Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / Hard to Handle

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Fact: With twangin’ geetars and cowboy boots, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers swung akin to a jazz big-band.

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This, as I was witness, was one of rock’s supreme collaborations. You’ll never hear more forceful renditions of “Lenny Bruce” “In the Garden,” “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” and “Just Like a Woman”– prominently featuring Benmont Tench and a gospel choir of Queen Esther Marrow, Madelyn Quebec, Debra Byrd, and Elisecia Wright. Captured at a time when both the band and their leader(s) sorely needed to rekindle the old fire whilst navigating a decade which oft celebrated sizzle over substance   - Hard to Handle (1986) emerges as a bona fide classic and a reaffirmation of art over artifice.

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Late great bassist Howie Epstein plays the pocket beautifully with few graces notes in all the right places. Of course, we all know that great songs make for great basslines. And who other than Tom Petty could get away with a top hat on stage in the service of his Bob-ness?

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Lou Reed / Sally Can't Dance

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“Sit yourself down, take off your pants, don’t you know this is a party?”

Ye gods, when Lou retained most of his Rock and Roll Animal band for his fourth studio slab in ‘74, surely a sonic assault was in the making! Nope. Reed’s courtly cohorts turned in a rather slick performance that was as jaded as their bandleader’s disposition at the time. Of course, it went Billboard Top 10! For us Lou fans, that was reward enough. Dig Prakash John percolating in the pocket – which was a far cry from his expanded harmonic forays on Lou’s spectacular concert sides – Rock and Roll Animal (1973) and the remainder of that historic Academy of Music gig as compiled on Lou Reed Live (1975).

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Mott The Hoople / Live

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“I’d like to introduce you to Ariel Bendaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!”

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As I have testified to Morgan Fisher over cocktails, pizza and Katz’s Deli pastrami; to Ian Hunter in our numerous interviews, to the late Pete Watts over bottled H20 previous to Mott’s finale at the 02, and Luther Grosvenor:  with all due respect to Verden Allen and Ralpher, to my ears and to many of my generation who started bands upon hearing this slab in its truncated eight song format in 1974; the “Ariel Bender,” Morgan Fisher line-up of Mott the Hoople was simply the best – and this record proves it.

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Morgan’s signature harmonic and melodic expertise which draws from jazz, classical, and theater combined with Luther’s sonic reinvention of the Hoople canon remains matchless.  Overend is magnificent throughout, plying his perfectly timed glissandos and his understated pocket grooves as you would expect from a bona fide rock and roll star. We waited three decades for the expanded Legacy edition – and it was worth it. If you had to explain rock and roll to a celestial being – say nothing and cue up “Walking with a Mountain.” I understand “politics” kept Luther and Morgan off the Mott 2009 /2013 bandstands, so when folks ask if I saw the Mott the Hoople reunions I respond “well, kind of…”

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Charlie Jones

Photo by David Baxter

Photo by David Baxter

Bassist (electric/upright), multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, Grammy Award winning composer (“Please Read the Letter”), producer, and Robert Plant’s son-in-law; Charlie Jones is an in-demand collaborator and session cat who excels as a song-player.

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Which is why such notable songwriters and interpreters, including Page & Plant and Robert Plant, Goldfrapp, solo Siouxsie, Jim Kerr (Simple Minds), and Loreena McKennitt, among others, enlist Mr. Jones, who oft appears on stage with transparent bass!

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Paul Gray

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Known for their high energy meld of rhythm and blues, power pop, and punk - no history of UK pub rock is complete sans homage to the Southend-on- Sea lads Eddie & The Hot Rods.

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Their bassist during the Rods’ most productive era was Paul Gray -who later went on to serve in one of the many revamped line-ups of The Damned, and U.F.O. Gray, who also plied his craft with Johnny Thunders and the other guy in Wham! Andrew Ridgley, strummed his Rickenbacker 4001 akin to a rhythm guitarist as he pumped out simple bass lines that served the band’s unadorned yet infectious canon.  

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Mudcrutch

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You’d be hard pressed to find a more joyous rock ‘n’ roll busman’s holiday.

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Mudcrutch yielded two fine slabs and an EP (whatever that means in the 21st Century).  Akin to Heartbreakers’ bassists Ron Blair and the late Howie Epstein, Tom Petty worked the pocket to serve the singer (himself) and the songs with economy and expertise. 

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My choice cut from this spirited triumvirate is Petty’s homage to his beloved Byrds with a rave up of “Lover of the Bayou” from their 2008 debut platter. 

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Skip Battin / Topanga Skyline

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Two legendary Americana bassists on one slab! Cited by this writer in Huff Post as Eleven More Bass Players Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (http://bit.ly/2gHNIOA) for his outstanding tenure in the latter-day Byrds, the late, great Skip Battin waxed this platter just days following the tragic passing of Clarence White in 1973.

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Though not released until well into the 21st Century, Skip’s cosmic cowboy yearnings, produced by his pal and co-writer Kim Fowley, recall his work with the countrified McGuinn & Company. Backing Battin on this song-cycle is bassist extraordinaire Chris Ethridge – working the pocket.  

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Note: included on the CD version is a hidden bonus rehearsal cut featuring Clarence’s last known recording.  

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As cited in the Sierra Records Press Release: "Skip Battin: Topanga Skyline" was to be part of a five album release back in 1973 that would include the album releases of Gene Parsons' "Kindling", Country Gazette's "Don't Give Up Your Day Job", Gram Parsons' "Sleepless Nights" later released as "Grievous Angel", and what turned out to be the never released "Clarence White" solo album on Warner Bros. Records. All five releases were to promote a Fall 1973 Concert tour with all these performers on stage with Skip providing the bass playing and adding his vocals. I wonder what a Gram Parsons/Skip Battin duet would have sounded like! The tour was to be kicked off by a "Folk/Bluegrass/Country" Festival in September 1973 in Lancaster CA. Sadly, it too never materialized because the "city fathers" did not want a music festival with "long hairs" and by then Clarence and Gram were gone. 
 

Ian Hunter / Stranded in Reality

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He's the longest tenured bassist in iconic career of the former Ian Patterson.  

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If you want to experience the most Paul Page in one place aside from moving in with him, look no further than Ian Hunter's magnificently massive Stranded in Reality (2016) archival box which spans 28 CDs and over 400 tracks. 

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A pocket player extraordinaire, you get Page in the studio (Man Overboard, When I'm President); you get Page on stage (Live in the UK 2010, Bag of Tricks); and you get Page on the telly with Ian and the Rant Band DVD It Never Happened

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(Fantastic photos courtesy of Tamara Guo!)  

The Sidney Greet Street Band / Half Live

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Standing in the shadows of Page! In the distinguished service of Ian Hunter (he is the iconic bard's longest tenured bassist), among others, Paul Page serves the song first and foremost. However with the busman's holiday Sidney Green Street Band, featuring kindred spirits Lance Doss, Steve Holley, and Justin Jordan - Page flexes his groove chops aplenty on the scorching Half Live (2017) set.  Swingin' ("Stay All Night"), cryin' the blooze with fine countermelodies ("Miss Understood"), rippin' the joint with a gritty glam rave-up ("Rock Star") or doin' like Duck Dunn done ("I Ain't Sleeping with the Lights On"), Page is up in the mix - where he belongs!  

Photo by Tamara Guo

Photo by Tamara Guo

Keith Richards / X-Pensive Winos Live

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In the service of Keef, you leave space and you hang on the root!

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Which is just what Charley Drayton did on this killer live slab which captures the ragged glory of Richards on a busman’s holiday.

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An accomplished drummer, Drayton lays in the pocket as X-Pensive Winos Waddy Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Bobby Keys, Steve Jordan, Sarah Dash and their bandleader rip the joint (Hollywood Palladium) with tunes from Talk Is Cheap (1988) along with choice Stones nuggets.

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Johnny Winter / Saints & Sinners

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‘Twas a time when guitar gods and their bass players regularly roamed the terrain.

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Waxed in waning hazy daze of ‘73, Saints & Sinners (1974) sinisterly stews with a heavy stream of soul stimuli. Produced by the former Ricky Zehringer, and featuring Randy Brecker, Bobby Caldwell, Dan Hartman, Tasha Thomas, and brother Edgar – Johnny’s main anchor, the late bassist Randy Jo Hobbs, percolates in the pocket. 

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Dig Winter’s wicked invocations of the Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues,” Van’s “Feedback on Highway 101,” and Allen Toussaint’s “Blinded by Love.”    

Rick Derringer

Rick Derringer

Alice Cooper / Muscle of Love

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To my ears, this was the Alice Cooper Band’s finest hour (or 40 minutes). Akin to The Beatles white slab, the Cooper clan is stylistically all over the place spanning jazz (“Crazy Little Child”), folk-pop (“Teenage Lament”), funk (“Big Apple Dreamin’ Hippo”), soundtrack (“Man with the Golden Gun”), Stax style soul pop (“Never Been Sold Before”), sweet balladry (“Hard Hearted Alice”) and old-school hard rock (“Woman Machine”). And it all works magnificently.

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I asked engineer Dennis Ferrante how he captured Dennis Dunaway’s signature cascading basslines on the title track – he couldn’t remember – we spent hours twiddling knobs at Euphoria Studios in NYC with my Fender Jazz.

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Oh, and the backing vocalists on this platter include The Pointer Sisters, Ronnie Spector, Liza Minelli, and probably the late, truly great Mr. Ferrante.  The packaging was genius…

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Richard Betts / Highway Call

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With his producer and Allman Bros. collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Johnny Sandlin in the bass chair, Richard Betts waxed a true gem of a slab that rivals the brilliance of Brothers and Sisters (1973). Featuring Vassar Clements on fiddle and the plinkery of Chuck Leavell, Betts mines his deep country roots to the max. Akin to Brothers Berry and Lamar, Sandlin works the pocket with a rhythm & blues character. Betts’ tone never sounded so sweet, and his interplay with Clements on “Hand Picked,” and “Kissimmee Kid” is downright blissful.  Note that Sandlin got the best out of Gregg and Richard on their respective solo sides.

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Johnny Sandlin

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Producer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist Johnny Sandlin was an architect of what is referred to as “Southern Rock” yet his body of work was far more expansive.

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Sandlin’s credits include watershed slabs with the Allman Bros., Gregg Allman, Richard Betts, Wet Willie, Delbert McClinton, The Outlaws, Bonnie Bramlett, Elvin Bishop, Dixie Dregs, Captain Beyond, and Widespread Panic to cite a select few.

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Oft times Sandlin worked both sides of the sessions, helming the bass chair as well – most notably with Gregg and Duane in Hour Glass, Livingston Taylor, Gregg’s magnificent solo bow Laid Back (1973), and Richard Betts’ brilliant Highway Call (1974), among others.

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Johnny was a pure pocket player with a penchant for rhythm & blues grooves!  

Pops Popwell

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His dancing bass solo with Olivia Newton John is legend (Live/1982). 

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If ever a bassist was aptly named, it’s Robert “Pops” Popwell!  A composer, producer, session ace, anchor of the iconic Crusaders, and in-demand sideman – Pops pops, slaps, plucks, glissandos, and grooves with a soulful disposition that draws from jazz, funk, rock, blues, gospel and permutations thereof.

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The scope of Pop's canon is remarkable: Hubert Laws, Rascals, Aretha, Irma Thomas, Eddie Money, Allen Toussaint, Gregg Allman, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, George Benson, Ronnie Wood, Bette Midler, Larry Carlton, Smokey Robinson, Ruth Brown, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, to cite a very, very select few.

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And he’s been sampled a billion times. 

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Pat Badger

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Perhaps it’s because they did so many things so well: funk metal, hard rock, pop-balladry, and permutations thereof that Extreme was denied the superstar career they so richly deserved.

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Bassist Pat Badger – on traditional 4 and extended range – seamlessly shifted gears as the music warranted: slapping, picking, and plucking.

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Badger’s tone exuded both depth and clarity – which afforded Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt the platform to strut their stuff. They had they hooks, they had the looks, and they had the chops…go figure!   

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Greg Norton

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Giants of the indie - alternative genre, and to my ears, one of the great American rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time, Husker Du’s sonic meld of angst and song-craft continues to influence rockers well after their demise in 1988. 

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Akin to the best trios in rock and jazz, the triumvirate of Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton created a signature collective sound that expanded the art-form even though there were only three of them! 

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The mustachioed Norton was a supreme pocket player, supporting his mates with passages that held the bottom and served the songs.    

    

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Following his tenure in Husker Du, Greg opened a restaurant, and nowadays works in various ensembles featuring indie rockers of note.

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U2 / You're The Best Thing About Me

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Don’t let Mr. Hewson’s enhanced barnet fool yer; U2 remain a formidable modern rock music entity. Despite the forced fury of No Line on the Horizon (2009) and Songs of Innocence (2014) Adam Clayton’s bass work continues to progress rather impressively. On the debut single from Songs of Experience (2017), Clayton skillfully employs the entire range of his instrument, vacillating from eighth-note pocket grooves with ever-so-slight harmonic movement to robust unison motifs with the former David Evans.  

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Pink Floyd / Obscured by Clouds

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“The memories of a man of his old age, are the deeds of a man in his prime….”

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One of the Floyd’s decidedly obscure sides, the film soundtrack Obscured by Clouds (1972) emerges as an intriguing and rather enjoyable harbinger to Dark Side of the Moon (1973).  

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It’s been noted that David Gilmour maneuvered various passages throughout the Floyd canon. On this platter, be it Roger Waters (who cut fine upper register motifs on Syd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) or David – behold the exquisite countermelodies on such cuts as “Stay,” and “Wot’s Uh the Deal,” and the trad rock riffage beneath “The Gold It’s In The…”  - all of which compliment Mr. Mason’s slow-as-molasses percussive disposition and Richard Wright’s flawless plinkery. 

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Rod Stewart / Atlantic Crossing

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Don’t let the glossy, glam artwork deceive ya’ll: Atlantic Crossing (1975) was, to my ears, Sir Rod’s most soulful slab.

David Hood

David Hood

Duck Dunn

Duck Dunn

With David Hood, Duck Dunn, Bob Glaub, and Lee Sklar helming the bass chair, the rooster hair rocker realized his rhythm and blues influences at Criteria (Miami), Hi Recording (Memphis), and Muscle Shoals.

Bob Glaub

Bob Glaub

Lee Sklar

Lee Sklar

Dig the descending Maj 10th motifs on Danny Whitten’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” the upper register bass melody in Rod and Jessie Ed Davis’ “Alright for an Hour,” the unison groove for Rod’s “All in the Name of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and the rolling rhythms of Rod and Steve Cropper’s “Stone Cold Sober,” to cite a few. 

Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart

And in addition to the above referenced players, the other cats on the sessions include Nigel Olsson, The Memphis Horns, Al Jackson Jr., and Booker T. Jones!