Bassically: The Bass Players

The Black Jacket Symphony will be performing the Doors first album, “The Doors” for the first time on November 3rd and 4th at Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama.

The doors have a reputation for using a keyboard instead of a bass guitar.  While they usually always did this live, it’s a big misconception. 

They used a bass player quite frequently.  On “The Doors” they used Larry Knectel on six of the eleven songs.  He was a session player who also played with The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Partridge Family.  He just didn’t get a credit.

From there they used Douglass Lubhan for the next couple of albums probably because he had NOT played with the Partridge Family.  Again he played on more than half of each albums songs.  For their last album “L.A. Woman” they used session player Jerry Scheff for the entire record.

So let’s talk about bass players.

They are the back line.

They lock in with the drummer to pave a solid foundation for the guitarist and singer to wail all over the top of.

In the early days, they were barely seen if heard.  That changed.

Taking matters, along with those four big strings, into their own hands, bass players wrestled out of the shadows and into the spotlights and, just like that, another real instrument was born – the bass guitar.

This is a list of some of those pioneers, some of the most important rock bass players of all-time.


JAMES JAMERSON (The Funk Brothers)

 The majority of the music produced on Motown Records in the ’60s wouldn’t have been nearly as good without this man. Not exactly in the “rock” category, but he has to be mentioned for his influence.


Carol Kaye

Pet Sounds. Good Vibrations. Song Of Innocence. Songs Of Experience. Homeward Bound. Heroes And Villains. These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. Then He Kissed Me. Wichita Lineman. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. River Deep – Mountain High. As part of The Wrecking Crew, Carol Kaye contributed guitar and bass to a succession of stone cold classic American pop LPs and 45s.


DONALD “DUCK” DUNN (Stax Records/The Blues Brothers)

Duck is about as prolific and funky as they come. Played bass on just about everything important that Stax put out in the ’60s.


BILL WYMAN (Rolling Stones)

About as exciting as watching paint dry in concert, but Wyman was about as rock solid as anyone on record. Although rumor has it Keith Richards would go in and replace many of his parts…


DEE MURRAY (Elton John)

This man–rest his soul–never gets any credit for his outstanding work on Elton John’s recordings from 1970 thru 1975. Very subtle, to be sure, but check him out on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “Ballad Of Danny Bailey” and ”Love Lies Bleeding” from Yellow Brick Road and you will see.



Yeah, a tendency to show off and overplay, but he had his signature sound and let’s face it….he could play a damn bass guitar.  Pretty good, eh?


FLEA (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Flea was able to make Stevie Wonder’s funky classic “Higher Ground” even funkier with his titanic bass playing. That alone….


LEMMY (Motorhead)

Hardly the most technically proficient bass player in the world, but what he lacks in technique he makes up for with volume and attitude. Almost like another rhythm guitar, really. Not to be denied.


NICK LOWE (Brinsley Schwartz/Rockpile)

Understated bass playing from a guy who is better known for his songwriting and producing prowess. But as a songwriter, he knew exactly what a song called for with a bass guitar.


JOHN PAUL JONES (Led Zeppelin)

He delivered big-time, especially on that first Zeppelin album on tracks like “Dazed And Confused” and “How Many More Times” among many others. Not a bad keyboard player, either.


John Entwistle (The Who)

There are those who see John Entwistle’s emotionless scowl, all fingers flying, and award him the crown of rock’s best bassist on that alone.  Granted, he had to be to keep up with Keith Moon’s circus playing drums.  So take the time to listen to just about any Who song after 1967 and how much space the bass is filling.  This allows Pete Townshend’s power chords to sound all the more epic.  It may not necessarily be melodic, but for all the notes being played, there is not a single one that does not serve the song well.


Paul McCartney (The Beatles)

Face it, Sir McCartney is the single-most influential bass player in rock & roll.  McCartney’s main contribution to the art of rock & roll bass playing was to prove just how melodic the bass could be within the confines of a four-piece rock band.  In McCartney’s hands, the bass literally became another singer in the band.  Just listen to the bass parts on “A Day In The Life”.  One need only listen to his work on that song to fully recognize McCartney’s talent.

Or “Rain”.  Or “Paperback Writer”.  Or “All My Loving”.  Or “Taxman”.  Or “Old Brown Shoe”.  Or….

The Beauty is that he knew when to overplay and you don’t notice.  (“Something” is a good example) Or underplay basically a drone (“Get Back”).  He knew what the song called for and didn’t call attention to his playing. That’s called “taste” for you young’uns.  It’s called simple genius for us mere mortals.  

Have a bass player that you think is one of the greats? 

Carole Kaye showing the youngsters how it's done...


14 responses

  1. Joe

    Cliff Burton, and Les Claypool need to be listed.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm

  2. Tres

    Chris Squire?

    August 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm

  3. Lorraine

    Jay Johnson!!

    August 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm

  4. Lee Hurley

    How bout Sting?

    August 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm

  5. joseph hanvey

    John Deacon- Queen Another one bites the dust, the Millionaire Waltz, Somebody to love, under pressure, your my best friend, too many to list.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm

  6. Entwistle didn’t over-play but Geddy Lee does? Disagree X10.

    But one of my favorites who never gets mentioned is Colin Moulding of XTC fame. Bob Glaub is another great, as is Will Lee.

    August 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm

  7. Jeff Miller

    Agreed for many of your entries. McCartney writes from the bass up, it seems and often uses the bass as an alternate melody to the vocal/lead guitar. Duck Dunn & JP Jones are on my list as well.
    Jack Bruce, Sting, Tommy Shannon & John McVie deserve a mention, for various reasons. Though not rock & roll, Vic Wooten is simply the most amazing bassist I’ve seen.

    August 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm

  8. Totally agree about Paul McCartney. He is my biggest influence on bass. I like it too that he plays with a pick (for all the “purist” bassists who look down on us “pickers.”)

    August 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  9. How bout Joe Gittleman, the Bass Fiddleman (Mighty Mighty Bosstones).

    August 18, 2011 at 8:43 pm


    Jaco Pastorius 0K- I know he’s primarily a jazz player but, oh, how beautiful was the music!
    Victor Wooten – simply awe-inspiring
    Paul Goddard – If you don’t know him listen to “Another Man’s Woman” ( You have to wait until about 6:16 into the song but it is WORTH the wait!

    August 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

  11. Jaco Pastorius without question!
    Tim Bogert of Vanilla Fudge
    Chris Squier of Yes for sure!
    Bruce Palmer of Buffalo Springfield.
    Roger Waters
    Michael Anthony…totally overshadowed by Eddie, Alex and DLR!

    August 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm

  12. Bob Greasy

    Half Japanese bassist Jason Willett is the most underrated bassist ever.

    August 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  13. Bryan Megginson

    Though I’m not a big P-Funk fan, Bootsy Collins (“Bootzilla”) might be worth mentioning, as well as the girl from Talking Heads (Tina somebody…I think), revisit the “Stop Making Sense” concert movie….she’s getting it done.

    August 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm

  14. Michael Wanninger

    John McVie. With Mick Fleetwood, how many different sounds were built on this solid bass foundation? From the UK/Peter Green, to moderate Bob Welsh sound and finally the huge success. Buckingham, Nicks and Christie McVie all had a complex, delicate sound that could only live on a strong foundation. I have always though of the three as a girls gymnastic floor routine – delicate, beautiful and at times athletic – but only performing because of a strong floor underneath them. A floor of McVie and Fleetwood.

    August 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

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