Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Classic Rock: The Lineage of the Bassist Extraordinaire

by Michael Pickett

Most bassists still cite Paul McCartney, John Entwhistle or Jack Bruce as influences on their particular instrument.

The early bass sounds and styles that anchored hits by The Beatles, The Who and Cream are the underpinnings of classic rock radio nearly as far back as it goes.

Some of the instruments of this era are absolutely collectible: the Fender Jazz Bass, the Thunderbird, the Rickenbacker and Paul McCartney's signature instrument.

The sounds these earlier instruments produced was comparatively bright and punchy compared to many of the basses that would follow, with active pickups and other onboard electronics allowing players to color and mellow their respective sounds.

Still, pioneers like Yes' Chris Squire, Rush's Geddy Lee and Iron Maiden's Steve Harris had wildly divergent styles ... many mirroring the thundering lines of seminal artists like Led Zep's John Paul Jones and the aforementioned Entwhistle (The Who).

Squire's incredibly busy lines were a solid fit for Yes' progressive rock leanings. This style would go on to influence Canada's virtuosic Geddy Lee, as he covered a staggering amount of territory and stylistic color in Rush's music.

From rock and metal to reggae and the slap-pop of funk, Geddy Lee still stands head and shoulders above most of the rest of classic rock royalty on his instrument.

Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler and Iron Maiden's Steve Harris would carve out a niche seemingly a world away from the simple, solid lines of Judas Priest's Ian Hill, and Harris would often go head-to-head with Geddy Lee in rock and metal bass polls conducted by magazines like Circus and Cream back in the day.

As the 80s opened up, pop started to have a hefty say in what would later become classic rock. Sting of The Police and John Taylor of Duran Duran became standout players on their instruments and still hold their own some 30 years later.

While rock and metal continued to create bass waves (Ozzy's Bob Daisley and Billy Sheehan from David Lee Roth's band absolutely advanced the state of the art), U2's Adam Clayton and the seminal John Deacon from Queen created some of the best and most instantly recognizable bass lines in classic rock during this time, with 'Another One Bites the Dust', 'Under Pressure' and 'With Or Without You' being standout examples of tone and composition.

As players like Michael Anthony (Van Halen, Chickenfoot), Mike Porcaro (Toto) and Richard Page (Mr. Mister) continued to anchor their bands in bass greatness, players from four decades literally helped lay an absolute foundation for classic rock as we know it today.

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