Steven McDonald: Five Bass Lines You Should Know

Steven McDonald

As the bassist for Melvins and Red Kross, you know Steven McDonald’s musical knowledge is as broad as it is deep. He’s been a musician since he was eleven years old and began gigging with his brother Jeff soon after picking up the four-string. Throughout the years, he’s been creating his own music as well as producing for bands like fun. and The Format.

All that is to say that the man knows a good bass line, which is why we picked his brain for this column. Although the series is “Five Bass Lines You Should Know,” McDonald dished out six – and we can’t so no to that. His list includes a Motown classic and some deeper classic rock cuts that inform his own unique style. As always, our guest adds one of their own bass lines for you to check out.

You can hear McDonald’s own killer bass work on the new Melvins album Bad Moon Rising, which is available now on CD, vinyl, and as a digital download (iTunes and Amazon MP3).

1. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

James Jamerson was the genius bass player behind the majority of Motown hits. You could easily fill this list up with a hand full of his dozens of brilliant moments. The most melodic, intuitive, sexy, and sensitive bass playing to exist in perhaps any era, going back hundreds of years. You can always tell when it’s him, and this is perhaps one of his most iconic moments.

2. “Rain” – The Beatles

There’s a current rumor floating around that George Harrison played this one after Paul stormed out of a recording session one day in 1966. I call BS. It’s Paul through and through. Just one tiny example of why he is my biggest bass influence for eternity. Melodic, trippy, and soulful.

3. “Elected” – Alice Cooper Group

Dennis Dunaway, the bass player of the original Alice Cooper Group, is one of my favorite bass players of all time. He wrote the best lines. Rarely limiting himself to root note sequences, this song is a beautiful example of how a bass line can weave in and out of 3rds and 5ths, giving the most harmonic bang for the buck. A big fan of surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali, Dunaway shows that the bass can turn the entire musical landscape upside down, revealing hidden musical delights amongst the other instruments.

4. “Live With Me” – The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards plays the killer bass line that opens this fan-favorite deep cut off of one of the Stones’ finest albums Let it Bleed. Not to take anything away from Bill Wyman, who also deserves his place amongst the pantheon of great rock ’n’ roll bass players. But Keith wrote so many iconic lines, especially during this period. Perhaps a more famous example is the bouncy tribal juju of the studio version of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Wicked!

5. “In Like A Shot From My Gun (Live)” – Slade

Along with singer/guitarist Noddy Holder, bassist Jim Lea was one-half of the successful songwriting team for the British rock group Slade. Also an accomplished pianist and violinist, Jim approaches his bass parts like a Smokey Mountain fiddler juiced up on moonshine and the baby Jesus. Sliding up and down the neck of one of his 3/4 scale custom basses, Jim would be a major influence to later 70’s rockers like Gene Simmons of Kiss.

6. “D’yer Maker” – Led Zeppelin

John Paul Jones – the not-so-secret weapon of 70’s arena rock giants Led Zeppelin. There are too many examples of his genius to count. This tune came out of a reggae jam and inadvertently ended up creating a completely new sound. JPJ’s palm-muted pick-plucking approach provides the perfect rhythmic and melodic glue that keeps the wobbly guitars and ham-fisted drums rock steady and sexy as fuck.

7. “Hammering” – Melvins from Bad Moon Rising

I think someone put an extra helping of Mott the Hoople in Buzz’s breakfast cereal the day we recorded this track. Inspired by my fave era of Rock n Roll, this riff is oozing with the silk sash kinda bash I’ve been talking about for years. I did my best to support the party with my polar white Epiphone Vintage Pro Bird, which gives off a surprisingly authentic growl. And the soulful church ladies on backups came straight from the holy pews hidden deep in the bowels of my MacBook Air. Alright!

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  1. Great selection of songs from the man himself. His playing reflects his exquisite taste in music, and that Melvins track is a killer!