Elton John / Just Like Belgium

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Even when he cruises on automatic pilot – he soars artistically! Waxed at a low point in his storied career, Sir Elton was wise to re-enlist Bernie Taupin, Dee Murray, and Nigel Olsson for five tracks on The Fox (1981). The gem herein is the European single “Just Like Belgium,” wherein Dee makes the rote root / fifth routine sound fresh with a few choice grace notes to compliment Nigel’s (unusual for him) simple backbeat. Dig the (anatomically) cheeky video http://bit.ly/2ktLvEN - Jim Horn’s sax solo and Colette Bertrand’s spoken word vignette sweeten the proceedings.  Despite studio ace bassist Reggie McBride’s soulful disposition, nothing can save the b-side “Can’t Get Over Losing You” -cowritten with lyricist Gary Osborne -as one of the more forgettable tracks in John’s iconic canon.    

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Elton John / Friends

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To my ears, they are equal to Sir Paul and Richard Starkey MBE, Wrecking Crew, Stax, and Muscle Shoals, as the most charismatic and elite rhythm sections in the realm of pop rock.

Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson

Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson

Sir Reggie and Bernie’s brilliant soundtrack to the flop of a film Friends (1971) featured four fantastic John / Taupin gems interspersed with background music composed with orchestrator Paul Buckmaster.

Nigel Olsson

Nigel Olsson

EJ’s iconic rhythm section of bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson was further enhanced by way of John’s frequent collaborator / guitarist Caleb Quaye, along with virtuoso vocalists Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan, and Kay Garner.

Caleb Quaye, Elton John and bassist Tony Murray during the recording of Empty Sky

Caleb Quaye, Elton John and bassist Tony Murray during the recording of Empty Sky

“Friends,” “Honey Roll,” “Michelle’s Song,” and “Can I Put You On” would have made a terrific Elton John Band EP as the lads all flex their rhythm and blues chops. Dee and Nigel are masterful as usual, working pocket grooves with their signature rhythmic dialog.  

Dee Murray

Dee Murray

Pat DiNizio / Songs and Sounds

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Featuring The Stranglers' Jean-Jacques Burnel firmly in the bass chair, and Tony “Thunder” Smith on drums, Pat DiNizio’s solo bow doesn’t stray too far from The Smithereens’ timeless formulae.

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With sax man Sonny Fortune (“I’d Rather Have the Blues,” “No Love Lost”), DiNizio dips his toes in jazz waters, however Pat’s pop hooks and earnest libretto are those of a pure rocker. Burnel wields his Rotosound rippin’ Fender P (“124 MPH,” “You Should Know”) in the service of the song, hanging in the pocket throughout.

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Great songs make for great basslines – and Pat DiNizio was among the best rock composers of his generation. And dig the retro LP artwork!   

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Tim Curry / Fearless

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Aside from his iconic role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter along with his highly successful career as a film, television, and voice actor – Tim Curry was quite the rocker.

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On his sophomore slab, Motown Funk Brother / bass legend Bob Babbitt works the pocket with a traditional Fender P tone abetted by his gritty, groovin' approach to the instrument. 

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Curry’s cohorts - namely guitarist Dick Wagner (who co-wrote most of the tracks along with Curry and Michael Kamen) and alto sax colossus David Sanborn absolutely rip the joint. Spanning torch songs to the campy hit “I Do the Rock” (note the clip featuring core band members whooping it up http://bit.ly/2vUiAhN  as big Bob busts out those dirty disco octaves) this is how my generation rocked before MTV videos killed the radio stars!

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Hall & Oates / Along the Red Ledge

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Featuring walk-ons by guitar maestros Robert Fripp, George Harrison, Steve Lukather, Rick Neilsen, and Dick Wagner – you’d expect the experimental Along The Red Ledge (1978) to be over the edge. And you’d be right! With the former Reggie Dwight’s core band - bassist Kenny Passarelli, guitarist Caleb Quaye, and drummer Roger Pope – this slab is a wild ride traversing punk (“Alley Katz”), Beach Boys retro/surf (“Pleasure Beach”), hard rock (“Don’t Blame It On Love”), Brill Building pop (“The Last Time”), arena bombast (“Melody for a Memory”), and pure pop for now people (“It’s a Laugh”).  A companion to Daryl’s solo-Sacred Songs, which was produced by Mr. Fripp, Kenny works the pocket, and doubles the numerous prog-rock motifs on one of the most daring pop platters of its time.      

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Nick Lowe / Jesus of Cool

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When one of rock’s preeminent practitioners enlists two elite UK players, and cuts a few bass tracks himself – you’ve got a bona fide classic.

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Call it Jesus of Cool in Old Blighty, and Pure Pop for Now People in the US -Nick Lowe’s 1978 solo bow is a masterful meld of songcraft and musicianship.  

Andrew Bodnar

Andrew Bodnar

Aside from Lowe, The Rumour’s Andrew Bodnar (“I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”) and Ian Dury’s bravura Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy (“Nutted by Reality”) helm the low end with their signature virtuosity.       

Norman Watt-Roy

Norman Watt-Roy

Dave Bronze

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Show me a great guitar player, I’ll show you an equally skillful bass player.

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He’s among the most prolific UK studio cats / sidemen whose basslines have anchored seminal sides by Eric Clapton (From The Cradle, Pilgrim), Eric Bibb, Robin Trower, Gary Moore (Blues for Jimi), my doppelganger Andy Fairweather-Low, Bo Diddley, and with various artists on The Concert for George.

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Dave Bronze is a pocket and melodic player who also plies his craft on upright and extended range, always in the service of the almighty song. Aside from the aforementioned guitar gods, you’ve heard Dave with Colin Blunstone, Tom Jones, Chris Farlow, Paul Carrack, and Art of Noise, to cite a select few.   

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Elton John / Blue Moves

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Back in '76 this Reggie twofer was considered a downer, and amid the rise of punk, Bruce, Patti and the like, Blue Moves was viewed as downright irrelevant.  However time has proven this to be among Elton's masterworks - and most enduring slab.  To my ears, John's second great ensemble - with bassist Kenny Passarelli, Roger Pope, Ray Cooper, Caleb Quaye, James Newton-Howard, and Davey Johnstone (and cameos by the Brecker Bros., Crosby & Nash, Bruce Johnston, the LSO, David Sanborn)  - pushed their bandleader to his utmost musical heights with their remarkable collaborative jazz, funk, classical, and rhythm & blues pedigree.  Kenny is on fire on every track, especially  "Out of the Blue," "One Horse Town," "Boogie Pilgrim," "You Started For," "Crazy Water," "Bite Your Lip," "Chameleon" and "Shoulder Holster" to cite a few - playing the pocket and plying harmonic extensions with deft precision and a perfect round tone. Flawless interplay, impeccable arrangements, terrific compositions; a bona fide classic.

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Wings / Back to the Egg

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What would have been a career album for most pop artists was lambasted by wanking herd mentality rock journos during the punk / new wave zeitgeist. (Little did these scribblers realize that many of their spotty heroes’ tracks were cut by accomplished studio cats.)

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Regardless, Macca’s final Wings slab in ’79 is, to my ears, among his finest. Shelving his 4001 Rickenbacker for a brittle Yamaha BB – Sir Paul’s compositions and melodies are magnificent, embracing fun fare to superb craftsmanship: “Arrow Through Me,” “Baby’s Request,” “Old Siam Sir,” “Getting Closer,” the bombastic “Rockestra Theme” with bassists Bruce Thomas, Ronnie Lane, and John Paul Jones; “The Broadcast,” “To You,” “Winter Rose Love Awake” and a classic b-side “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.”

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Outstanding production (Chris Thomas) and musicianship from Steve Holley, Lawrence Juber, Denny Laine, and James Paul McCartney. 

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George Benson / The Other Side of Abbey Road

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Once upon a time ‘twas a glorious era wherein rock and jazz cats alike interpreted contemporary music.

Ron Carter

Ron Carter

With maestros Ron Carter and Jerry Jemmott cookin’ on the upright and electric respectively, (along with Freddie Hubbard, Mel Davis, Hubert Laws, Idris Muhammad, and Sonny Fortune to cite a fortunate few) – the as-yet-to-be-iconic guitarist George Benson waxed this cool CTI Beatles song-cycle just weeks following the fractured four’s release of their studio finale in the winter of ‘69.

Jerry Jemmott

Jerry Jemmott

Condensed into medleys, except for “Oh Darling,” Ron and Jerry flex their harmonic/rhythmic soul/swing chops amid Don Sebesky’s groovy arrangements. Take note of Jemmott’s signature phrasing on “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”       

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Eric Clapton / Money and Cigarettes

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Ye gods, even when these cats coasted, they were so much better than the rest!

Eric and Duck! 

Eric and Duck! 

Sandwiched between Slowhand’s ‘70s glory years and his late ‘80s celebrity blooze resurgence was this neglected and decidedly comfortable gem with Donald “Duck” Dunn commandeering the bass chair - along with six-string virtuosos Ry Cooder, Albert Lee, and Muscle Shoals drummer Roger Hawkins.

Ry Cooder

Ry Cooder

Pretty good cast, yes?

Eric and Albert Lee

Eric and Albert Lee

In a vacuous era (error) of spandex, big hair, dumb videos, and dubious leaders – some of us appreciated substance over sizzle – which is exactly what you get here despite the average songs. Dig Duck’s upper register 10th licks on “The Shape You’re In” and his fat flats rattlin’ on Fender P frets throughout. Lee, Cooder, and Clapton are understated - and on fire.

Eric Clapton / Live in San Diego

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Many a live Slowhand slabs are yawn-fests however this 2007 set smokes despite its dodgy din! Dig the incomparable Willie Weeks on “Got to Get Better in a Little While” wherein the maestro stretches out with a groove solo that quotes his iconic Donny Hathaway “Voices Inside - Everything is Everything.”  

Cited by this journo in A Bass Player’s Rant: 33 Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Huff Post 2017 http://bit.ly/2AZIfMm ) Willie works wonders on his Fender P with motifs and soulful rhythms that lay in the pocket and then some. As I’ve oft blustered - if you were to carve a Mt. Rushmore of bass players, get to work on Willie Weeks’ profile!

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Eric Clapton / I Shot the Sheriff b/w Motherless Children

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Illusory in its “simplicity” yet masterful in the context of the compositions and recordings. Cited by this journo among 11 Bass Players Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Huff Post 2015 http://bit.ly/2hOLzO3 ), is there a Carl Dean Radle passage that does not exude excellence? On the A and B sides of Slowhand’s ’74 comeback single, which also put Bob Marley on the map for us Yanks, Carl’s brilliance - with drummer Jamie Oldaker - is evidenced by his deft command of rhythm, space, and melody. Radle is the catalyst on these cuts, gliding through the changes with repetitive motifs that grow more intense with every measure.

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Andy Bell

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Aside from his highly acclaimed tenure in Ride as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist - Andy Bell helmed the bass chair for Oasis following Guigsy's sack, and later, for Liam Gallagher's Beady Eye. 

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Essentially a riff and roots player, Bell kept his head down, avoided conflict, collected his cheques, and was the only member of the brothers Gallagher gang that composed songs that didn't sound as if they were lifted from Lennon outtakes such as "The Nature of Reality," "Turn Up the Sun," and "Keep the Dream Alive"  among others.  

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Marshall Lytle

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“He got this old bass fiddle out, started slapping it, with a shuffle beat, and showed me the basic three notes you need on a little bass run to get started with, and I gave it a try and I said, ‘Hell, I can do that!”

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He started out as a guitarist, however following a 30-minute slap bass lesson from bandleader Bill Haley, Marshall Lytle forged rock and roll history. 

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A showman, standing atop his doghouse or hoisting it over his shoulder, Lytle anchored "Crazy, Man, Crazy," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," and "Rock Around the Clock."  He split from Haley to form the Jodimars, which became a popular Vegas lounge act. Lytle was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his Comets comrades.

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Love / Coming Through to You

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To my ears, no Love line-up surpasses the original/classic roster with Johnny Echols, Bryan MacLean, bassist Ken Forssi, and Snoopy Pfisterer / Michael Stuart. Yet, Lee’s numerous post-Changes ensembles merit exploration as there are quite a few flashes of genius to be found if you have the patience. In addition to the studio slabs, the massive live archival Coming Through to You 1970 -2004 captures Arthur and his various backing ensembles in all their soulful, psychedelic glory on various concert stages over three decades. Bassists Frank Fayed, Sherwood Akuna, Robert Rozelle, Prescot Niles (from The Knack), Kim Kesterson, David Chapple, and Mike Curtis, among others, primarily play the pocket in the service of the composition. Akin to the latter-day Love studio offerings, the jams tended to be ponderous, however Lee’s songs shine eternal.     

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Tim Buckley / Blue Afternoon

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Find me a Tim Buckley album that is not a work of genius – (and that includes his much derided '74 studio finale Look at the Fool).

Grant Goulden Photography

Grant Goulden Photography

For Blue Afternoon, which the late, great bard cut in '69 simultaneously with Lorca and while he was composing for Starsailor - bassist John Miller works magic on upright and electric.

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With a rich, strident tone,  and swing feel beneath his mesmerizing motifs and grooves, dig John's passages on "Happy Time," "So Lonely," and "The Train," among others.

   

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Emory Gordy

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A Nashville session legend, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and first-call bassist / sideman- it would be easier to list artists whom Emory Lee Gordy Jr. hasn’t’ anchored on stage and on record! 

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A groovin’ pocket and song player with a warm tone, you’ve heard Emory with Elvis Presley (“Burning Love,” “Separate Ways”), as a founding member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Vince Gill, David Cassidy, Guy Clark, Patty Loveless (his wife), Steve Earle, Roy Orbison, John Denver, Rosanne Cash, Albert Lee, Ronnie Milsap, Billy Joel, and Liberace just to name-drop a scant few!

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Bruce Palmer / The Cycle is Complete

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With Buffalo Springfield, the late Bruce Palmer had a somewhat erratic career, oft replaced by session players – such as Jim Fielder later of Blood, Sweat & Tears – due to busts, deportations, and other circumstances.  However, on his lone solo slab The Cycle Is Complete (1971) released on the Verve imprint, the multi-instrumentalist turns in a rather eccentric jazz, psychedelic, new age song-cycle comprised of extended electric Miles- like jams and improv. Palmer stretches out on bass, with upper register melodies and pocket grooves which befit the trippy moods.

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Fleetwood Mac Live

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Great players all, the Mac benefited from the adrenaline of the masses as they were at their artistic and commercial apex.

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Pictured with his chic Alembic, John Graham McVie plays both the pocket and melodic foil with his signature expertise.

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Pity that “Oh Well” had to be edited to fit the vinyl format, as I recall the band’s rather spirited self-indulgent rendition of this Peter Green gem, which was how rockers rolled in the 1970s.

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