Our 10 Best Female Played Bass Guitar Moments of the 1990s article presents a look back at some of the most exciting and cool bass riffs played by female rockers in the 90s. There has always been a celebration of female guitarists in rock and roll history. Guitar slingers going all the way back to Memphis Minnie up to modern-day stars like Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Bonnie Raitt and Suzi Quarto have always been recognized because of their star status as both guitarists and vocalists. Even the more recent female guitar players new to the scene like Samantha Fish, Ana Popović, and Orianthi, have gotten a lot of press and promotion. Yet, the female bass players, like their male counterparts tend to take a back seat to the guitarists and vocalists getting all the love. Well, not in this article. Looking back, it seemed like every other alternative and grunge band had a cool girl playing bass. Here, we pick our 10 favorite alt-rock and hard rock bass guitar moments of the 1990s.
Top 10 bass guitar Moments of the 1990s – Women of the Alternative & Rock World
#10 – D’arcy – Smashing Pumpkins
Kicking off the Top 10 bass guitar Moments of the 1990s – Women of the Alternative & Rock World is D’arcy from Smashing Pumpkins. The blonde, pixie-haired bassist took the 1990s by storm on the heels of Smashing Pumpkins’ successful Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. She sang backing vocals and kept time, cool and stylishly. As with many rock bands throughout history, things can get contentious, as was the case between her and band leader Billy Corgan. (It’s even been said that Corgan played bass on some albums like Gish). Whatever the case, her contributions are undeniably present, especially on the band’s landmark album, live tours and video performances.
Ultimately, D’arcy left the band in 1999. In the past, she started an independent record label. Nowadays, she lives a quiet life, when not sparring with Corgan in the press. A shame there wasn’t a better outcome for this mysterious, super-cool bassist of the ’90s. Nonetheless, check out the very cool bass groove she laid down on the song “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”
#9 – Jennifer Finch – L7
Jennifer Finch, bassist for the punk rock band L7 from 1986 – 1996, is another killer player on our list. Her band graced the cover of SPIN Magazine in the 1990s making for a very cool punk rock moment. L7’s albums Smell the Magic and Bricks Are Heavy are chock-full of Finch’s torpedoing, heavy lines. Along with drummer Demetra Plakas they formed a tight, chugging rhythm section. Smell the Magic, released on the seminal “grunge” label Sub Pop, includes hard-hitting examples of L7’s fierce anthems, “Just Like Me,” and “Shove.” Later on, Finch was in bands OtherStarPeople and The Shocker before reuniting with L7 in 2014. Another amazing musician Gail Greenwood, from the band Belly, also played bass in L7. To get more on L7, check out the documentary L7: Pretend We’re Dead, which explores the band’s history.
#8 – Josephine Wiggs –The Breeders
Who could forget the Breeders song and video “Cannonball” (incidentally directed by Kim Gordon). A sonic indie-rocker off their studio album, Last Splash. That bass introducing the song, and bouncing along within it, is the 4-string work of indie rocker Jennifer Wigg. Important bass note, Kim Deal did not play bass on “Cannonball” – that glorious, active bass voyage was performed by Wiggs, an English multi-instrumentalist rock player. By 1995 Wiggs formed another cool project Ladies Who Lunch, along with Luscious Jackson and drummer Kate Schellenbach. In a funny twist, they put out a 7-inch vinyl Kims We Love, a tribute to Kim Deal and Kim Gordon.
#7 – Sean Yseult – White Zombie
Sean Yseult is a fiercely talented bassist and co-founder of the band White Zombie. Originally from North Carolina, she studied graphic arts and was influenced by the Cramps, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath, as well as spooky horror flicks. Yseult made her way to New York City where she met up with Rob Zombie. Eventually, providing the low-end for White Zombie’s fist-pumping horror-movie-sampled songs until they disbanded in 1998.
Her muscular bass intro to “Back Sunshine” off La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, relentlessly primes the pump for Rob Zombie’s throaty vocals. It’s a tune that she wrote all the bass lines to first – and boy does it move, much like the Mustang “piercing the night” Zombie sings about in the track. Her supercharged style, which alternates between rhythmic picking and groovy lines, is infectious.
An unforgettable moment was the band’s 1995 MTV Music Video Awards performance of “More Human Than Human” (Astro-Creep: 2000). Sean killed it, her head twirling, green hair flipping wildly, galloping around the stage getting the crowd pumped. Who else could rock a custom-designed bass shaped like a coffin? Yseult led the pack of hard rock and metal bassists in the 1990s and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.
#6 – Kim Deal – Pixies, The Breeders
Next on the list of top 1990s female bass guitarists is a true veteran of the scene, Kim Deal. Along with her twin sister Kelley, they doubly ruled ’90s alt-rock. Kim was the bassist and co-vocalist in the alternative rock band Pixies. She also formed the Breeders where she played guitar and was later joined by sister Kelley. We have to mention the song “Cannonball” again. It’s truly an original that encapsulated the 1990’s alternative rock vibe. When Kim’s “check, check, one, two” distorted voice preempted “Cannonball,” that grungy feedback foreshadowed something quirky and novel in music. Preceding that, her great work can be heard on the Pixies’ Bossanova album and other awesome recordings and songs. Kim took a less-is-more approach on bass with a rhythmic but melodic style.
#5 – Kim Gordon – Sonic Youth
Our next bass guitar moment of 1990’s women is ultra cool. Kim Gordon is the queen of post-punk alternative rock, or avantgarde noise rock–a few labels that get kicked around when the words sonic and youth meet. Clearly, Sonic Youth’s effect-heavy, distorted wash of sound is beyond categorizing. Kim Gordon, more of an artsy type, has been blatant about her informal musical training. She wouldn’t be the first offbeat performer to own that punk credo. Undeniably the band with Thurston Moore on guitar created sublime albums from Goo to Experimental Jet Set, Trash. Kim Gordon’s feminist “Kool Thing,” definitely set the tone for the ’90s. Later on, she played guitar on her solo album, No Home Record (2019).
#4 – Gail Ann Dorsey – David Bowie, The The
Many got hip to Gail Ann Dorsey seeing her on stage with David Bowie, but her history goes beyond that iconic stint. Still, you can’t deny that powerful, soulful moment she sang “Under Pressure” with the glitter god. Originally, David Bowie recorded it with Queen, but in the 1990s he graciously encouraged Dorsey to bring her signature style to the song. No pressure there! Dorsey took the spotlight with her sultry vocals and dynamic groove. A truly standout moment along with a number of live shows propelled her to wider audiences. All made for unforgettable performances, showcasing her luscious grooves and beautiful nuanced style. Throughout her career, Dorsey has worked with new wave art band The, The, as well as Gang of Four and countless others as a session player.
#3 – Melissa Auf der Maur – Hole
Melissa Auf der Maur is a Canadian bassist who held many prominent gigs throughout the 1990s. Auf der Maur originally formed the indie rock band Tinker while she was studying at university. Over the years, she’s earned a reputation as a highly competent and creative player, most known for being in Courtney Love’s band Hole and briefly holding the bass chair in Smashing Pumpkins. Hole enlisted Auf der Maur In 1994, after the death of bassist Kristen Pfaff. Celebrity Skin (1998) was a huge album for the band as well as Auf der Maur who especially shined on songs “Awful” and the title track. Like many bassists, she loves a Fender-Precision, but has been known to experiment with an eight-string bass in the studio. Her propulsive lines and fat tone left a resounding impression on the nineties, and influenced today’s burgeoning bass players.
#2 – Sara Lee – The B-52’s, and more
Remember Sara Lee’s four-string thumping in The B-52’s, “Love Shack” video? That was a moment. Lee is an English bassist who has worked with the band Gang of Four, Robyn Hitchcock, Robert Fripp and many others. You could say she’s the Carol Kaye of the ’80s and ’90s rock bass players, having numerous session and touring gigs under her belt. Lee set the tone for many bass hopefuls with her evocative bass lines and a chameleon-like ability to hold down the groove in any situation. Her standout moments are the “Love Shack” and “Roam” videos and playing on The B-52’s iconic Cosmic Thing album. A wide array of bands such as Thompson Twins, The Indigo Girls and later Fiona Apple enlisted her bass skills. She toured with Ani DiFranco and can be heard on the double-live album Living in Clip. Plus, Lee has also collaborated with her list-mate bassist Gail Dorsey.
#1 – Tina Weymouth – Talking Heads, Tom, Tom Club, The Heads
Our #1 bass guitar moment of the 1990s – Women of the Alternative & Rock World proves legendary. Tina Weymouth is a genius-level, funky class act on bass. Although Weymouth had phenomenal success with the Talking Heads, she brought the house down on other gigs as well. Along with her husband, Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, they formed the Tom Tom Club in 1981. A funky song called “Genius of Love” off their self-titled album made the US top 40. In an awesome ’90s moment, Mariah Carey famously sampled the song on “Fantasy” (1995, Daydream) propelling it again into the music world.
Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Steven Stanley and Adrian Belew are all credited as writers due to the inclusion of the music sample they wrote. The band gladly gave their approval, flattered by the whole thing. In 1996, Weymouth, Frantz, and Jerry Harrison made a fantastic album called No Talking, Just Head under the name “The Heads” (recorded with a shuffling lineup of popular vocalists). Weymouth’s delightful bass playing and her pioneering history on the art-punk scene will always have a place in music and pop culture.
Female Played Bass Guitar Moments Of The 1990s article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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