Kicking Off a New Series: Bass Players You Need To Know
Over the past year, I’ve dug deep into the nether-regions of my brain, week after week, to figure out all of those things I wish I knew. Lucky for me, the crazy turmoil that is life as a professional musician has been inspiration enough. My goal in writing this series was to highlight those things I’ve learned the hard way… the crazy situations that happen to arise on a gig, the necessity of knowing your gear and keeping it in working order, and the ways to constantly improve as a musician. I have tried to justify my love affair with Mr. Metronome, the fact the my practice session isn’t always based on learning something new, and the fact that I’m obsessive compulsive when it comes to setting up and taking down my gear.
One thing I always try to be aware of is you, the reader, and how to relate these concepts to players of all levels. Perhaps you have a family and a full time job, leaving only an hour a week to pick up your instrument. Or perhaps you get to play bass every day, whether it’s in your practice room or on a bandstand. This finally got me thinking… what are some truly universal concepts for all bass players, those of us who are just starting out, or who have put a few years in and have a lifetime ahead of us, or who happen to be musical veterans? What is the one thing that ties us all together, that inspired us at the start and never ceases to get old? What, if anything, is the thing that we all need to know?
So I began going over different concepts in an effort to distill music, bass playing, and education… desperately searching for this universal.
At first I wondered if it was the notes on our instrument… strike one. I probably spent the first two years playing bass and not knowing many notes above the 7th fret. Could this “universal” be theory? Do we all need to know what a Dm7 chord is? Strike two… plenty of us play music without that.
What about technique? That’s the third strike. While many of us work very hard at technique, few of us pick up the bass for the first time and say “hm, I really need to figure out where to anchor my thumb.” Most likely, we just try to make a decent sound.
Each of these concepts, I realized, are far too formal. They’re too by-the-book, too particular, too… educated. I needed to take a more organic approach and decided that a change of location would be beneficial for my creative juices. So of course, I went to my favorite coffee spot, got an iced Americano, and sat down to think. Everything was going well, my beverage was perfect, I had a table to myself, and I didn’t see any familiar faces to distract me with conversation. And then, sabotage. My ears perked up to a funky groove playing overhead, the strut that is Cissy, the bass player that is George Porter, Jr. There was absolutely no way I could focus with Zigaboo laying down a beat and the rest of the Meters begging me to sing “Hey Pocky A-Way.”
My head began a-bopping and as I sung quietly to myself, I realized that I had to leave if I were to get any work done. I was so distracted by the bass line that I had the urge to pack up my computer, grab a to-go cup, and return home to my instrument.
Boom! That’s it! That’s my inspiration. A bass line; and more importantly, a bass player. That, my friends, just may be the universal. It is the music we listen to, the songs we love, and the bass players that we try to emulate.
As a novice, all we try to do is play something — a riff we hear in our head or a song we heard on the radio. We work and work until we can finally get the notes under our fingers to match the ones come from our headphones.
As an intermediate player, we have greater knowledge of our instrument and search for more music to challenge our abilities. We play with greater proficiency, learn with greater ease, and begin to establish a voice that is the sum of our influences.
And as a veteran, we may find ourselves head to head with other amazing players, where we discover that perhaps they can do something that we can’t, and we sit and listen in amazement. It is the person standing on the stage or sitting in the studio and the fact that they make music to inspire us to make music.
A No Treble meeting and brain storming session got the ball rolling on this concept and after a bit of discussion, we realized that there are some bass players that we just need to know. After all, how many times do you listen to a record and wonder, “hey, who played that?!”
So here it is… the beginning of a new series that focuses on the bass players that, we suggest, are some pretty cool cats to listen to. Hopefully you see a few familiar faces, a few that you wish you knew more about, and others that you’ve never heard before. You can expect a little bit of a bio, a few examples of their masterful playing, and hopefully, a good reason to check them out or revisit their catalogue.
While we begin to compile a list of some of our favorite bassists, we could certainly use your help!
Please let us know who some of your need-to-know players are, whether they are the guys who “wrote the book” or who happen to be new to the scene, and leave the research up to us. Share your favorite(s) in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!