In Memoriam: Remembering the Bassists We Lost in 2020
As 2020 finally draws to a close, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the members of the bass community we lost this year. From rock pioneers to funk icons to visionary luthiers, their work helped to define the shape of music. They may be gone, but their music will always remain.
Join us as we remember the bassists we lost in 2020.
Joe Payne (January 24, 2020)
Metal bassist Joe Payne held down the low end for Nile from 2005 to 2007 as well as the supergroup Divine Heresy from 2007 to 2011.
Josh Pappe (January 31, 2020)
Pappe was a former member of the crossover thrash pioneers D.R.I. (aka Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) from 1983 to 1989. In the three albums he recorded with them, they shifted their sound from hardcore punk to what’s now known as crossover thrash. After leaving D.R.I., he was a member of Gang Green.
Mike Lull (February 12, 2020)
Lull built his first bass guitar in ninth grade shop class when the mainstream acceptance of the instrument was still in its infancy. He opened his own shop in Bellevue, Washington in 1976 and became an integral part of the Pacific Northwest’s grunge scene in the ‘90s. He worked on instruments for Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and more. Those artists helped him gain notoriety, and a review in Bass Player magazine helped to solidify his role in the community. His basses, which carry on traditional styles while modernizing them for improved playability, are played by Jeff Ament, Tom Petersson, Hugh McDonald, and many more.
Adam Schlesinger (April 1, 2020)
Schlesinger co-founded Fountains of Wayne, who scored a mega-hit with “Stacy’s Mom” in 2003, and he also played for the supergroup Tinted Windows. He was also a talented songwriter and penned the title song to the film That Thing You Do as well as music for movies like Music and Lyrics, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Manchurian Candidate.
Andy González (April 9, 2020)
Latin Jazz would not be what it is today without the work of Andy González. Born and raised in the Bronx, he created the Latin Jazz Quintet with his brother Jerry when he was just 13 years old. From there, he worked with Monguito Santamaria, Ray Baretto, and Eddie Palmieri, after which he co-founded the influential bands Conjunto Libre and Grupo Folklórico Y Experímental Nuevayorquíno. González also released several solo albums, the latest of which was 2016’s Entre Colegas.
Jymie Merritt (April 10, 2020)
Jazz legend Merritt was a Philadelphia native and World War II vet who took to music after his time in the service. Inspired by Jimmy Blanton, he took up the double bass and studied with Philadelphia Orchestra member Carl Torello. Though known for his upright work, Merritt was an early adopter of the electric bass. “He played with John Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Philly Joe Jones in 1949, but worked with Bull Moose Jackson and B.B. King playing electric bass in the early and mid-’50s,” his son Mike writes. The bassist’s time with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers created a score of jazz standards including “Moanin,” “Along Came Betty,” “Blues March,” and more. Other credits include a nomination for best jazz composer in Downbeat magazine for his song “Nommo” and numerous achievement awards for his work in music.
Matthew Seligman (April 17, 2020)
Seligman was a member of the short-lived yet highly influential group The Soft Boys before joining the Thompson Twins in the early ‘80s. The band downsized, leading the bassist to join Thomas Dolby’s new solo group. He played on all five of the singer’s albums including his debut The Golden Age of Wireless, which scored the hit single “She Blinded Me With Science.” Afterward, he worked as a session musician for artists like Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey, and David Bowie.
Henry Grimes (April 15, 2020)
Grimes lived a life of extreme highs and lows. After studying at Juilliard, he became a top-shelf bassist in New York City during the mid-50s, recording with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and even Charles Mingus. As the years passed, he became more interested in free jazz and avant-garde, leading to stints with Cecil Taylor Don Cherry, and Pharaoh Sanders. While moving to California, his bass was damaged and he was forced to pawn it, losing all of his musical work. He worked construction and custodian jobs and was even homeless at times. Though many in the jazz community presumed he was dead, a social worker named Marshall Marrotte found him in 2002. Fans and friends helped to get him back on his feet, and he spent the rest of his years recording albums and touring the world.
John McKenzie (May 10, 2020)
McKenzie began his music career with Global Village Trucking Company in 1970. After playing with several other artists in the ‘70s, he became a well-known session musician in the ‘80s. His resume includes bass lines on several hits by the Eurythmics, Bob Dylan’s Knocked Out Loaded, Wham!’s Fantastic, and two albums by The Pretenders. He also toured with everyone from Lionel Richie to David Bowie to Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Al Rex (May 24, 2020)
A true original of rock and roll, Rex joined Bill Haley and the Saddlemen in the late ‘40s and pioneered rockabilly with his slap style and over-the-top stage antics. He played on Haley’s “Rocket 88” and was featured in the films “Rock Around the Clock” and “Don’t Knock the Rock” before pursuing a solo career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 with the Comets.
Josef Bansuelo (May 25, 2020)
Bansuelo was a member of 7Seconds for a brief period from 1986 to 1987 and recorded on their albums New Wind and Praise. Bandmate Kevin Seconds wrote that “Joe was in 7Seconds for a fairly short period but his presence, energy and musicianship impacted the band enormously.”
Steve Priest (June 4, 2020)
Priest co-founded the glam rock outfit Sweet in 1968, who found stardom with hits like “Wig-Wam Bam,” “Little Willy,” and “Ballroom Blitz.” He stepped into the lead vocal role once Brian Connolly left in 1978, but the band folded in 1981. Priest left music until 2006 when he returned to performing as Steve Priest’s Sweet.
Steve Helgeson (June 12, 2020)
Under the name Moonstone Guitars, Helgeson built instruments ever since setting up his first shop in 1972. His first instrument was an acoustic bass guitar he built so he could “jam with a bunch of people.” He was a proponent of using exotic tonewoods, and the Moonstone website states that he pioneered the use of Pacific Quilted Maple, Myrtlewood, Maple, and Walnut Burl. Many bassists will recall the custom double-neck Eagle bass he made for Leland Sklar, but he crafted thousands of instruments in his lifetime.
Cleveland Eaton (July 5, 2020)
Eaton was a jazz bassist who worked with the greats, from Ella Fitzgerald to Count Basie. Born in Alabama, he attended school at what would become Tennessee State University and moved to Chicago. He played with the Ike Cole Trio and Ramsey Lewis, with whom he would spend a decade. Eaton is featured on the pianist’s crossover hit album Sun Goddess. At the same time, he began releasing his own albums including the funk classic Plenty Good Eaton. After leaving Lewis, he took a two-week fill-in gig with the Count Basie Orchestra that turned into a 17-year run. After that, he returned to playing as a leader until just recently.
Vern Rumsey (August 6, 2020)
Rumsey co-founded the influential post-hardcore band Unwound, which became a blueprint for DIY musicians. He also played in the bands Blonde Redhead, Long Hind Legs, Fitz of Depression, and more.
Alan Peters (August 8, 2020)
Peters played bass for Agnostic Front from 1987 to 1990, recording on their LP Liberty and Justice…. He later joined the New York hardcore bands Crawlpappy and Absolution.
Pete Way (August 14, 2020)
Way founded the English rock band UFO and recorded ten albums with them before leaving in 1982 to form Fastway with Motorhead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke. He left that group to tour with Ozzy Osbourne in support of Diary of a Madman, then created a solo band called Waysted. He would rejoin UFO from 1992 to 2009. His biography, A Fast Ride Out Of Here, was published in 2017.
Carl Dufrene (August 16, 2020)
A native of South Louisiana, Dufrene laid down the low end for the North Mississippi Allstars and Anders Osborne, who described him as having “the heart of a 9-year-old prince and the soul of a 98-year-old boat maker.”
Ian Mitchell (September 1, 2020)
Mitchell was a member of the Bay City Rollers, taking the spot of founding bassist Alan Longmuir in 1976. During his brief tenure, the band released the album Dedication, which featured a hit with their cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You.” He left the band soon after but would join the Passengers in the 1980s.
Rinat Ibragimov (September 2, 2020)
Born in Moscow, double bassist Ibragimov was a prodigy who won the All-Soviet Competition in 1984 as well as the Giovanni Bottesini International Competition in Parma, Italy in 1989. He was the principal bassist in the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra and taught at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory before winning the principal chair in the London Symphony Orchestra in 1995. In 2007, he began teaching at the Royal College of Music while also cementing his solo bass career. Tragically, he suffered a major stroke in 2014 and was unable to perform ever since, though he continued teaching.
Gary Peacock (September 4, 2020)
A master of jazz bass, Peacock had a seventy-year musical career that began on piano, drums, and vibraphone. He was drafted into the army and joined a jazz trio as a pianist while stationed in Germany. He picked up the bass after the group’s bassist quit and quickly fell in love with it. After being discharged, he stayed in Germany to play with Atilla Zoller, Hans Koller, Bud Shank, and more. Peacock moved back to Los Angeles and took up with Don Ellis and Art Pepper before moving to New York City in 1962. His non-stop work ethic left him burned out, so he took two and a half years off from playing, during which time he moved to Japan and studied macrobiotics. Returning to the States in the ‘70s, he hooked up with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette to form a trio that he would perform with for the rest of his life. They recorded 22 albums together, not to mention Peacock’s own twelve albums as a leader.
Mark Stone (September 26, 2020)
Stone was the original bassist for Van Halen and served as an integral part of the group’s early period. His schoolwork eventually took precedent, leading the band to replace him with Michael Anthony just before recording their debut. Stone remained on good terms with the band and sat in with Van Halen tribute bands in 2015 and 2016.
Brent Young (September 25, 2020)
Young was one of the earliest bassists for the metal band Trivium. He toured the U.S. and Europe with the group to support the Blue Demo and Ember to Inferno before being replaced in 2004 by Paolo Gregoletto. He had recently been playing with former Trivium drummer Travis Smith in BlackNova.
Francis “Rocco” Prestia (September 29, 2020)
It’s hard to overstate the influence Prestia had on the bass world. His signature fingerstyle funk presented a new approach to bass line creation. The rapid-fire notes propelled Tower of Power’s greatest hits like “What Is Hip” and “Only So Much Oil in the Ground”. In a 2014 interview, he told us his sound evolved naturally once drummer David Garibaldi joined the band. “When he came in, he was a very, very busy player,” he explained. “I came more from that R&B background, so when the two styles collided what came out of it is pretty much what you hear from me today.” Prestia played on 22 Tower of Power albums and released a solo album in 1999 called Everybody on the Bus!
Pierre Kezdy (October 9, 2020)
Kezdy was a mainstay of the Chicago punk scene and played with Strike Under, Trial By Fire, and Naked Raygun. A stroke in 2010 affected his playing, but he still managed to reunite with Naked Raygun for some live shows in 2013.
Paul Matters (October 14, 2020)
Matters was an early bassist for AC/DC, joining just after the recording of their debut album, High Voltage. He was in the band for the subsequent tour but was fired shortly thereafter by singer Bon Scott.
Gordon Haskell (October 15, 2020)
Haskell worked as a session bassist and vocalist for Atlantic Records before being tapped by longtime friend Robert Fripp to join King Crimson in 1970. He sang one song on In the Wake of Poseidon and played and sang for the entirety of Lizard. Artistic differences made Haskell leave after a year. He would go on to spend thirty years as a solo artist with little success until a surprise hit in 2001 with “How Wonderful You Are”. The track revitalized Haskell’s career. His latest album, The Cat Who’s Got the Cream, was released earlier this year.
Tony Lewis (October 19, 2020)
Lewis was the singer and bassist for The Outfield whose song “Your Love” became a radio mainstay shortly after they signed a record deal with CBS Columbia. The band worked for the next three decades, releasing their final album in 2009. After a break from music, Lewis released his debut solo album, Out of the Darkness, in 2018. A posthumous release, More Than I Dared, was released in November.
Patrick Charton (October 22, 2020)
French double bass luthier Patrick Charton was renowned for his impeccable work. He developed techniques for crafting and setting up instruments that would win him awards in several international competitions including the B21 bass, a full-size double bass with a detachable neck for travel.
Bones Hillman (November 7, 2020)
Hillman joined Midnight Oil in 1987 and played and sang on every one of the band’s releases since 1990’s Blue Sky Mining. He also recorded with artists including Ann McCue, Dave Dobbyn, and Matthew Good.
Ron Mathewson (December 3, 2020)
Scottish double bassist Mathewson was a constant in the London jazz scene, serving as bassist to Ronnie Scott for many years. He was also called in to perform and record with jazz luminaries ranging from Oscar Peterson to Joe Henderson to Tubby Hayes.
Sean Malone (December 9, 2020)
Malone worked as a session musician before a recording date led him to join Cynic. His use of the fretless bass in a progressive metal setting led the way for many bassists to come. After their breakthrough album, Focus, the band split up. Malone took up teaching and authored four instructional books for the bass. He released a solo album and created the supergroup Gordian Knot for two albums. Cynic came back together for three more albums, the last of which was 2014’s Kindly Bent to Free Us.
Jason Slater (December 9, 2020)
Slater was a co-founder of Third Eye Blind, though he left the group after recording their initial demo, which would be three years prior to their breakthrough debut LP. After leaving, he became a music producer, notably working on four albums with Queensryche.