Unknown and Underappreciated
Bass players, the backbone and support beam of every band. Also, the individual in the band least likely to get a date or any recognition what’s so ever. However, without a great bass player that knows what he or she is doing, the music will be flat and fall apart immediately.
Why are bassists so often ignored or misunderstood? It’s that age old saying in music where you are “felt and not heard.” But, as soon as you remove that groove coming from behind, you immediately notice that something is missing. Some of your favorite bands or tracks feature some of the most talented bass slappers that fade through the years, song after song. It honestly takes a special type of person to be a bassist. You have to be comfortable with the fact that you will be behind the scenes and provide support for the whole band.
Some bassists like Jaco Pastorious, Victor Wooten, and Flea have beaten the odds and are the expectation to the rule of bass players. Their desire to be in the spotlight while playing their favorite instrument propelled them to stand out of the crowd and manipulate the bass in ways that were never tried before.
Those standout bass players are great and deserve all of the respect we can give them. However, I want to explore the bassists that generally remain behind the curtain and give us the greatest bass lines heard in music, the unsung thumpers and groove machines. These are the 12 most underrated bass players in music.
12). Aston Barrett
Reggae music is all about the upstroke, steel drums, and a simple killer bass groove. No one hits this mark quite like Aston Barrett. If you don’t think you have ever heard one of his tracks, just listen to any Bob Marley and the Wailer’s song and you hear Barrett’s handy bass work. Doesn’t get more chill than this.
11). Les Claypool
Les Claypool is an outlandish and flamboyant character who happens to be an amazing bass player. He combines a unique mixture of “Flamenco-style strumming,” slapping and crazy whammy bar bends to deliver a bizarre one-of-a-kind bass sound for his experimental band Primus. Sometimes, Claypool’s crazy demeanor can take away from how immensely talented he actually is.
10). Tal Wilkenfeld
Tal Wilkenfeld’s bass tone is so full and powerful that you would never guess it was her behind the tone. She has been in the professional scene since age 20 and her credentials are staggering. Her biggest break came when she was invited to play bass in Jeff Beck’s band. Any bass player that can keep up with Vinnie Colaiuta is alright in any book.
9). Jerry Jemmott
If bassists in general are unsung heroes of music, session musicians are way beyond that. Jerry Jemmott was known as the “chief session bassist” of the 60’s and 70’s. He has played on albums with Aretha Franklin, Mike Bloomfield, George Benson, and many more.
8). Bootsy Collins
Mr. William “Bootsy” Collins, one of the funkiest bass players known to man. Dressed in flashy sequin suits, top hats, and those signature star glasses to match his star-shaped bass, Bootsy is one of the most energetic onstage bass players. After playing with a few bands, Bootsy rose to fame as a member of James Brown’s band. He was also featured on a few albums by the funk group Parliament-Funkadelic. He continues to release solo albums to keep the funk alive!
7). Charles Mingus
He was a pianist, composer, bandleader, and a legendary jazz bassist. Charles Mingus was known for leading a very different sounding big band than people were used to hearing. Building on the foundation that leaders like Duke Ellington and Count Basie created, Mingus was able to add his own flare to jazz and create one of the most influential jazz bands in history.
6). Andy Fraser
Before Paul Rodger’s band Bad Company became an international sensation, his band of young prodigy players Free made a huge impact on music. In my opinion, the band in general doesn’t get the recognition they deserve, but their bassist Andy Fraser is grossly underrated. At only 15, Fraser not only helped to form the band, but also co-wrote and produced their big hit “All Right Now.” His technical abilities can be heard in every track, but especially in “Mr. Big.”
5). Bernard Edwards
If you are looking to become a funk bassist, look no further than human groove tutorial Bernard Edwards. Chances are, you probably don’t recognize this name, but have heard the song “Le Freak” by his band Chic. Everyone of their songs is a go to example for a proper funk bass line. In fact, his bass line from “Good Times” “has become one of the most copied pieces of music in history.”
4). Donald “Duck” Dunn
It might be hard to image that the most prolific bass player in soul and R&B of the 60’s was a white guy from Memphis, Tennessee. Donald Dunn was a session bassist that was featured on countless recordings with artists like Otis Redding, Albert King, Elvis, and many more. He is most recognized as the bass player behind Booker T. and the MG’s with whom he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
3). Pino Palladino
Speaking of prolific bass players who never get recognition, next up is Pino Palladino. I recently found out about this guy while listening to John Mayer’s Trio Live! album. Pino is the epitome of a ‘in the pocket’ player and never lets the rhythm falter. He has been a go to bassist for many years and has appeared on many albums of every genre you could think of from rock with Jeff Beck and The Who, to soul with Dangelo and Adele. He is definitely a great player to learn from and one of my favorites!
2). James Jamerson
The master of Motown, the grooviest man in the world, and not many people know who he is. I am talking about Mr. James Jamerson, the bassist on essentially every major Motown record in the 60’s and 70’s. Jamerson and his band the Funk Brothers are probably the most underrated and underappreciated band in music history. If you have heard a song by Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes, or pretty much any other soul band you can think of, then you have heard Jamerson’s handy bass work. He revolutionized the bassist’s role in music and influenced our favorite bass players of today.
1). John Paul Jones
Not only is John Paul Jones underrated as the phenomenal bass player that he is, but he does not get enough credit for his overall incredible musicianship. Jones is proficient at not only bass, but mandolin, organ, ukulele, and other instruments. Of course, behind the most talented group of musicians in rock music, Led Zeppelin, it can be hard to stand out, especially with someone like Page on guitar. But, if you listen closely, John Paul Jones constructs some very intricate bass lines that will blow your mind.
By. Patrick Ortiz