Playing backup to a lead guitarist who gets all the attention. If you’ve ever doubted the importance of the bassist, imagine any song by the likes of AC/DC, The Who, or the Rolling Stones without bass — it would sound flat and incomplete. It is the bassist’s job to fill out the sound and give depth to a band’s music. But some bassists go above and beyond that main requirement. Here we’ll take a look at some of the best bass players to ever walk the earth. Who did we forget? Let us know in the comments!
If there is one bass player that is instantly recognizable it has to be Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When you hear that unique slap bass sound that Flea has developed you know right away that it’s him, even when he’s guest starring on someone else’s song, like Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough single “You Oughta Know.” Flea comes from a jazz background, having originally started his musical career playing the trumpet, and it seems as if he draws a lot of inspiration from that genre in his bass playing.
The least known person on this list is probably Pino Palladino. But that doesn’t mean he is any less deserving of being on this list. Palladino has mainly worked as a session musician, but after John Entwistle’s passing he has stepped in to fill the void he left in The Who, a job that he was quite clearly made for. Pino Palladino is also one third of the John Mayer Trio, along with John Mayer (of course), and drummer Steve Jordan.
Recent Hall of Fame inductee Geddy Lee of Rush is basically the original that many bassists try to imitate. What makes Lee so special is the fact that aside from playing some of the most intricate bass lines ever heard, he does it while singing. Sometimes he even adds keyboards to the mix, while playing bass notes with foot pedals.
Stefan Lessard joined Dave Matthews Band when he was only sixteen years old. In fact, when the band would perform in bars they would actually have to sneak him in. Just like his band mates, Lessard is an incredibly gifted musician. He plays the bass as if it were a lead instrument. If you want to hear a great example of Lessard in action, check out any live recording of DMB doing “All Along The Watchtower.” Stefan does the most intricate and melodic bass intro that sets the mood for the entire song.
Master funk bassist Les Claypool admits being heavily influenced by another bassist on this list: Geddy Lee of Rush. Claypool was able to take those influences, master them, and turn them in to his own style, which was the back bone of his band Primus, probably the wackiest band to ever cross over to mainstream success.
The Who bassist John Entwistle passed away far too early at the age of 57. But the legacy he left behind is remarkable. Entwistle was the only possible choice to match the talent of Pete Townshend. His bass playing was so melodic, it could at times be mistaken for the lead guitar part.
Cliff Burton’s contribution to music only consisted in the first three Metallica albums, Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, and Master of Puppets. But with those three albums, Master of Puppets in particular, Burton set the bar for what a bassist in a metal band could do. It seems to be a common theme that great bass players know how to push their instrument to the limit, making it sound like more than just bass notes backing up a lead guitarist.
John Paul Jones
Just like his Led Zeppelin band mate Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones started out as a session musician. Jones masters multiple music styles, having played bass in the studio for such diverse artists as Cat Stevens and Jeff Beck. Along with the late John Bonham, John Paul Jones provided the most solid and recognizable rhythm section a band could have.
When you see Billy Sheehan playing the bass live, your jaw will most certainly drop by the sheer speed with which he plays the bass. It is really hard to grasp that a human being can play like that. Sheehan has played bass with the likes of Steve Vai, and David Lee Roth, as well as his own band Mr. Big. In Mr. Big, Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert use power drills with guitar picks mounted on them to play the song “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy” as if they weren’t playing fast enough already.
It’s easy to forget that aside from being a great front man and songwriter, Phil Lynott was also an excellent bass player. His bass lines are some of the most inventive you will find in rock music. You also have to keep in mind that Lynott played them while singing — that takes some serious skills! Phil Lynott left this world way too soon, but at least he left behind a great collection of music that is still in heavy rotation on rock radio stations all over the world.