My Favorite Bass Players

Nirvana bassist talks about McCartney, Simmons and ...

Thank you all for your comments regarding my bass playing. Since so many are interested in this matter, I'd like to share a few thoughts about the subject. I've approached playing bass as a bridge between the rhythm section and the guitar/vocal melody. (Nothing new there!) When synched up to the guitar, the bass ads heft to a big riff. The bass guitar is tied to the kick drum. Boom. Boom. Boom is the heartbeat that drives those thick bass strings. The bass can produce a melody within the song itself. This will fill those lower frequencies to complement the composition. The bass can jump between octaves to produce a dramatic accent, adding breadth to a guitar riff, and turn a chorus into a "big chorus" with only a few well-placed notes. There are many ways to play bass. The biggest difference is between bare fingers or pick. Each way has its own attributes, but in the end it's about style and personality. I am a pick person. Over the years, I can't tell you how many have told me they learned to play bass with Nirvana records. In turn, I learned from listening to so much music. Thinking about my influences, there are four rock bassists that had an impact on my playing. I'll go through them, and why I feel they matter. Paul McCartney: What can I say but all roads lead to Liverpool! The Beatles were masters of melodic hooks. McCartney's bass riffs are no exception. His light touch on that Hofner flowed with personality. The bottom end of Beatle tunes are symphonies on their own. Like the songs themselves, even the bass-line transitions are fun to listen to. And there are so many songs to mention. Last year, we were fortunate enough to hear a new Beatles record. The remixes on Love are outstanding. The "big" chorus/outro on "Hey Jude" reveals great bass work that was buried under horns on the original recording. "Baby You're a Rich Man," from Magical Mystery Tour puts forth a funky touch along with octave dynamics. The bass riff owns "Come Together" off Abbey Road. "Something," off the same record, is sheer bass elegance. The list goes on and on. Geezer Butler: I don't know where I'd be right now if it weren't for Black Sabbath. Butler is a robust player alternating between fierce bass melodies and marching lockstep with the guitar. When the latter happened, with Butler in synch with Toni Iommi, Black Sabbath would annihilate with the biggest riffs ever heard on the planet. Again, there are so many tunes. The intro on "After Forever" from Master of Reality reveals the robust octave play needed to make heavy music even fatter. "Supernaut," off Volume 4, also does this but with more intense slides off the high octave. Sabotage features "Symptom of the Universe," where the bass octave alternating lends a level of sophistication to a very basic guitar riff. John Entwistle: Entwistle's playing is punchy while dependably maintaining a busy yet heavy bottom end. Standing next to the frantic drumming of Keith Moon, Entwistle could run up and down the neck while still keeping faithful to the melody of the song. We find "lead bass" on the seminal "My Generation" from the album of the same name. His light hand defines sweet pop bass on "Odorono" from Sell Out. On Who's Next, "Love Ain't for Keeping" gives us melodic string bending and more pop elegance. And I have to mention "The Real Me" from Quadrophenia: a landmark of rock bass playing. Gene Simmons: As a 12-year-old, Kiss was the first hard-rock band I got into. Best known for makeup and theatrics, the music of Kiss tended to fall into the background. Early Kiss revealed an unabashed devotion to Beatle pop songcraft. A heavy band, Kiss were also riff-meisters along with the best of them. On "Cold Gin," from their first album, we find guitarists Stanley and Frehley chopping away at a great riff while Simmons plays a variation, thus adding a funky spring to the tune. The instrumental "Love Theme From Kiss," off the same record, gives the same effect, except under smooth guitars harmonizing. "Fire House" is only more hard-rock funk. Check out "Two Timer" from Dressed to Kill. There are many more bass players to list, but these four had the most impact on me. 

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