller: Oh God, that tone; two notes into a groove, and you just KNOW it’s Marcus. His bass lines are so fluid and musical to the point you wind up singing along with them instead of the melody of the tune. And when he starts slapping, well, it’s something to enjoy.

Bakhiti Kumalo: Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album completely blew my mind, partly because of this man. Bakhiti plays with an ease and joy, that you can’t help but smile (and when I told him this at Bass Player LIVE! in November, he laughed and said “Good! I don’t play to scare people!”). Combining harmonic and rhythmic precision into one cohesive, extremely musical phrase that you could easily sing along to is what many of us aspire to.

Jaco Pastorius: Upon initial inspection, you think Jaco is just crazy good. Once you transcribe some of his lines and solos, you gain a greater appreciation; Jaco KNEW the fingerboard like the back of his hand. And when you get into his stuff with the Word of Mouth Orchestra, you realize just how brilliant an arranger he was.

Michael Manring: He’s on another level. Manring approaches the bass like a symphonic orchestra, and he plays it all on fretless. On fretless! What truly inspires me is how down to earth he is, and how that is conveyed into his compositions and performances.

With a lineup like this, it’s no surprise to any of my musician friends that I have wound up on the path that I am, playing the bass lines that I do. While this list is always expanding and evolving, these are the ten that I come back to for solid inspiration. What are some of the players that have influenced you – and more importantly – why?

Written on April 10, 2014, by Jon Moody

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  • Catfish Jones

    Wow, no McCartney or Entwistle?

    • Vernon Bird

      McCartney was the first that came to my mind. (I mean, have you ever heard the isolated bass in “Hey Bulldog”?) But I’m not so sure he has directly influenced bass players as the likes of, say, Entwistle or Duck Dunn have. I think people just don’t think of McCartney as bass player, but as just “artist”.

    • Jon Moody

      I agree with Vernon, as I see McCartney more as an influential songwriter, who just happened to play bass. No knock on his playing, as I enjoy his lines, but I listen to his music more for the depth of his abilities to craft a moving piece than just the bass.

      As for the Ox, I really didn’t get into him until later on in my musical journey. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate his playing; far from it. However, the ten I mentioned are the ones that, despite listening to countless others (I could probably do a Top 10: Rock, Top 10: Jazz, Top 10: Motown lists just as easily), I always go back to for inspiration and always find something new in their playing.

  • One bassist that has influenced me, and probably a few others, is Tommy Shannon. He wasn’t an exclusive influence, but is still one that I feel comfortable saying that really made listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan more enjoyable.

  • Nick Calavitta

    Where’s Mike Dirnt? His modern stuff might not be that hard, but his runs in the 90’s were the most influential pieces for me and my buddy.

    • Matt Swanton

      the isolated track for basket case. He murdered that bass. Especially the bridge. Before Billy sings “grasping to control”

      • Nick Calavitta

        I know right? And the whole of Sassafras Roots and 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours is just amazing. Not to mention Longview which is one of the most memorable bass lines in history.

        • Matt Swanton

          couldn’t agree more about the Longview bass line. legendary

  • frederickus

    Miroslav Vitous. John Patitucci. Victor Wooten. Stanley Clarke.

  • SansDirection

    The names I’d toss into that outstanding list are Steve Harris, John Entwistle and Duck Dunn. Maybe Victor Wooten too.

  • godowd

    Leland Sklar McCartney Entwhistle Stanley Clarke Larry Graham?

  • Simon

    Burke Shelley.the most under rated bass player from the most under rated band.

  • Jason Essig

    Jeff Berlin, Wooten, Billy Sheehan, Steve Harris

  • David Morris

    To each his own. This is a great list, but the omission of John Entwistle does seem odd to me.,

  • John Yoho

    Geddy Lee, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Noel Redding, Tommy Shannon.

  • Simon

    Cliff Burton!!!

  • Muad’dib

    Mark King.

  • Caleb Buhr


  • Diego

    yo pondría en esta lista también a Les Claypool

  • J Ro

    So disappointed. JOHN PAUL JONES. One bass to rule them all.

  • Yuusuke Mastuoka

    Philip Lynott. Marco Mendoza.Tony Franklin.

  • Jake

    Geddy Lee, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle. Not only should these guys be on the list, they should be THE TOP THREE!!

  • Spencer Flashburn Nowak

    Billy Sheehan, nothing more to ever be said

  • Peter Mayotte

    No Paul McCartney, Carol Kaye, John Entwhisle, Peter Cetera, Chris Brubeck?

  • Flutterby

    James Jamerson, Carol Kaye, Larry Graham, Rocco Prestia, Tommy Cogbill, Duck Dunn, Jaco Pastorius, Joe Osborn. David Hood, Chuck Rainey.

  • Byron Sullivan

    Les Claypool???

  • Tim

    Cliff Burton???

  • Yannik

    For me John Myung from Dream Theater is a truly inspirational bassist who unfortunately has been consciously pushed out of the spotlight by the label already after the debut album “When Dream and Day Unite”.
    What he has done on this album is the best work on a regular 4-string bass I’ve ever heard and seen. His brilliant technique aside he plays beautiful melodies and chords combining normal fingerpicking with tapping and harmonics. This enriches the music so much that a second guitarist beside John Petrucci really was not necessary in any way.

  • moon

    Jeff Berlin, Billy Sheehan, John Wetton, Chris Squier, Greg Lake, Mike Rutherford, etc…

  • Matt Frazier

    Jerry Jemmott, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers…

  • Abraham Morales


  • Frank Culler

    John Entwhistle ,Geddy Lee, John Paul Jones, Paul Goddard (Atlanta Rhythm Section) should all be on the list

  • FJL

    No John Deacon??

  • Surfer Mark

    Without Geddy Lee or John Entwistle, cannot take the list as seriously. Though it is a great list.

  • dominick colasuonno

    Guess you guys never heard Dennis Runaway of the original Alice Cooper band.or Roger waters or Frazer butler of black Sabbath.

    • Dominick colasuonno

      I meant Geezer Butler of Sabbath. Sorry about misprint

  • Patrick Durham

    Interesting list. Duck Dunn and Danny Thompson have always been two of my favorites. I saw Danny Thompson with Richard Thompson and never knew an upright bass could rock that freaking hard on some of RT’s heavier pieces. Lately I’ve had Faces’ “A Nod is as Good as a Wink” in heavy rotation and realized just how great a bass player Ronnie Lane was.

  • jeff

    Nathan East, Pattitucci, Kim Stone

  • Sharif Hamdy

    WTF…..Steve Harris, Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney, Cliff Burton, Billie Sheehan, Stu Hamm.

  • noneya

    No geddy lee or les claypool? Weak list.

  • John Ode Odekirk

    Does anybody remember Tim Bogert?

  • mat

    Wait, you were there and didn’t say hello?! I’m hurt!
    دوربین مدار بستهدرب اتوماتیک

  • tarlan

    I agree that just because someone chooses to make a living making music as opposed to doing it . کرکره برقی دستگاه حضور و غیاب

  • Jonathan Aspegren Bormann

    Since you have a double bass player maybe take Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen xD? he is by far the most influential double bass player of the century (or at least the one who brought the most musical change with him), so ehh.. dunno might take precedence IMO :b

  • Lee

    Very good list. I might choose Ray Brown, Christian McBride, Jeff Berlin, John Entwhistle, and Gary Willis over some of these, but I’d have a hard time picking which ones to bump off of your list.

    • Lee

      Oh, and Stanley Clarke.