10 Innovative Bassists You Should Know - dummies

By Patrick Pfeiffer

Certain bass players have made a lasting mark on the entire bass world, regardless of which genre of music they play. These innovators advance the instrument to new levels, influencing everyone who follows in their footsteps. Each of these bass players has a unique style; it isn’t easy to say how these giants have influenced one another, so they are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Stanley Clarke

Considered by many to be the liberator of the bass, Stanley Clarke pioneered the concept of the “solo bass album” in the early 1970s and brought the bass guitar (including his higher-pitched tenor and piccolo basses) from the back line to front and center in a featured melodic role that’s usually reserved for guitarists and horn players.

Clarke is best known for his work with the jazz-fusion group Return to Forever and for his solo projects. Signature Clarke tunes include “School Days” and “Lopsy Lu.”

John Entwistle

John Entwistle’s nickname (among others) was “Thunderfingers.” He’s best remembered as the bassist for the rock group The Who. From the mid-1960s to the early ’80s, Entwistle developed a busy style of lead bass playing that included occasional explosive solos (and he was loud).

He also performed as a solo artist. Brilliant signature Entwistle features include “My Generation” and “Who Are You.” When called upon to play a solo on a rock gig, you can’t do better than to draw on Entwistle for inspiration.

James Jamerson

James Jamerson is the father of modern electric bass. Between the early 1960s and the late ’70s, he played on more number-one hits than Elvis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones…combined.

He was the main bassist for the Funk Brothers, the legendary rhythm section for the Motown label. Some of his signature tunes are “I Heard It through the Grapevine” (check out the Gladys Knight version for some incredible bass playing) and Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in my Life.”

Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye is a true pioneer of the bass guitar, having played on literally thousands of studio recordings, including classics by The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, The Monkees, The Righteous Brothers, Ray Charles, and many, many more, along with movie and TV soundtracks by the dozens.

You can hear her cutting loose on Quincy Jones’s “Hicky-Burr” and on the Mel Tormé version of “Games People Play.” One of her most famous bass parts is the theme for “Mission: Impossible” (the original TV series). Kaye was a member of the L.A. studio musicians’ clique (later dubbed “The Wrecking Crew”) of the 1960s and ’70s, during the “California Rock Explosion.”

Will Lee

Will Lee is living the dream of a bassist. He started his career as a top New York session player in the early 1970s. Lee records and performs with stars in musical genres that range from jazz (The Brecker Brothers), to rock and pop (Steely Dan, Barry Manilow), to soul (James Brown, D’Angelo), and everything in between.

A musical chameleon whose super-precise bass lines enhance any contemporary style, he can be heard (and seen) most nights on the popular Late Show with David Letterman. He also tours with his Beatles’ cover band, The Fab Faux.

Paul McCartney

Perhaps the most famous bassist in history, Paul McCartney was one of The Beatles. He embarked on a solo career after The Fab Four’s split in 1970. McCartney pushed the bass to new levels in rock and pop music by playing in a melodic style that embellished the vocals and melody of a tune. Signature McCartney tunes include “Something” and “Come Together” (among many, many others).

Marcus Miller

A strong soloist and groove player, Marcus Miller is a multitalented musician and producer who just happens to play bass. Miller burst onto the scene in the late 1970s and never left. He mixes soul, R & B, hip-hop, funk, and contemporary jazz and comes up with original works of stunning beauty and depth.

He’s best known for his work with jazzers Miles Davis and David Sanborn, as well as for his studio work and solo projects.

Jaco Pastorius

Hailed as the greatest electric bassist in the world, Jaco Pastorius restructured the function of the bass guitar in music when he took the bass world by storm in the mid-1970s. He was truly unprecedented, performing audacious technical feats.

Jaco (he’s typically referred to by this name; his full name is John Francis Pastorius III) played both fluid grooves and hornlike solos with equal virtuosity, and he incorporated harmonics into his playing as an additional musical tool. He’s best known for his work with the jazz-fusion group Weather Report and as a solo artist. Signature Jaco tunes include “Donna Lee,” the beautiful “Continuum,” and the blistering “Teen Town.”

Victor Wooten

Defying boundaries and categories, Victor Wooten is a modern bass virtuoso who came to fame in the late 1980s. Best known for his work with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and as a solo artist, he’s continually pushing the bass further and further into the limelight.

Check out Wooten’s bass playing on the CD Live Art with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and on his solo album Palmystery. You also can hear him with two other fabulous bassists on this top-ten list: He plays with Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke on the album Thunder, under the band name S.M.V.

X (fill in your own)

This spot is yours to fill. Which bassist influenced you to pick up the bass and made you want to play? Your bassist choice can be a world famous rocker like Adam Clayton, Sting, Geddy Lee, or Flea; a jazz virtuoso like Alain Caron, Gerald Veasley, or John Patitucci; or a famous (to bassists) studio player like Lee Sklar or Anthony Jackson…or even your talented next-door neighbor or your teacher.