Jon Button (Touring Bassist For The Who): 11 Albums That Changed My Life

Jon Button of the Who

Feature Photo courtesy of Jon Button

Since 2017, Fairbanks, Alaska-born bassist Jon Button has been holding down the low end for iconic British rockers The Who. That’s not an easy gig, with John Entwistle’s chops being impossible to duplicate. Plus, he took the touring bassist gig over from another legendary four-stringer, Pino Palladino.

That is to say that Button—who has also performed and recorded with the likes of Mandy Moore, Sheryl Crowe, and Michelle Branch—is about as talented as they come. Moreover, he’s eclectic, which probably comes from the myriad of music he’s taken in over the years.

To that end, Button tells us, “Welcome to my bizarre path of musical discovery. I grew up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in Fairbanks, Alaska, which is somewhat important because we had neither a real rock radio station nor MTV (we couldn’t get cable TV where we lived.) I was playing in the school jazz band starting in 7th grade, so that’s where my early musical curiosities were being influenced.”

During a break in the action, bassist Jon Button beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the eleven records that changed his life. Are any of these records your favorites, too?

Access All Areas by Spyro Gyra (1984)

We’ll start with an embarrassingly saccharine record lacking any danger, grit, or adventurousness. Things that are now almost essential for my enjoyment. However, this contains one of the first bass solos I ever learned. I picked it out by ear at the age of 11 or 12. I could probably still play it to this day.

Jaco Pastorius by Jaco Pastorius (1976)

I soon was starting to find a little more danger and adventure when a friend gave me a cassette of this record. It was a revelation to hear this tone and technical facility; I’d never heard anyone play a bass like that. It was long before you could scroll through Instagram and hear a thousand 12-year-olds ripping bass solos.

It was much more than just technical gymnastics though, there was deep musical emotion, incredible feel and beautiful compositions. I had a cassette player next to my bed (I was probably still 11 or 12) and remember listening to this record as I fell asleep every night.

Heavy Weather by Weather Report (1977)

Having discovered Jaco, I soon became a fan of the band he’s most associated with, Weather Report. They became one of my favorite jazz groups of all time. This is the first record of theirs that I got, and I wore it out!

Tutu by Miles Davis (1986)

One of my older brother’s friends who played sax let me hear a David Sandborn track with Marcus Miller. Again, I had never heard a bass sound like that. I then became obsessed with Marcus and started trying to find as many records with him as I could find. I listened to lots of Sanborn records, but when this record came out, I found myself listening to it over and over again non-stop. It’s basically a Marcus Miller solo album with a guest appearance by Miles Davis!

The Secret of Association by Paul Young (1985)

In my young days as a snobby jazzer, I often turned my nose at the pop music that was playing on the radio at the time, but when I heard Paul Young’s track “Every Time You Go Away,” my ears perked up. I was struck by those incredible fretless bass parts jumping out at me.

I bought the album and saw the name Pino Paladino credited on bass. I was starting to learn what a session musician was and that he was one of the top bass players in that game (and he was heavily influenced by Jaco and Weather Report!). This album was filled with amazing pop bass lines, which I took to trying to learn.

The album also had a dust jacket with photos from Paul’s tours. They were behind-the-scenes snapshots of the band goofing around and sightseeing on tour. It looked like an amazing life to me, and I started to see a career for myself—being a session musician and touring the world, just like Pino!

Still Warm by John Scofield (1986)

Another aspect of growing up where I did was that very few tours came through. I was, therefore, obsessed with trying to find concert videos (on VHS!) whenever I could. When Sting’s Dream of The Blue Turtles movie came out, it was huge for me.

To see the concert footage, the behind-the-scenes of them rehearsing and seeing these incredible jazz musicians playing pop music. I became a fan of them immediately, especially Daryl Jones (who went on to join the Rolling Stones!). I realized the same rhythm section was on this amazing jazz record. It’s still one of my favorite records of all time.

Original Soundtrack Recording by The Blues Brothers (1980)

It seems a bit cheesy to be influenced by a record of covers by actors playing characters in a comedy bit, but not only did this record give me an introduction to soul music, but the guys playing in the band are the real deal. Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn played on many of the original songs they’re covering, so it’s pretty legit. It was a gateway to diving into the original tracks and learning about this music that influenced a lot of rock and pop music.

Hitsville USA: The Motown Single Collection 1959-1971 by Various Artists (1992)

I was becoming very curious about and interested in the world of the studio session musician. A music teacher recommended a book that has seemed to become a rite of passage for bass players. It’s called Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and it is about the house bass player at Motown, James Jamerson.

It has a brief biography of Jamerson but then has a large collection of transcriptions of his bass lines on famous Motown tracks. More importantly, it had a play-along tape, with the bass taken out, so you could play his parts along with the rest of the instruments. I spent a lot of time going through these. It honed my music reading skills and gave me a love for all the great Motown music!

Live by Donny Hathaway (1972)

I had been hearing famous bass players mention this record as a big influence for years, but it wasn’t until I was in college that my dear friend Darwin Martin gave me the album as a gift that I was able to hear it myself for the first time. The feel of the whole band on this live record is astonishing. The great Willie Weeks is on bass, his tone and pocket are next-level, and his solo on “Everything is Everything” is legendary for a reason!

Maggie’s Dream by Maggie’s Dream (1990)

I don’t remember how I got introduced to this album, but it had a blend of the funk/soul (that I was interested in at the time) and the rock sound that I was starting to get more intrigued by. The bass playing is really creative and funky and was really influential to me!  I later ended up working with the singer from this band, Robi Draco Rosa, when he released his solo album.

Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)

I was studying Jazz at college in Texas and was starting to get introduced to more rock (now that I had escaped Alaska!). I got introduced to this band, and something between the sophisticated vocal harmonies and the bass tone that hits you in the nuts just hooked me.

The bass player (and lead singer) Doug Pinnick is well known for his unique bass sound, which has tons of distortion yet retains a massive, big, low-end bottom. And he plays with a pick! I hadn’t played much with a pick up until this time (and was horribly inept at it), but this record made me realize how cool that could be!

Hey don’t touch that dial, there’s so much more on this topic……….

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Jon Button (Touring Bassist For The Who): 11 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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