In Memoriam: Remembering the Bassists We Lost in 2023
The new year comes with a feeling of renewal, but it’s important to look back and reflect on the past 12 months. It was another great year for music but also a year of losses for the bass community. Bassists and builders from all walks of life left us, from session legends to rock legends to jazz icons.
Take a moment with us as we remember the bassists we lost in 2023.
Van Conner (January 17, 2023)
Conner and his brother Gary Lee co-founded Screaming Trees, which became one of the pillars of Seattle’s blossoming alternative rock scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s. They scored their biggest hit, “Nearly Lost You”, in 1992. It was also during this time that he served as the touring bassist for Dinosaur Jr. After Screaming Trees split in 2000, Conner worked as a session musician as well as playing in the bands VALIS and Musk Ox.
Phil Spalding (February 5, 2023)
Born in London, Spalding was a bank worker before becoming a full time bassist with Bernie Tormé in 1976. He worked with Toyah, the prog Supergroup GTR, and Mike Oldfield through the ’80s, In the ’90s, he worked with even bigger stars like Elton John, Mick Jagger, and Ray Charles. He also played bass for Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and the Lion King Soundtrack.
Steve Mackey (March 2, 2023)
Mackey was a member of Pulp, joining in 1989 and appearing on every subsequent album through their career. He was also an in-demand producer that worked with M.I.A., Kelis, The Kills, The Horrors, and more.
Michael Rhodes (March 4, 2023)
A staple of the Nashville music scene, Rhodes was one of the most prolific modern day session musicians. His bass lines provided the foundation for songs by Willie Nelson, The Beach Boys, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Aaron Lewis, Dolly Parton, India.Arie, Highwaymen, and more. He had also been in blues icon Joe Bonamassa’s band for many years. Rhodes was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019.
Ray Shulman (March 30, 2023)
Shulman was a member of the prog rock pioneers Gentle Giant, which he founded with his brother Derek. Aside from his stellar bass playing, Shulman performed on trumpet, guitar, and violin. After Gentle Giant broke up, he became a record producer and created soundtracks for video games.
John Regan (April 7, 2023)
Regan was a solid sideman for guitar greats Peter Frampton and Ace Frehley, performing in both of their solo bands. The bassist is featured on much of Frampton’s discography, and the guitarist remembered him as “always musically inspiring and one of the funniest people on the planet.”
Rick Jones (April 17, 2023)
By founding the bass amplifier company Acoustic Image, Rick Jones helped countless bassists find their sound. He was a trailblazer of bass amplification who was inspired to create designs that were compact yet kept a full sound, especially for the double bass. His designs included downfiring low frequency drivers in small and uniquely shaped enclosures. Following his death, Acoustic Image has ceased operations.
John Giblin (May 14, 2023)
Scottish bassist John Giblin moved to Manchester and ultimately London to join a band called Gonzalez. However, his career took off as he became a studio and touring bassist for artists like Al Green, Brand X, Simple Minds, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and many more. Many fans of the fretless bass know him for his lyrical style on Kate Bush’s “Babooshka”.
Andy Rourke (May 19, 2023)
Rourke was the bassist for English rock icons The Smiths. He joined the band after their first gig and played with them for their full run except for two weeks where he was temporarily fired. The Smiths broke up in 1987, but Rourke’s career would continue to flourish as he played for Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey, Badly Drawn Boy, and more. He also formed the bass trio Freebass with Mani and Peter Hook.
Algy Ward (May 17, 2023)
A mainstay of the punk and metal scenes, Ward was a member of The Saints and The Damned before he started his own band, Tank. He was influenced by Lemmy Kilmister and fronted the band on bass and vocals. Tank released five albums before splitting in 1989, reuniting in 1997, and splintering into two bands during the 2000s.
Bill Lee (May 24, 2023)
The news of Bill Lee’s death was confirmed by his son, the lauded film director Spike Lee. While many more people know Spike’s name, Bill Lee’s own career was just as impressive. He began his career as a double bassist and moved to New York City in 1959. He spent his time oscillating between the Greenwich Village folk scene and the city’s jazz scene, and as such he played with a varied list of artists: Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Harry Belafonte, Gordon Lightfoot, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, and more. He also founded and directed the New York Bass Choir. Lee also collaborated on the soundtracks to his son’s films She’s Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989) and Mo’ Better Blues (1990).
Chas Newby (May 22, 2023)
Newby was almost a Beatle. His childhood friend (and then Fab Four drummer) Pete Best suggested him as a replacement for Stuart Sutcliffe after an engagement in West Germany. Newby filled in for four gigs, but opted to pursue his academic career instead of continuing on with the band. He would later reunite with Best for occasional gigs, but stuck to chemistry. “People sometimes don’t believe me when I say I’ve no regrets. But I really haven’t. I have enjoyed my life immensely,” he told Sunday Mercury in 2012.
Mark Adams (May 23, 2023)
Not to be confused with the funk bassist from Slave, Adams was the co-founder of the doom metal band Saint Vitus. The band released seven albums between 1980 and 1996 when they disbanded. They would reunite again in the early 2000s, but health complications forced Adams to resign in 2016 when he was replaced by Pat Bruders.
Robert Black (June 22, 2023)
Black was an advocate for the evolution of music for bass and a sonic explorer. He studied with virtuoso Gary Karr and performed with the Hartford Symphony before co-founding the contemporary classical group the Bang on a Can All-Stars. He commissioned new bass works by the world’s foremost composers like Philip Glass, John Luther Adams, and Carman Moore. Black was also a professor of double bass at the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, and the Manhattan School of Music.
Mo Foster (July 3, 2023)
British session legend Mo Foster recorded on over 400 albums. His résumé features credits with Phil Collins, Brian May, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck, John Paul Jones, and more. He also worked on the soundtracks for films like For Your Eyes Only and Revenge of the Pink Panther.
Randall Fullmer (July 10, 2023)
Wyn Guitars luthier Randy Fullmer was something of a Renaissance man. He built his first guitar at just 12 years old and finished 30 more by the time he was 18. However, his passion for film and animation ultimately landed him a job with Disney Animation Studios. His 18-year career with them saw him working as the visual effects supervisor on Beauty and the Beast, artistic coordinator on The Lion King, and more. He founded Wyn Guitars in 2006 where his incredible designs and craftsmanship caught the attention of bassists like Jimmy Haslip, Abraham Laboriel, James LoMenzo, and many more. He was the subject of a documentary called Restrung in 2014.
Brad Houser (July 24, 2023)
Houser grew up in Dallas, Texas where he co-founded the New Bohemians in the early ’80s. The group started as a trio but soon expanded to become Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians. Their debut album Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars was released in 1988 and featured the hit “What I Am”. Houser was also a member of Critters Buggin and The Dead Kenny G’s. He gave back to the community as an instructor ad Austin’s New School of Music, which offers free classes to the underprivileged.
Randy Meisner (July 26, 2023)
Meisner was the founding bassist of The Eagles and, as a the band shared in their statement, was an instrumental part of their early success. He started playing bass in 1961 and joined Poco in 1968 after moving to California. The Eagles began in 1971 and went on to become of the most successful rock bands of all time. Besides bass, he sang backup on much of the catalog and even sang and wrote “Take It to the Limit”. He left the group in 1977 and started a solo career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Eagles in 1998, but never returned to the group.
Neal Langford (July 21, 2023)
Langford was a member of Flake Music in the early ’90s with James Mercer. When Mercer formed the Shins, Langford played on their first album, Oh Inverted World, which put the band on the map. He would leave the group in 2003.
Bill Bartolini (September 2, 2023)
Bartolini was more than innovator and businessman. He was an important pillar of the music world widely known for his support and mentorship of artists and builders alike. He and his wife Patricia studied the science of acoustics and became experts that published findings that became standard reference materials on waveforms and sound patterns. Bartolini started making magnetic pickups in the early ’60s and began a company called Hi-A. In 1978 he changed his company name to Bartolini, which became well-known throughout the bass community. Bartolini pickups are still used in a huge range of basses. Bartolini himself sold retired in 2014, selling the company to Clyde Clark who still operates it today.
Richard Davis (September 6, 2023)
Davis was a legend of the bass as well as a racial justice activist who helped shape the world in several ways. He began his career working with Don Shirley in Chicago before moving to New York City and becoming Sarah Vaughan’s bassist. He was a mainstay of the jazz scene in the ’60s and worked with everyone from Eric Dolphy to Frank Sinatra to Miles Davis. It’s also when he started his solo career as well as his session recording career. He would record a dozen albums as a leader and rack up 3,000 recordings for jingles and as a sideman. In the ’70s he worked with more pop and rock artists, notably featuring on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Laura Nyro’s Smile, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, and more. In 1977, he began teaching at the University of Wisconsin, where he stayed for 40 years.
Dave Roe (September 15, 2023)
Roe’s death marked another blow for Nashville. He moved to Music City in the ’80s and took up with Jerry Reed. After working for several high profile country artists, he joined Johnny Cash’s band for eleven years. He was the anchor on recordings for a jaw-dropping list of artists: John Mellencamp, Sturgill Simpson, Chrissie Hynde, Taj Majal, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Ian Hunter, Brian Setzer, Dan Auerbach, CeeLo Green, Kurt Vile, Yola, and many, many more.
Jon Kennedy (September 25, 2023)
Kennedy was an early member of the English extreme metal band Cradle of Filth. He joined the group in 1994 during which time he recorded the original version of Dusk and Her Embrace. He left after a year to become the vocalist for Hecate Enthroned.
Gregg Sutton (October 22, 2023)
Sutton was friends with comedian Andy Kaufman and served as his musical director through his career. After a stint with Bob Dylan, he joined the L.A.-based country rock band Lone Justice. He would also perform with KGB, Barry Goldberg, Mick Taylor, and more.
Heath (October 29, 2023)
Japanese rock legend Hiroshi “Heath” Morie was a member of Paranoia, Sweet Beet, and Media Youth before joining X Japan in 1992. His first album with the group was Art of Life. The band split between 1996 and 2007, and it was in that time that Heath worked on solo albums. The band never released an album past 1996’s Dahlia, but several singles have been released.
Laura Lynch (December 22, 2023)
Lynch was a co-founder of The Chicks, formerly known as The Dixie Chicks. The Texas bassist formed the group in 1988 and played on three albums – 1990’s Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, 1992’s Little Ol’ Cowgirl, and 1993’s Shouldn’t a Told You That – before she was dismissed. Her style was rooted in a more traditional country and bluegrass sound, and her departure took place just before their more contemporary popular sound.