My worries about the death of bass have been relieved…
I’ve been playing bass since the late 80’s; a lot of bass players I know are people who kind of fell into it, perhaps they were guitarists who were reasonably average at that particular skill but found they were exceptional bass players. (Annoyingly, this is very common; although its also true that people who are exceptional guitarists, when they try out on the bass, are usually rubbish, because they end up trying to play like Geddy Lee.)
I decided I wanted to play bass after watching The Who on TV at Live Aid. John Entwhistle had this incredible sound and his playing was like nothing I’d ever heard before; I wasn’t sure what he was doing (I *was* only 13 at the time), but I knew I wanted to do it myself.
I’ve been inspired by lots of bass players since then; Derek Forbes from early Simple Minds (yes, really), Eric Avery from Jane’s Addiction, classic bassmen like James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, John Paul Jones, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, George Porter Jnr, Holgar Czukay, Tim Simenon, Tina Weymouth, Peter Hook, Mani. You’ll notice a theme above; all of these bass players had character, they played with soul, groove, melody, innovation. Where are these folks today? Yeah bands have bass players but do any of them inspire or even make us sit up and take note? Who plays bass for Coldplay, Muse, Vaccines, Foo Fighters? I’m sure they’re all technically proficient, but I genuinely couldn’t tell you who they are. And none of them inspire me.
So bands are turning to stripping out the bass playing element. We’ve seen bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs and White Stripes get shot of the bottom end, but in my view they haven’t really, have they? Look at White Stripes most famous song, Seven Nation Army; there’s a bassline runs right through that song, it’s the signature sound. I know it’s played on the guitar but it mimics the bass. Doorbell by the Stripes also uses the piano to provide the bottom end. One of my favourite bands
bass how low can it go …before it goes…
, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, were one of the first of the new wave of bands to dispense with bass players….but basically what happens is that Spencer cranks up the bass on his guitar to replicate the bottom end whilst Judah Bauer provides the guitar over the top. My favourite Parliament song is “Flashlight” – it features a synth bassline.
My point is that, yeah, you can dispense with bass players….but you’ll still need bottom end. You can provide that via a number of routes; guitars with bass cranked up, pianos, synths, vocals (if you’ve got big enough balls). But without it, your songs will suck. “