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The Rockhaq Community | August 19, 2017

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Opinion: Bassists; Must They Be Boring?

Opinion: Bassists; Must They Be Boring? Flea Red Hot Chili Peppers
Joe Doyle

Guitarists are known for ripping out shredding solos and playing beautiful chords to swoon girls. Vocalists are known for impressive vocal work to swoon girls. Drummers are known to keep a beat and throw impressive fills in here and there. Bassists are known for standing in the back playing the same thing all set. Why?

So many bassists and bass tracks are so simplistic and unadventurous. Understandable though, bass is there to keep the time and rhythm thumping in the background, but I just don’t understand why they can’t do the same thing with a nice arpeggio or bass line. Typically, it’s mainstream music that uses the bassist as a metronome, which I think is just unfair! Personally I’m not bothered about being ‘big’ in the music business, but for those phenomenal performers who are, you won’t be given the chance to perform to your full potential. Ridiculous!

Quotes about bassists, such as ‘Its only got four strings, anyone can play it!’ are one thing stopping bassists being more appreciated. Yes, although a bass guitar has two less strings, its frets are wider, the neck is longer, and the strings are much bulkier, making it a much more challenging instrument than the guitar. Moving further onto the aspects of the instrument, it has a much wider variety of playing styles. Guitarists can finger pick, or use a plectrum, or any other improvised way, but I guess the reason I prefer bass is the variety. You can do everything a guitar player can, and more. For example, funk introduced slap and pop to the masses, which is one of the sexiest sounds you will ever make with a stringed instrument (in my personal opinion). Red Hot Chili Peppers are a good example of the slap and pop technique, ‘can’t stop’ being their popular example of this. This is upsetting, considering the funkiness of Flea (RHCP bassist) in Aeroplane, or their cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher ground, which is much more impressive.

But of course Flea isn’t the only slap and pop bassist about, that would be ignorant to think. Funk has been around for years upon years, and sadly deteriorated with the uprise of ‘generic’ music. The better thing about slap and pop, is it’s never tied down to just funk. Primus, a very alternative Californian band, use elements from any and every music style they can express. Not only does he (bassist & vocalist, Les Claypool) slap and pop, he also uses a wide range of other techniques which guitarists can’t do. If there was one example of bassists being better musicians than guitarists, he is that one. But then I contradict myself, when I introduce to you (hopefully not for the first time in your life) my personal inspiration; John Paul Jones! Recognise the name? No!? Oh yeah, I guess he is ‘just the bassist’ of the legendary British band Led Zeppelin. Not only is he one of the best bassists in history, he is also one of the greatest musicians still alive today. His understanding of music shows up even in university lectures. A composer, multi-instrumentalist rock-star as a bassist, the guy that today would be thrown into the background to ‘keep the time’.

In conclusion, I guess the entire thing just comes down to the music today. Yeah, keeping time is necessary, but I guess musicians now have lost the spark of passion that makes them musicians as opposed to guitarists, vocalists, drummers and bassists. Personally, I think the love’s lost, but only to those involved around the business of music. Obviously there’s still the occasional band or artist that pops up with a spark of love, but it’s a rarity when tracks like ‘Rude Boy’, by ‘artists’ that don’t even write their own music, are topping the charts. I guess it all rolls back to the music business to take the blame. Cheers for reading, please leave your opinions on bassists and musicians 🙂


  1. Michelle Dhillon

    A review that isn’t a review? You’d better believe it! A few of you have been writing opinion posts for a while now and I’ve tried to veer away from featuring them in the top five unless the points they make are really original. However for the first time ever, we have an opinion post that in my opinion is the best work of the week. This is because we’ve got the killer combination of a post that combines great analysis of musical techniques, a strong and original argument and work that has inspired a pretty lively discussion among the bass players/guitarists we have on Rockhaq. It’s also that most simple of things – fairly easy to understand, even if you’re not a musician. Personally speaking, I believe that even if you aren’t a bass player, the points that Joe puts forward about slapping and popping are things you should all be aware of/know about – even if you think ‘meh’. You will all see a live show with a bass player at some point in your lives and I hope you remember this post when you do! Exceptional work 🙂

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  2. TakeABow30

    An absolute monster of a post Joe!
    Firstly it’s really saddening and disappointing that bassists nowadays don’t get recognised. As you rightly said they are there to keep the time. I think this is because the way music is being written nowadays -it doesn’t have that soul or emotional depth to it, in order to make it set off fireworks. Loved the way you went into full detail about Flea, Les Claypool etc who actually represent the bass community by making the damn instrument for what it is, they actually think out of the bass and manipulate it to suit different musicians. But honestly no band would work without a bass because all songs heavily rely on bass to keep time and rhythm, so there is a lot to owe to the instrument.
    Anyone who doesn’t know who John Paul Jones should re-examine their head. I can’t see how they can’t get that, it’s very simple. You think John Paul Jones, then instantly Led Zeppelin springs to mind. The man was just as worthy as Bonham, Page and Plant because some of the basslines he provided were melodic and just excellent which wasn’t too overexaggerated. Also songs such as The Rain Song, Thankyou, Stairway to Heaven, by listening to the organs and other instruments he used, Jones had such a broad knowledge of music that was phenomenal. Do you think those songs would have worked without Jones? I can’t imagine so. All four musicians produced something so versatile and revolutionary that you made want to blush. But to all people that start up bass as their first instrument, it just isn’t there as a damn metronome! Utilise the instrument and manipulate it to your advantage. Once again Joe, excellent post, I think you may have changed people’s decisions to start bass! 😀

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    • Michelle Dhillon

      Really great points Mark, I knew you would come out with them!
      Can I just add that I’m an ex bassist myself ha. I was really inspired by an Indian bass player called Shri, who has a self designed fretless bass, even though I first saw him around the time I gave up playing myself. I saw him live playing electronic music, but combining that with organic bass driven rhythms. Amazing, amazing guy! He’s the first guy I saw slapping the bass, ever! There’s some YouTube videos on him but not many. Check this one out if you’re interested 🙂

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  3. Sam Brookes

    Sometimes I’ll be listening to a track I wan’t to cover thinking “I can’t hear the bass!” then realise it’s keeping perfect timing and the exact same chords and tuning with the guitar! What’s the point? When I play bass I like to be doing something that adds to a track not just backing up the guitar and replicating them. As much as I love the genre I think Pop Punk might have had this effect. It taught an entire generation that you can play 3 chords in the same way as a guitar for a full track.

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  4. Joe Doyle

    Cheers, Mark! Yeah you have many good points there, especially about Zeppelin. I think Jones was the main song writing influence in Zeppelin too, which wouldn’t surprise me. You should check out some of his compositions, very impressive. I think I’ll agree with you on the pop/punk thing Sam, the styles of music throughout history have slowly deteriorated in actual talent and understanding of music, we even saw in the Grunge movement throughout the late 80s/early 90s lacked in pride. But I guess that’s the point of pop-punk and grunge, they all just play music that anybody could play, for the sake of playing music, which I appreciate. Although obviously there’s plenty of bassist with understanding out there today, such as Nick O’malley (Arctic Monkeys, some of his bass lines are genius!). Anywho, cheers for reading and your input guys 🙂

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  5. TakeABow30

    Joe, you should check out Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes and Chris Wostleholme of Muse. Their basslines are to die for!

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  6. Joe Doyle

    I know well of Chris Wostleholme, he was my very early inspiration! Still is, Dark Shines and New Born are definitely some of his best works! I was never too keen on the later Muse stuff though, I feel they lost it after Black Holes and Revelations. But I have high hopes for their sixth album. Matt Bellamy has described their plans (jokingly) as “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. Sounds more interesting that LMFAO…

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