“We give a lot of attention to vocalists and guitarists, but what about the people responsible for the soul of the music? Today we’re putting the spotlight on the brilliant bassists that put the groove in all our favourite tracks!”
Ever since the first rock bands crawled out of the primordial sludge, frontmen have had an unfair advantage. For the most part, standing centre stage is a guaranteed ticket to all the benefits of stardom, whether that’s critical acclaim, your own personal Penny Lane, or a stack of drugs higher than Justin Hawkins’ platforms. Sure, the odd drummer or keyboardist will get a nice shiny trophy at some dusty rock award show, but that’s not enough to even the playing field.
So today, in order to pay my dues to music’s most overlooked unsung heroes, here are some of the most legendary bassists to ever rock four strings, and of course: the instruments with which they did the rocking.
~ This post is a collaboration with Musiciansfriend.com, and includes paid affiliate links ~
1) James Jamerson ~ The Funk Machine
Even if you’re not into motown, the chances of you avoiding his music are slim to none. Among others, he is responsible for the legendary Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”, Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life”, and even the undisputed classic: Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It On The Grapevine”. Tragically, his work went unappreciated for most of his life, but he played on more records than maybe any other bassist in history, and single-handedly elevated the status of the instrument in the process.
As for the instrument, he favoured a Fender Precision, buying the soon-to-become Funk Machine after his first Precision (a gift from fellow bassist Horace Ruth) was stolen.
2) Flea ~ Fleabass Model 32
Flea’s bass-playing has become so influential that he was forced to release his own range of his signature instrument, for the legions of fans who started playing just because of him. Easily one of the most skilled bassists of the modern rock scene, he is just as famous for being a through-and-through eccentric, and his uncontained energy is represented in his bass as well.
The sunburst coloured Sunny Bass is eye-poppingly bright but surprisingly affordable, the perfect combination for an artist that has always been as unique as he has been true to the punk spirit.
3) Jon Entwistle ~ Frankenstein
The Who bassist’s signature instrument actually started out as three separate instruments, which is how it got its name. Jon created the monster himself out of the remains of his older ruined basses, and the result was a patchwork instrument with the pick-up cover of a jazz bass, the circuitry of two dead slab basses, and the neck body of three-colour sunburst Precision.
To be honest, with a band as original as The Who, it’s hard to expect anything less, and the instrument obviously served him well. Not only was it responsible for Tommy, Live At Leeds, but it’s what you’re hearing when you listen to such legendary tracks as Pinball Wizard and Won’t Get Fooled Again. What a classic.
4) Paul Gray ~ Ibanez PGB1
When you’re in a band like Slipknot, you need a bass that looks as mean as it sounds. The Late Paul Gray’s is definitely up to the task, as everything from its deep blood-and-rust colour to its standard B-E-A-D tuning makes it the only option for a metalhead looking to level buildings. Based on the eclectic Ibanez ATK design, Paul himself played it left-handed, but it is available for purchase the other way round if your preference isn’t full allegiance to the devil.
5) Paul Simonon ~ The London Calling
Even if you don’t listen to The Clash, you can probably picture the album cover that made this bass famous, from the pink and green text to the iconic black and white photo. This bass was one of many, just a standard Precision, but it was lifted out of obscurity and into the hall of fame when security of the New York Palladium pushed Paul Simonon just a little too far.
In a fit of rage, he smashed the instrument up right there on the spot, and famous UK photographer Pennie Smith was in the wings waiting to for the perfect shot. She saw her chance and took it, and what started as a snapshot of The Clash’s true punk routes turned into one of the most iconic images in all of rock and roll.
…And that’s it! You might have noticed a lot of these legendary basses came from the same place, so if you’ve caught the rock and roll bug, you might want to pick up your own Fender bass at musiciansfriend.com. Remember, if you want to submit your own music for review, you can drop me a line over on my Facebook page. And, as always, remember: