10 Killer Bass Players We Love To Listen Too is a tribute to some of the best rock and roll bass players in the business. Some of them are well known, while others are not. We are not saying these are the best bass players of all time, although some would argue many of them on this list are. All we are saying is that these are nine of our favourites. We really believe that if you love rock and roll and simply great music, you will have fun going through this list.
# 1 – Sting aka Gordon Sumner
This genius of pop reggae influenced rock, as part of The Police anchored the band with his perfect bass lines, and complemented Andy Summers, the brilliant guitarist whose solo work is highly recommended, and the jazzy drumming of Stewart Copeland. For me, while the first couple albums, Regatta De Blanc and Outlandos d’Amour had punky tunes as well, the formula was getting solidified quickly.
By Zenyatta Mondatta the Police sound was in full force, and fans of great pop loved them along with much more advanced musicians who knew genius hiding behind great tunes like “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da”, a great exercise in an extremely simple sounding but brilliantly constructed tune that still sounds great today. Sting was the primary leader, and while I and Police fans lament their having only five albums, his tone with his Fender Precision bass is awesome. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a simple enough bass lick, but the tonality makes the song almost float. Luckily we have his solo albums and Andy’s too to enjoy.
# 2 – Steve Harris – Iron Maiden
The leader of Iron Maiden has always been the primary songwriter for Maiden’s adventurous and usually historically themed metal with three lead guitars carrying a lot of melody. Harris’ trademark is of course another Fender Precision, his first and most famous a blue sparkle model. His style is straight out of “Ride Of The Valkyries” or “William Tell Overture” with his galloping trebly bass lines that are as much the musical anchor as bass.
# 3 – Dan Maines – Clutch
Clutch is one of America’s greatest straight up rock and roll borderline metal bands. They hail from Maryland, and with the hilarious and genius vocalist’s lyrics courtesy of Neal Fallon, guitar bulldozer Tim Sult and phenomenal rock and roll drummer Sean-Paul Gaster, bassist Dan Maines plays a deep throaty bass that has the power to sink U-boats lurking off the Maryland coastline. His is a style that is funky, holds a more traditional bottom end and contributes his own licks as well. Clutch should be huge, but they are big enough to keep a steady and loyal fan base. Including yours truly. You want heavy? The Elephant Riders will suck the gravity right out of your living room, especially “The Soapmakers.” If it’s Clutch, it’s good. Ahem, I mean great.
# 4 – Rob Trujillo – Metallica
Of course he’s best known with Metallica. However, his bass work done before joining them was a whole different galaxy, and while he’s playing the good sideman and doing as he’s asked today, when he was with Suicidal Tendencies, he would drop your jaws on the floor. This man is a wizard of funky bass – every bit the equal of the funk legends of the ’70’s with the chops of Stanley Clarke. He is truly worth checking out and it makes me wish he could do some other solo stuff to play that style that understandably doesn’t fit Metallica.
# 5 – Dick Ulver – Meshuggah
Dick Ulver plays the bass for one of the most convoluted but astonishingly brilliant metal bands ever called Meshuggah. The band is very much inspired by the sounds of King Crimson and utterly brilliant but strange guitar players Robert Fripp and Allan Holdsworth. Meshuggah’s sound is furious. Drummer Tomas Haake is the man responsible for that fury. It’s almost frightening to hear Tomas Haake play two totally different tempos simultaneously. The guitars in the band churn and chunk independently of each other. Lead guitarist Fredrick Thordendahl frequently takes off into the atmosphere of whatever planet he lives on. As all this happens, Dick Ulver has to hold this maelstrom down.
It doesn’t mean a lot of solo flourishes, like we normally define bass excellence – it means being able to create a beat and tempo out of pure chaos while the others soar. Meshuggah’s Obzen, Destroy Erase Improve and Nothing are incredible.
# 6 – Rocky – Voivod
This sci-fi jazz/thrash metal band has always had a penchant for giving its band members nicknames, and the bassist “Rocky” has not revealed his real name, or I missed it. But here we are dealing with the top of the world, the absolute greatest sci-fi oriented heavy group ever. Founded back in the early ’80’s, they quickly developed an industrial sound without keyboards, synths or other cheating tools. It was all done on guitar, bass and drums. Guitarist Denis ‘d Amour was one of the most genius guitar players ever, taking jazz progressions and metal ferocity into new territory for both. So much so that even after his tragic death from cancer, and the band’s great fortune of finding Dan “Chewy” Mongraine, equally brilliant in his own way but different enough not to be a clone, the Montreal, Quebec Jazz festival had them play!
They knew the secret, and Voivod was very flattered to play for an enthusiastic crowd that knew jazz was being used creatively and both styles in the band’s hands constantly explore new sonic vistas. Rocky, the bassist on the new very heavy Synchrony Anarchy balances the low end with Mongrain’s excursions, and yet another great album is available. Dimension: Hatross and Nothingface are absolute essentials.
# 7 – Troy Sanders – Mastodon
Mastodon has released a fantastic but somewhat depressing double album Hushed And Grim, depressing somewhat as it is dedicated to late manager Nick Mason, who tragically succumbed to cancer recently, and was a true friend and I would assume a vital member of Mastodon himself as far as how hard he worked for them. Troy Sanders is the bassist who has held the band’s rhythm down for the whole ride, from the furious debut Remission and early classic Leviathan to their first real foray into the progressive yet heavy without being dull style on Crack The Skye.
One must hear the band work to appreciate how well the individual parts gel. Every player is astonishing. Even drummer Brann Dailor, one of the greatest drummers out there, if not the greatest, sings a big portion of their songs. For those who love and mourn Rush, this is probably their successor band, and going their own way just as Rush did. Sanders is great, and Hushed And Grim, along with The Hunter, are modern day heavy prog rock masterpieces that will stand the test of time easily.
# 8 -Tom Angelripper -Sodom
What a name. Sodom, one of Germany’s thrash legends is a gnarly three piece band led by Angelripper, and carry more than just a hint of the down and dirty vibe of Motorhead. As a three piece he’s a busy bass player – fast, metallic and where he needs to be. Their cover of Motorhead’s “Iron Fist” certainly does that classic tune justice, and the long time fans are adamant about Agent Orange and M-16 as classics. No argument here.
# 9 – Ontto – Oransii Pazuzu
The bass on Oransii Pazuzu albums. The who on what? Here, we see what I mean by more than one bass instrument. For the truly adventurous who want to hear some truly bizarre but amazing music that has its roots in black metal but employs the best of industrial and psychedelic keyboards, this Finnish band has grown by leaps and bounds with its incredible sound, and sometimes the bass is implied as much as played as a standard instrument. It adds a low end that like in some suspense movies is wickedly ethereal or just plain frightening. Amongst their five albums there is “normal” bass, but its application here makes it fascinating. The band is great, but it does take some getting used to.
# 10 – Joey Vera – Armored Saint
We close with a very good bassist whom, with singer John Bush, who was asked to be Metallica’s vocalist by James Hetfield himself, but turned it down because he was loyal to Armored Saint, created a great super hard rocking band in LA, and went for it on their own terms. Vera has been a very skillful and melodic player throughout, and also produces the band’s albums, which sound very good and show he knows what he’s doing. John Bush, a great classic metal singer would sing for Anthrax for a few albums but come back and play for Armored Saint when Anthrax wasn’t busy, and finally stayed with his own band for good. For those who dig Judas Priest, Saxon, Overkill and other bands Armored Saint is strongly recommended, although they do thrash, they veer a bit here and there for some more melodic moments that just make them better. I recommend Symbol Of Salvation and their most recent, Punching The Sky.
10 Killer Bass Players We Love article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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