20 Of The Greatest Bassists Of All Time
This is Musicngear's ultimate rundown for the 20 of the greatest bassists of all time, in any genre. The list is in no particular order. Enjoy!
Victor Lemonte Wooten (born September 11, 1964) is an American bassist, record producer, educator, and recipient of five Grammy Awards. He has been the bassist for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones since the group's formation in 1988 and a member of the band SMV with two other bassists, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller. Since 2017 he has played bass for the metal band Nitro.
He owns Vix Records which releases his albums. He wrote the novel The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music.
Wooten has won the Bass Player of the Year award from Bass Player magazine three times and is the first person to win the award more than once. In 2011, he was ranked No. 10 in the Top 10 Bassists of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine.
John Francis Anthony "Jaco" Pastorius III (December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987) was an American jazz bassist who was a member of Weather Report from 1976 to 1981. He worked with Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell, and recorded albums as a solo artist and band leader. His bass playing employed funk, lyrical solos, bass chords, and innovative harmonics. As of 2017, he is the only electric bassist of seven bassists inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame, and has been lauded as one of the best electric bassists of all time.
Pastorius suffered from drug addiction and mental health problems throughout his professional life, and despite his widespread acclaim had problems over the latter part of his life holding down jobs due to his unreliability. In frequent financial trouble, he was often homeless throughout the mid 1980s. He died in 1987, as a result of injuries sustained in a fight outside of a South Florida music club.
After his death, his work continued to influence musicians. He was elected to the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1988. He was the subject of the 2014 documentary film Jaco.
John Alec Entwistle (9 October 1944 – 27 June 2002) was an English bass guitarist, singer, songwriter, film and music producer. In a music career that spanned more than 40 years, Entwistle was best known as the original bass guitarist for the English rock band the Who. He was the only member of the band to have formal musical training. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Who in 1990.
Entwistle's instrumental approach used pentatonic lead lines, and a then-unusual treble-rich sound ("full treble, full volume") created by roundwound RotoSound steel bass strings. He was nicknamed "The Ox" and "Thunderfingers". In 2011, he was voted as the greatest bass guitarist of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine readers' poll, and in its special "100 Greatest Bass Players" issue in 2017, Bass Player magazine named Entwistle at number seven.
Sir James Paul McCartney CH MBE (born 18 June 1942) is an English singer, songwriter, musician, composer, and record and film producer who gained worldwide fame as co-lead vocalist and bassist for the Beatles. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon remains the most successful in history. After the group disbanded in 1970, he pursued a solo career and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine.
A self-taught musician, McCartney is proficient on bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums. He is known for his melodic approach to bass-playing (mainly playing with a plectrum), his versatile and wide tenor vocal range (spanning over four octaves), and his eclecticism (exploring styles ranging from pre-rock and roll pop to classical and electronica). McCartney began his career as a member of the Quarrymen in 1957, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Starting with the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he gradually became the Beatles' de facto leader, providing the creative impetus for most of their music and film projects. His Beatles songs "And I Love Her" (1964), "Yesterday" (1965), "Eleanor Rigby" (1966) and "Blackbird" (1968) rank among the most covered songs in history.
In 1970, McCartney debuted as a solo artist with the album McCartney. Throughout the 1970s, he led Wings, one of the most successful bands of the decade, with more than a dozen international top 10 singles and albums. McCartney resumed his solo career in 1980. Since 1989, he has toured consistently as a solo artist. In 1993, he formed the music duo the Fireman with Youth of Killing Joke. Beyond music, he has taken part in projects to promote international charities related to such subjects as animal rights, seal hunting, land mines, vegetarianism, poverty, and music education.
McCartney is one of the most successful composers and performers of all time. He has written or co-written 32 songs that have reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and as of 2009, had sales of 25.5 million RIAA-certified units in the United States. His honours include two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as a member of the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1999), 18 Grammy Awards, an appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and a knighthood in 1997 for services to music. As of 2015, he is also one of the wealthiest musicians in the world, with an estimated fortune of $730 million.
Leslie Edward Claypool (born September 29, 1963) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, producer, author, director, and actor. He is best known as the founder, lead singer, bassist, primary songwriter, and only continuous member of the funk metal band Primus. His playing style on the bass is well known for mixing tapping, flamenco-like strumming, whammy bar bends, and slapping.
Claypool has also self-produced and engineered his solo releases from his own studio, Rancho Relaxo. In 2006, a full-length feature film, Electric Apricot, written and directed by Claypool, was released, as well as his debut novel South of the Pumphouse. He wrote and performed the theme songs for the adult animated television series Robot Chicken and South Park.
Clifford Lee Burton (February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986) was an American musician and songwriter, best known as the bass guitarist for the American band Metallica from December 1982 until his death in September 1986.
Burton joined Metallica in 1982 and performed on the band's first three studio albums: Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. He also received a posthumous writing credit for the song "To Live Is to Die" from the band's fourth studio album, ...And Justice for All.
On September 27, 1986 around 7:00 a.m. Burton died in a bus accident in Kronoberg County, a rural area of southern Sweden, as Metallica toured in support of the Master of Puppets album. He has been recognized as a very influential musician both during his career and after his death, placing ninth in a 2011 Rolling Stone magazine online reader poll recognizing the greatest bassists of all time. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Metallica on April 4, 2009.
John Paul Jones
John Richard Baldwin (born 3 January 1946), better known by his stage name John Paul Jones, is an English musician and record producer who was the bassist and keyboardist for the rock band Led Zeppelin. Prior to forming the band with Jimmy Page in 1968, he was a session musician and arranger. After the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded, and Jones developed a solo career. He has collaborated with musicians across a variety of genres, including Josh Homme and Dave Grohl with the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.
Geddy Lee Weinrib, OC (born Gary Lee Weinrib; July 29, 1953), known professionally as Geddy Lee, is a Canadian musician, singer, and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush. Lee joined what would become Rush in September 1968, at the request of his childhood friend Alex Lifeson, replacing original bassist and frontman Jeff Jones. Lee's first and so far only solo effort, My Favourite Headache, was released in 2000.
An award-winning musician, Lee's style, technique, and skill on the bass guitar have inspired many rock musicians such as Cliff Burton of Metallica, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, Les Claypool of Primus, and Tim Commerford of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Along with his Rush bandmates – guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart – Lee was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996. The trio was the first rock band to be so honoured, as a group. In 2013, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after 14 years of eligibility; they were nominated overwhelmingly in the Hall's first selection via fan ballot. Lee is ranked 13th by Hit Parader on their list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Vocalists of All Time.
James Lee Jamerson (January 29, 1936 – August 2, 1983) was an American bass player. He was the uncredited bassist on most of the Motown Records hits in the 1960s and early 1970s (Motown did not list session musician credits on their releases until 1971), and is now regarded as one of the most influential bass players in modern music history. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. As a session musician he played on twenty-three Billboard Hot 100 number one hits, as well as fifty-six R&B number one hits.
In its special issue "The 100 Greatest Bass Players" in 2017, Bass Player magazine ranked Jamerson number one and the most influential bass guitarist. In 2011, Jamerson ranked third in the "20 Most Underrated Bass Guitarists" in Paste magazine.
Terence Michael Joseph "Geezer" Butler (born 17 July 1949) is an English musician and songwriter. Butler is best known as the bassist and primary lyricist of the heavy metal band Black Sabbath. He has also recorded and performed with Heaven & Hell, GZR, and Ozzy Osbourne. He currently serves as bassist of Deadland Ritual.
Michael Peter Balzary (born 16 October 1962), known professionally as Flea, is an Australian-American musician and actor. He is best known as a founding member and the bassist of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers and has appeared on every album released by the band. Flea briefly appeared as the bassist for such bands as What Is This?, Fear, and Jane's Addiction. He has performed with rock supergroups Atoms for Peace, Antemasque, Pigface, and Rocket Juice & the Moon, and collaborated with the Mars Volta, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Alanis Morissette, and Young MC. Flea also performed live with Nirvana in 1993 playing the trumpet.
Flea incorporates elements of funk (including slap bass), psychedelic, punk, and hard rock in his style of playing. In 2009, Rolling Stone readers ranked Flea the second best bassist of all time, behind only John Entwistle. In 2012, he and the other members of Red Hot Chili Peppers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Since 1984, Flea has acted in over 20 films and television series such as Suburbia, Back to the Future Part II and Part III, My Own Private Idaho, The Chase, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dudes, Son in Law, The Big Lebowski, Low Down, Baby Driver and Boy Erased, in addition to voicing the character Donnie Thornberry in The Wild Thornberrys animated television series and films.
Flea is also the co-founder of Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit music education organization founded in 2001 for underprivileged children. In 2019 his memoir Acid for the Children was published, detailing his life prior to the formation of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Stephen Percy Harris (born 12 March 1956) is an English musician, bassist, keyboardist, singer, backing vocalist, primary songwriter and founder of the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. He has been the band's only constant member since their inception in 1975 and one of only two to have appeared on all of their albums, the other being guitarist Dave Murray.
Harris has a recognisable and popular style of bass playing, particularly the "gallop" which can be found on several Iron Maiden recordings, such as the singles "Run to the Hills" and "The Trooper". In addition to his role as the band's bass player, writer and backing vocalist, he has undertaken many other roles for the group, such as producing and co-producing their albums, directing and editing their live videos and performing studio keyboards and synthesizers. He has been cited as one of the greatest heavy metal bassists.
On 24 September 2012, Harris released his debut solo album, British Lion, which was followed on the 17 January 2020 by The Burning.
Carol Kaye (nee Smith, born March 24, 1935) is an American musician. She is one of the most prolific recorded bass guitarists in rock and pop music, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in a career spanning over 50 years.
Kaye began playing guitar in her early teens and after some time as a guitar teacher, began to perform regularly on the Los Angeles jazz and big band circuit. She started session work in 1957, and through a connection at Gold Star Studios began working for producers Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. After a bassist failed to turn up to a session in 1963, she switched to that instrument, quickly making a name for herself as one of the most in-demand session players of the 1960s, playing on numerous hits. She moved into playing on film soundtracks in the late 1960s, particularly for Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin, and began to release a series of tutoring books such as How To Play The Electric Bass. Kaye became less active towards the end of the 1970s, but has continued her career and attracted praise from other musicians.
During the peak of her years of session work, she became part of a stable of Los Angeles-based musicians which went by a variety of informal names, but has since become known as "The Wrecking Crew". Her work with the group led to her prominent role in the eponymous 2008 documentary film.
Stanley Clarke (born June 30, 1951) is an American bassist, film composer and founding member of Return to Forever, one of the first jazz fusion bands. Clarke gave the bass guitar a prominence it lacked in jazz-related music. He is the first jazz-fusion bassist to headline tours, sell out shows worldwide and have recordings reach gold status.
Clarke is a 5-time Grammy winner, with 15 nominations, 3 as a solo artist, 1 with the Stanley Clarke Band, and 1 with Return to Forever.
A Stanley Clarke electric bass is permanently on display at The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Christopher Russell Edward Squire (4 March 1948 – 27 June 2015) was an English musician, singer and songwriter best known as the bassist and a founding member of the progressive rock band Yes. He was the longest-serving original member, having remained in the band until his death and appearing on every studio album released from 1969 to 2014. In 2017, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes.
Squire was widely regarded as the dominant bassist among the English progressive rock bands, influencing peers and later generations of bassists with his incisive sound and elaborately contoured, melodic bass lines. His name was associated with his trademark instrument, the Rickenbacker 4001. From 1991 to 2000, Rickenbacker produced a limited edition signature model bass in his name, the 4001CS.
John Symon Asher Bruce (14 May 1943 – 25 October 2014), known professionally as Jack Bruce, was a Scottish singer-songwriter, musician and composer. He gained popularity as the lead vocalist and bass guitarist of British rock band Cream. After the group disbanded in 1968, he pursued a solo career and also played with several bands.
In the early 1960s, Bruce joined the Graham Bond Organisation, where he met his future bandmate Ginger Baker. After leaving the Graham Bond Organisation, he joined with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, where he met Eric Clapton, who also was his future bandmate. His time with the band was brief. In 1966, he joined Cream with lead guitarist Clapton and drummer Baker. He co-wrote hits like "Sunshine of Your Love", "White Room" and "I Feel Free", with songwriter Pete Brown. After the band disbanded, Bruce formed his own blues rock band West, Bruce and Laing in 1972, with guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing. In the late 1960s, he started recording solo albums. His first solo album, Songs for a Tailor, released in 1969, was a worldwide hit. His solo career spanned several decades. From the 1970s to 1990s, he played with several groups as a touring member. In 2005, he reunited with Cream, for concerts in Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York.
Bruce is considered to be one of the most important and influential bass guitarists of all time. Rolling Stone magazine readers ranked him number eight on their list of "10 Greatest Bass Guitarist Of All Time". He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, both as a member of Cream.
His first marriage was with Janet Godfrey in 1964, with whom he had two sons, Jonas and Malcolm. Their marriage ended in a divorce in 1981. His second marriage was with Margret Seyfer in 1982, with whom he had two daughters Natascha, Kyla and a son named Corin. He died of liver disease on 25 October, 2014 in England, aged 71. At the time of his death, he had a net worth of 20 million dollars.
Larry Graham Jr. (born August 14, 1946) is an American bassist and singer, both with the psychedelic soul/funk band Sly and the Family Stone, and as the founder and frontman of Graham Central Station. He is credited with the invention of the slapping technique on the electric bass guitar, which radically expanded the tonal palette of the bass, although he himself refers to the technique as "thumpin' and pluckin' ".
Ian Fraser Kilmister (24 December 1945 – 28 December 2015), better known as Lemmy, was an English singer, songwriter, and musician. He is best remembered as the founder, lead singer, bassist, and primary songwriter of the heavy metal band Motörhead.
Lemmy's music was one of the foundations of the heavy metal genre. He was known for his appearance, which included his signature friendly mutton chops, his military-influenced fashion sense, and his gravelly rasp of a voice that was once declared "one of the most recognisable voices in rock". He was also noted for his unique way of singing, which was once described as "looking up towards a towering microphone tilted down into his weather-beaten face". He was also known for his bass playing style and using his Rickenbacker bass to create an "overpowered, distorted rhythmic rumble", while another notable aspect of his bass sound was that he often played power chords using heavily overdriven tube stacks by Marshall.
Lemmy was born in Stoke-on-Trent and grew up between there, the nearby towns of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Madeley, and later the Welsh village of Benllech. He was influenced by rock and roll and the early works of The Beatles, which led to him playing in several rock groups in the 1960s such as The Rockin' Vickers. He worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix and The Nice before joining the space rock band Hawkwind in 1971, singing lead vocals on their hit "Silver Machine". In 1975, he was fired from Hawkwind after an arrest for drug possession; that same year, he became the founder, lead singer, bassist, and songwriter of Motörhead. The band's success peaked around 1980 and 1981, including the hit single "Ace of Spades" and the chart-topping live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith.
Lemmy continued to record and tour regularly with Motörhead until his death on 28 December 2015 in Los Angeles, where he had lived since 1990. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer two days before his death. Alongside his music career, he had minor roles and cameos in film and television. He was well known for his hard-living lifestyle, which included chain-smoking and the daily consumption of high amounts of alcohol and amphetamines.
Donald “Duck” Dunn
Donald "Duck" Dunn (November 24, 1941 – May 13, 2012) was an American bass guitarist, session musician, record producer, and songwriter. Dunn was notable for his 1960s recordings with Booker T. & the M.G.'s and as a session bassist for Stax Records. At Stax, Dunn played on thousands of records, including hits by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, Bill Withers, Elvis Presley and many others. In 1992, he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Booker T. & the M.G.'s. He is ranked number 40 on Bass Player magazine's list of "The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time".
William "Billy" Sheehan (born March 19, 1953), is an American bassist known for his work with Talas, Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Niacin, and The Winery Dogs. Sheehan has won the "Best Rock Bass Player" readers' poll from Guitar Player magazine five times for his "lead bass" playing style Sheehan's repertoire includes the use of chording, two-handed tapping, right-hand "three-finger picking" technique and controlled feedback.
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