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A very, very sweet person recently compiled a list of their Top Ten Bass Players, and generously included me. Naturally, I was honored and humbled. And immediately updated my Resume, referring to them as “Noted Blues reviewer and musicologist.”
Okay, not really, but I am seriously considering it.
I figured that since I’m on a bass player role, with my last piece on Blues Bass and all the great responses I got, I’d compile my own quick list here. I’m not going to put a lot of thought into this; just throw it against the wall and see what sticks. So here they are;
1. Jeff Neighbors. The list has to start with him, because everything started with him. When I was a 5th grade Violinist, Jeff was not only my public school, once a week music teacher, but also the bassist in “The Joy of Cooking”. One day he looked at me and said “You’re tall. You play bass now.” Everything since then is pretty much his fault.
2. Overend Watts. When I was discovering ROCK, Mott the Hoople was tearing it up and putting out crazy albums and were always somewhere in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. Watts, with the huge White Thunderbird, the thigh high boots, and the cranked bass lines, came along at a time when I was going through puberty. I haven’t tried to do that stance in years; knees together, feet splayed, butt of the bass jammed in the crotch while you lean over to grab the fingerboard. It would probably hurt my back now. It doesn’t really work anyway unless you’re wearing six inch platforms.
3. Bill Wyman. Maybe this is for The Rolling Stones in general, because the live album, “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out” was a thick piece of vinyl, and I wore right through that sucker. Bill’s lines were perfect and understated, so once I learned them, then I could learn to seriously overplay. Double stops, laying off the root, doubling the solos; I was all over it, man. I learned a lot about groove from the Stones, because what they did breathed. Listening now to the remastered stuff, that Wyman guy was doing some very cool things down there in the mix.
4. Ray Brown. I sat at his feet for about an hour as a teenager, and learned two of the most valuable lessons in my life. First of all, no one will know you’ve made a mistake unless you make “the mistake face.” Secondly, “You don’t really know a song until you can play it in any key.” Both of these gems have been invaluable during my entire career.
5. John Paul Jones. Led Damn Zep. Bass players always talk about “II” as the album, and no doubt, it’s seriously awesome, but “Physical Graffiti” taught me all about counter punctual lines. Everyone knows the riff to “Kashmir”, but listen to what the bass is really doing; playing a repeating, 3 over 4 sounding line that’s hypnotic and amazing. On “Ten Years Gone” he’s harmonically supporting the main guitar figure without being obvious, changing what is perceived as the “root”, and making the whole thing darker. That’s bass playing, man. Deep.
6. Jaco. My intro to Jaco wasn’t typical bass player fare. The first time I heard him, a friend from school, who I shared a love of Mott with, brought in Ian Hunter’s solo album “All American Alien Boy”. Jaco was the bassist on the album, and the title cut grabbed me instantly. His tone, his power and his out-right nasty ass groove jumped out of the record player! Nobody sounded like that, or played like that, or blew up the bass world like that. Then, he takes a solo, and it was over.
Several years ago I read an interview with a top Nashville bassist who said “the history of bass is split in two eras; pre-Jaco and post-Jaco. When his first album came up, I know a lot of guys who just…quit.”
7. Willie Riser. Chances are, that if you live outside the Bay Area, you don’t know who Willie Riser is. Through the 90’s, as groove and blues was taking hold of me in a big, big way, Willie was the house bassist at the Blue Monday Jam at Blake’s on Telegraph in Berkeley. I’d go every chance I got, and I’d want to play, no doubt about that, but I went to see Willie. Willie can take all that Jaco style groove, put it through his personal Chicago Blues grinder, and it comes out as his own cool thing. I stold…er, “learned” so much from Willie that I probably should pay him for lessons retroactively.
8. George Porter Jr.. I don’t know when the New Orleans bug grabbed a hold of me, but it surely did. I can’t get enough of the history, the food, the culture, and of course, the music. George is the man, pure and simple. Whatever he plays, and whoever he plays with, this shit is funky. I like George’s playing because he surprises me with where he goes; he comes from different angles that I hear, and it opens up my thinking about what I’m doing. Plus, he’s fearless, and one of the nicest guys in the world.
9. Bobby Vega. My mentor, my “Spiritual Patron”, my confident, and my friend. The first time I met Bobby, at Rich Bandoni’s house, we were making small talk about gigs and amps and whatnot, and while we talked he was playing a bass. I was involved in the conversation, but my brain was screaming “What is he playing? How is he doing that? My God, what even IS that? Make him do that again, but slower!” Bobby is the funkiest bassist on the planet, and his techniques are unique and jaw-dropping. Instead of just copping his licks, I try to find that same inner motor, the place in your soul that brings that kind of funk to your fingers, and then apply that to whatever I’m playing. That groove will benefit any style of music, and I know I’m a better player just from thinking that way.
10. Me. There, I typed it; Me. Allow me to explain; I will never be on the cover of a Bass magazine. This is a super rare appearance by my name on a Top Ten list (twice in 24 hours!). I am not the best bass player even in the small city I live in (Mr. Ehrmann), but here’s the thing; I’m the best guy for the job. I do the work, I play the groove, and I understand how songs work and how to play with singers, soloists, and drummers. Hanging around and learning count, and I’ve done that. I truly believe and live by my credo; “If I’m not playing bass, mistakes were made!” Egotistical? Well, yeah! It’s kind of a job prerequisite at a certain level! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So there. I’ve no doubt left a lot out, but this is a pretty influential group for me. These days I listen to a lot of people I consider friends who happen to be monster players. Maybe my next list will be Monster Players You Should Hear Because They’re Awesome!