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Five Of My Faves: Bassists

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

Ah, the bassist! The member of the band whose name is rarely remembered and who is often asked to stand at the back for photoshoots (see AC/DC's Highway To Hell album cover if you don't believe me).

I've always had a fascination with bass and the musicians who play the instrument. The unsung heroes. The guys and girls who lay the foundation for the rest of the musicians in the band to stand atop.

The bassist has always had a raw deal, particularly when it comes to Rock bands. Of course, a few exceptions have stood out over the years, Jack Bruce, Flea and Geddy Lee spring to mind, but I've always felt that these guys, although being world-class musicians, came to be recognized not due to their insane skills, but more for their charisma and on-stage antics.

So, this week, I'm paying respect to the largely uncelebrated masses by listing five of my all-time favourite bass players!

5. Cliff Williams (AC/DC)

Meat and potatoes. Never will you find a more solid, understated bassist than Cliff Williams. A true believer in KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

His rock solid basslines do exactly what you'd want a Rock n' Roll bassist to do, support the guitars and lock with the drummer, creating a punchy, enveloping sound.

Being a member of AC/DC for more than 40 years means that there's no shortage of material for you to delve into. Make sure to listen to Razor's Edge for some oh-so-good bass runs!

4. Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big; The Winery Dogs; Solo)

Known for having one of the most impressive guitar rigs in the industry, Sheehan's ability does not fall short of his equipment's magnificence.

Sheehan began his career playing for Talas, a Buffalo-based power-trio, but didn't reach worldwide attention until he formed Mr. Big with Paul Gilbert, Eric Martin and Pat Torpey. The group went on to record scores of Number One hits including "Just Take My Heart" and "To Be With You". He is currently playing with The Winery Dogs alongside Richie Kotzen and Mike Portnoy.

Sheehan is known for his mastery of an arsenal of techniques, including: Controlled Feedback, Three-Finger Picking and Tapping.

For a taste of what the man is capable of, please watch his electric performance with Steve Vai at the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival.

3. Marcus Miller (Solo)

All of you Funk and Jazz lovers should be well aware of one Mr Marcus Miller, a musician with his finger firmly on the pulse of all things Groove.

Miller is best known for his Jazz compositions which focus mainly on Saxophone and Piano driven melodies, but what a lot of people don't know is how accomplished he is as a session musician, playing on more than 500 albums for artists such as Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra & Elton John.

One of my favourite Miller performances is his instrumental rendition of The Jackson's "I'll Be There" which he swiftly follows up with possibly the funkiest version of "Come Together" you'll ever hear. Enjoy!

2. Sting (The Police; Solo)

The musician's musician. When Sting isn't writing intricate, borderline indulgent, songs or performing week-long coitus he's usually playing a mean bass.

Now, Sting, or Gordon Sumner ("Gordie" to his mum) is an accomplished guitarist and pianist and even taught himself how to play the Lute, but it has always been his bass playing that has inspired me to be a better musician.

He's always approached his instrument and his music from a completely unique place. This fact being evident in his use of Major vocal melodies on top of Minor chord progressions and his mixture of Middle Eastern and Western musical styles (listen to Desert Rose if you don't know what I'm talking about).

1. Nathan East (Fourplay, Solo)

I have been a fan of Nathan East ever since I first saw him playing alongside Eric Clapton at the

One More Car, One More Rider concert (also the first DVD I ever watched). I remember that I didn't quite understand what he was doing, being too young to really grasp the concept of Low End in a mix, but I was damn sure that whatever he was doing, he was doing it well!

Enjoying a career spanning more than four decades, East has appeared on some 2000 recordings and has performed with artists including Stevie Wonder, Toto, Joe Satriani, Andrea Bocelli, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson.

As well as being an incredibly skilled session bassist, Nathan East is also an accomplished composer, having written the music to Phil Collins and Philip Bailey's number one hit "Easy Lover".  He is also the founding member and main composer of Fourplay, his Jazz Fusion band.

I believe that what sets Nathan East apart from his contemporaries is his virtuosity within every genre and his ability to effortlessly switch between them. He can tone down and dress up to perform with Fourplay at a Jazz festival in the afternoon and then afterwards, rock out with Eric Clapton in front of 20,000 screaming Cream and Derek & The Dominoes fans!

East's style is wholly his own. His use of chords and harmonising notes adds so much depth to otherwise basic musical passages and progressions. I've never heard a bassist, or guitarist for that matter, move around a fretboard with such ease.

Nathan East is, in my opinion, the perfect musician; one skilled enough to play circles around anyone on a stage with him, but also with the class to understand when his virtuosity is not needed, a pure song server!

"The bass player's function, along with the drums, is to be the engine that drives the car... Everything else is merely colours." - Suzi Quatro

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