The ‘Rolling Stone’ readers choose the Top 10 Bassists of All Time. Here is the list:
10. Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones)
In many ways, Wooten picked up where Jaco Pastorius left off when he died in 1982. As the bassist in the Flecktones, Wooten has a funkier style than Pastorius, but both were masters of intricate jazz melodies as well as complex R&B arrangements. Every player in the Flecktones is a master, but when Wooten busts out a solo at a concert every jaw in the audience drops to the ground.
9. Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Metallica’s early albums inspired generations of metal bands, and Cliff Burton’s bass parts were studied by fans like they were the Talmud. His catalog is slim, just Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, but that was more than enough to secure his legacy for decades to come. Burton tragically died in September of 1986 when Metallica’s tour bus flipped over while traveling through Sweden. He was just 24. The band carried on, but many diehards feel that they never matched the thunder of the Cliff Burton era.
8. Jack Bruce (Cream)
Most musicians would have a very hard time distinguishing themselves if they wound up in a band with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, but Jack Bruce was so gifted on the bass that he did it with ease. Bruce began his career as jazz bassist, but he switched to rock in the early Sixties when R&B bands began surfacing all over London. He met Clapton when they both played in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, and they went on to form Cream – so named because all three musicians were seen as the cream of the crop. In the Seventies he tried his hand at everything from jazz fusion to world music to classical, but in 2005 he briefly reformed with Cream for a triumphant series of shows in London and New York.
7. Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius isn’t a household name, but ask any serious bass player and they’ll cite him as a legend virtually without peer. Pastorius began his musical career as a drummer, but an early wrist injury forced him to switch to the bass. He quickly mastered the instrument, becoming obsessed with jazz fusion. In the Seventies he was one of the most sought-after bassists in that field, playing with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Herbie Hancock and many others. His 1976 self-titled solo debut features contributions from Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Randy Brecker, David Sanborn and Sam & Dave. He struggled with bipolar disorder for much of his life, and died in 1982 after a vicious fight with a bouncer outside of a Florida club. He was just 35.
6. John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
Before John Paul Jones even joined Led Zeppelin he was considered one of the best session bassists in all of England, playing on tracks by Donovan, Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens and many others. When he formed Zeppelin with singer Robert Plant, drummer Jon Bonham and Jones’ fellow session ace Jimmy Page, they formed one of the most powerful rock groups in history. Jones was content to stay in the background, but he was undoubtedly the backbone of their entire sound. In 2009 he grew weary of waiting for Robert Plant to commit to a Zeppelin tour and he formed Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme.
5. Les Claypool (Primus)
Les Claypool is one of the all-time best slap bass players. One of his early heroes was Geddy Lee. “When I saw my first Rush concert, I spent the whole time watching Geddy’s hands,” Claypool told Bass Player Magazine. “There were so many things I didn’t know; I didn’t even know there were such things as roundwound strings. I’d had that Memphis a year and a half without changing the strings, and here I was trying to sound like Geddy Lee and Chris Squire.” Years later he developed his signature funky, slap bass sound that fueled his band Primus and his supergroup Oysterhead, which he formed in 2000 with Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Phish frontman Tren Anastasio.
4. Geddy Lee (Rush)
If Geddy Lee’s only role in Rush was to play the bass he’d be unbelievably accomplished. The fact that he does it while singing and playing keyboards proves that the man is almost a freak of nature. Few singers in the history of rock could have handled this triple duty. The group has occasionally flirted with the idea of adding a fourth member to their stage show to ease Lee’s load, but they always decide that fans only want to see the three members of Rush onstage. He manages it all by playing bass pedals during his keyboard parts. The band is currently performing their 1980 LP Moving Pictures on a world tour.
3. Paul McCartney (The Beatles)
Paul McCartney gets so much attention for his brilliant songwriting in The Beatlesthat his stunning bass playing abilities are often overlooked. But listen to any Beatles songs and focus on his deeply melodic, flawless bass parts. He took on the role reluctantly after original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe left the group and nobody else wanted to take over his instrument. He soon mastered it, but also proved adept at guitar and drums – as he proved when Ringo Starr briefly quit during the making of 1968’s The White Album and Paul took his place behind the kit in the studio with great ease.
2. Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea was originally inspired by bassists in the early 1980s Los Angeles punk scene, but when he got into Bootsy Collins in the mid-Eighties and tried out his “slap” style he found a signature sound. Over the years he’s adopted more of a melodic touch, but he frequently funks it up like the Flea of old. In 2009 he joined forces with Thom Yorke in the supergroup Atoms for Peace, but he’s currently finishing up the next Red Hot Chili Peppers album and planning a world tour.
1. John Entwistle (The Who)
The clear winner in our poll was John Entwistle of The Who. Known as both Ox and Thunderfingers, Entwistle was trained on the piano and French horn before switching to the bass. He played it like a lead instrument, creating a powerful, booming sound that often overshadowed Pete Townshend’s guitar playing. His solo on “My Generation” is probably the most famous bass solo in rock history. The Who have carried on since his sudden death in 2002, but their music has lacked Entwistle’s thunder and been considerably weaker as a result.