While drummers are the gasoline for any band, it’s the bassist who manages the smooth melodic transitions from 1st gear to 2nd to 3rd to reverse and so on. Bassists can stand out through sheer power, insane rhythmic sense, melodic creativity or sometimes a mix of the three. In no particular order, these are the unheralded bassists who consistently command my attention in every song they touch.
1. Dan Maines (Clutch) – An absolute rock solid monster of groove with chops for days, he teams with drummer Jean-Paul Gaster to create what I believe is not only the most underrated but THE best rhythm section in rock.
2. Stuart Chatwood (The Tea Party) – Somewhat overshadowed at times by his bandmates Jeff Martin and Jeff Burrows, his bass work is loaded with creativity, melody and tasteful licks. Chats’ multi-instrumental talent only adds to my respect of his playing. Had the pleasure of meeting him and the two Jeffs back in ’95…very cool and gracious people.
3. Scott Reeder (Kyuss) – The only barefoot bass player I’ve ever seen (Tipitina’s in New Orleans on the Sky Valley tour), Reeder did some wonderful stuff with Kyuss and made full use of the creative freedom he had within the framework of their very jam-oriented sound.
4. Kib (4 Mag Nitrous) – Now I’m admittedly partial because I know the guy, but he just flat out rocks. Alternately powerful and melodic, he’s the kind of bass player you want laying the foundation for songs and has great live stage presence.
5. Lemmy (Motorhead) – Pure power. It can be argued that he’s no Geddy Lee, but the truth is the man pioneered an influential sound that started with his distorted/overdriven buzzsaw bass. Influential across 3 generations. He ain’t no slouch on the instrument, either.
6. Vaughn Stokes (Hot Head Show) – From my fave new band this year and my fave album of the year, Stokes carries HHS’s songs with deft fretwork and an uncanny penchant for consistently interesting melody lines. The perfect foil for Jordan Copeland’s twisted guitar riffs and one of the most fun bassists you’ll ever hear.
7. Muzz Skillings (Living Colour) – All of the attention in Living Colour’s heyday was focused on guitarist Vernon Reid and vocalist Corey Glover, while Skillings put his stamp all over Living Colour’s Vivid and Time’s Up CD’s
8. John Nowlin (Barkmarket) – Chops and a penchant for hummable melodies amidst a wave of atonal guitar dischord in the labyrinthic quagmire that is a Barkmarket song, Nowlin provided the power and rock-solid foundation for said power trio along with Abysmal drummer Rock Savage. Just a total blast to listen to.
9. Liam Wilson (The Dillinger Escape Plan) – This guy has an even more difficult job than John Nowlin of Barkmarket, whatwith The DEP’s confounding song anti-structures and drifting in and out of actual melody. Not an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination, but without a doubt a worthwhile listen for chops, craft and skill.
10. Frank Bello (Anthrax) – From probably the most under-appreciated band of the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth being the other 3), Bello won me over years ago with his ridiculously energetic performance on the “Oidivnikufesin” live video. One of the few bassists of this genre who’s sound cuts through the mix, he has chops and an amazing ability to be a showman without losing the groove.
11. Daniel Tichenor (Cage the Elephant) – Dude has chops and, like other Abysmal bassists, a melodic sense that complements every song. One of the things I love about this young band is their obvious musical intelligence with regard to all things classic rock from Dylan to Hendrix to Zeppelin. Tichenor’s bass work on “In One Ear” has a nice little homage to Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” (either intentionally or unintentionally) and is a nice example of his knack for finding just the right bass lines for CTE’s songs. Onstage he almost plays the straight man with all this madness going on around him. Cool beyond his years.
Honorable Mention: Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth)