Steely Dan / Aja

To my late 70s generation of “serious” musicians (insert guffaws here) Steely’s six slab was superhuman. In the service of the almighty Becker and Fagan were our session cat deities Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Steve Kahn, Jim Keltner, Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter, Jim Horn, Michael McDonald, Don Grolnick, Jay Graydon, Clydie King, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, and Rick Marotta – all at the top of their game. In the bass chair, save for Walter on “Deacon Blues,” is the incomparable Chuck Rainey. The grooves, the arrangements, the libretto, the impeccable engineering, the compositions, the musicianship, the resonance of each instrument, and even the artwork remain matchless. Bow ye heads in reverence of Aja (1977).     

Abandoned Desire / Bob Dylan

To my ears, Desire (1976) stands among Dylan’s magnum masterpieces. Heck, even an “average” Bob slab contains a bona fide gem or three.

This fascinating twofer boot aptly dubbed Abandoned Desire (coupled with a Quad Mix of Desire) captures the formation of the Rolling Thunder Revue ensemble anchored so brilliantly by Rob Stoner – and is a must hear companion piece to the aforementioned final product.

A somewhat restrained Stoner, who had yet to the stretch the rhythmic and harmonic boundaries of the genre as he would do so on Desire and Hard Rain/ Live 1975 - helms most of the tracks. John Siegler (Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates) works a session with Bob and Bette Midler -dig the banter between the bawdy bard and the Divine Miss M. Session ace bassists Gerald Johnson and Alan Spenner appear on two cuts.

‘Tis a fact that even Bob’s crumbs merit exploration!     

Ian Hunter & Mick Ronson / Y U I Orta

If only Moe Howard had lived to see his catchphrase immortalized on this magnificent Mr. Patterson slab which flew so very far under the radar due to record company catastrophes, that primarily hardcore fans are even aware it exists. 

Indeed, this may be Ian’s finest outing ever! Produced by Chic bassist Bernard Edwards – who wields his piercing MusicMan StingRay on the rollicking rocker “Women’s Intuition” – the production screams 1980s, however the songs are timeless.

Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards

Bass virtuoso Pat Kilbride goes fretless and extended range in the service of the song and the platinum ex-Spider.  

Pat Kilbride

Pat Kilbride

Had the Rant Band or Mott the Ronno cut this platter…       

Alejandro Escovedo / Boxing Mirror

 Behold beauty amid the darkness. With bassist John Cale in the producer’s chair, and bass master Mark Andes in the pocket, Boxing Mirror (2006), to my ears, is Alejandro’s finest platter.

Mark Andes

Mark Andes

As Andes has done his entire storied career with Spirit, Jojo Gunne, Heart, Kelly Wills, and Firefall, to cite a very select few, the songs and the rhythms reign supreme.

John Cale

John Cale

Mark’s deep tone (I’m guessing a Fender P), and adept use of space brings Escovedo’s riveting libretto and tortured melodies to the forefront.   

Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo

Roger McGuinn / Cardiff Rose

Talk about the role of the bass in expanding the language of folk rock. To my ears, Cardiff Rose (1976) stands as the former Jim McGuinn’s finest post-Byrds effort.

With most of the Rolling Thunder Revue in view, plus Mick Ronson helming the producer/guitarist chair – this slab intensely mirrors Bob’s trailblazing recordings / performances with the above referenced collective.

As he did so brilliantly in anchoring the Noble Prize winning bard, Rob Stoner glides through the changes with walking lines and pocket grooves rendered on a gritty Fender P that afford this stellar song-cycle a definitive swing feel whilst voice leading akin to a jazz cat.

Yeah, you had Zimmerman, Roger, and the platinum Spider, however sans bassist Rob Stoner - along with drummer Howie Wyeth, there’s no rolling nor thunder in this revue!  

 

 

 

Gene Clark / Full Circle

I’ll say it again: great songs make for great basslines. Behold two versions of Gene Clark’s magnificent “Full Circle” with The Byrds and “Full Circle Song” under his own name. I prefer studio ace bassist Chris Ethridge’s swingin’ smooth glissando groovin’ performance on Clark’s Roadmaster (1973) collection which was waxed in early 1972 at Wally Heider in Los Angeles.

FULL CIRCLE 2.jpg

A few months later the reunited former Jet Set cut the track in the same studio with bassist Chris Hillman, who also renders a fine mandolin passage, and cops Ethridge’s feel.

To my ears, “Full Circle” was an apt Byrds swansong, and yet another routine work of genius by Gene Clark.   

Bob Dylan / Budokan

Rob Stoner, bassist and musical director, once asked me if I was keen on this twofer, originally available only as an import in the US and duly panned by, ah-hem, American rock scribes. I replied to one of my bass heroes that I only wore out two copies. According to legend; Bob was unknowingly contracted to play the hits in Japan. Hence the songs were deconstructed melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically except for “Is Your Love in Vain” which had yet to be released on Street Legal (1978). And they sound magnificent. Unlike Hard Rain (1976) and the archival Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue (2002), Stoner resolutely resides in the pocket to skillfully anchor one of the most fascinating gems in the Dylan in-concert canon. And even if the aforementioned lore is off beam, it’s still great!          

Grateful Dead / San Francisco's Greateful Dead

"See that girl, barefootin' along, whistlin' and singin', she's a carryin' on. There's laughing in her eyes, dancing in her feet, she's a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street…." Despite the fact that Phil Lesh had only been playing bass a few years by the time the former Warlocks waxed their debut slab in '67, he knew his way around the neck, expertly traversing upper and lower register while avoiding the downbeat at every available opportunity.  Noted Lesh in his must-read autobiography, the band sounded nothing like their first album, which is too bad as it's a psychedelic punk rock tour de force "in the land of the dark, the ship of the sun is drawn by the Grateful Dead."

Billy Cobham / Spectrum

Waxed over two days in May 1973 at Electric Lady Studios in NYC, and mixed at Trident in SoHo, London, Billy’s solo bow Spectrum is a watershed fusion of jazz and rock, and an extraordinary showcase for all the players, especially Messrs. Tommy Bolin and Jan Hammer, along with their bandleader.

Lee Sklar gets a rare opportunity to rock out with monster grooves rendered on his gritty, growing Fender P on “Quadrant 4", "Taurian Matador," "Stratus," and "Red Baron."

Ron Carter soulfully swings beneath the title track and "Le Lis." 

Oh, and the other cats on the date include Joe Farrell, Ray Baretto, and John Tropea. 

Rick Rosas

To my recollection, he was dubbed “Rick the Bass Player” on the Howard Stern Show during one of several raucous Joe Wash appearances.

Among the top sidemen on the LA scene until his passing in 2014, Rick Rosas was an exemplary pocket / song player whose list of credits include several laudable slabs and tours with Neil Young (including CSN&Y, as a sub for Billy Talbot in Crazy Horse, and for a Buffalo Springfield reunion), Joe Walsh, Johnny Rivers, Terry Reid, Etta James, Ron Wood, and Johnny Rivers to cite a select few.

Rick appeared as “Buster” the bass player in Jonathan Demme’s final film Ricki and the Flash (2015).      

Billy Talbot

He’s the player who certainly brings a basic approach to the bass.

As the anchor of Neil’s mighty Crazy Horse for nearly a half century, Billy Talbot mostly lays down those massive legato quarter notes which, as Mr. Young notes in Jim Jarmusch’s essential Year of the Horse (1997) documentary, is more about “sound” rather than articulation or rhythm.

Aside from his work with Neil, Talbot is also a fine singer, songwriter, guitarist, solo recording artist/bandleader (The Billy Talbot Band) and collaborator (Wolves, Nils Lofgrin).  

Crosby & Nash / Wind on the Water (1976) and Live (1977)

Yes, the harmonies still sound brilliant all these years later, and yes, the libretto speaks to the heart and the intellect.

Now revere the soulful pocket grooves on these two platters as found on “Take the Money and Run,” “Love Work Out,” “Immigration Man,” “Low Down Payment” and the sparse yet effective harmonic / rhythmic support as rendered on “Carry Me,” “Déjà Vu,” “I Used to Be a King,” and “Fieldworker.” Bassists Tim Drummond and Lee Sklar were masters of the singer-songwriter genre in its golden era.

As David and Graham sweep you away with their voices and melodies, Tim and Lee float over the bar line to enhance the songs in both the live and studio settings. Oh, and that’s Russ Kunkel and Levon Helm on drums, Chris Doerge on keys, Carole King, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne on backing vocals; and guitarists David Lindley and Danny Kortchmar, among others. Not too shabby…

Tom Clark / Cross Eyed & Bow Legged

Tom Clark's High Action Boys sound like the "action" (that is, the slang muso term for the distance between the fingerboard and the strings  -hence the closer they are the faster you play) on their guitars is rather low by way of Clark and company's rapid fire pickin', strummin' and twangin'. 

On this killer slab waxed circa 2002, Clark keeps pretty good company, namely producer Lenny Kaye and guest guitarist Robert Quine, among others. Great songs make for great basslines - as evidenced throughout this tuneful, heartfelt song-cycle.  

Messrs. Tony Shanahan, Graham Maby, and Phil Cohen helm the bass chair, working the pocket with a few melodic twists just because they can, and because they serve the songs! ! If "Small Town New Semester" doesn't bring a tear to your eye, check your pulse, you may be deceased…

Emmylou Harris / Spyboy

Waxed in support of her watershed Wrecking Ball (1995) slab, this mind-blowing live set features exemplary performances from all the players – Emmylou, guitarist Buddy Miller, drummer Brady Blade, and bassist Daryl Johnson.

Melding ambient, country, blues, rock, and jazz – Spyboy (named for her band) – breaks whatever barriers were left in alternative country. Johnson's adroit use of the extended range low B shows just how powerful the instrument can be in the right hands!

 

Davey Faragher

Trust me, you've heard him!

An demand session cat (Richard Thompson, Randy Newman, Buddy Guy, Heather Nova, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Elton & Leon, Katy Sagal, Chuck Prophet, Wanda Jackson, Abra Moore, Shelby Lynne, Buddy Guy, and Rachel Yamagata, to cite a few)....

 

... and band member (The Faragher Brothers, Cracker, John Hiatt Band, Elvis Costello’s Imposters)....

 

Davey Faragher is an exemplary pocket /melodic player and harmony vocalist. Faced with the daunting task of replacing Bruce Thomas in Declan's main backing ensemble, Davey afforded his bandleader a more soulful, rhythm and blues disposition, which, to my ears, made Costello relevant in the 21st Century as evidenced on such fine patters as The Delivery Man (2004), Momofuku (2008) and National Ransom (2010)     

David Bowie / Cracked Actor Los Angeles '74

Supplanting Herbie Flowers on Bowie’s tumultuous ’74 Diamond Dogs tour, bassist Doug Rauch fuels David’s glam soul inclinations with passages that are a lot more straightforward and in-the-pocket than Mr. Flowers – who took rather daring harmonic and rhythmic liberties aplenty as magnificently captured on David Live (1974). Dig Doug’s solo chordal intro to “Jean Genie” as the extremely Thin White (Powder) Duke spouts a bit of street gibberish before his stellar band; which includes usual suspects Mike Garson, Carlos Alomar, and Earl Slick – gets into the “swing” of things!  

Bob Babbitt

I first became aware of Bob Babbitt by way of a posthumous (and some say sacrilegious) Jimi slab Crash Landing (1975) wherein the ex-wrestler added soulful bass passages to Hendrix leftovers.

Little did I know that I’d been hearing the Motown Funk Brother and former Robert Kreiner my entire life by way of his work with Stevie Wonder, The Capitols (“Cool Jerk”), Gladys Night & the Pips, Marvin Gaye (“Inner City Blues”) Del Shannon, Edwin Starr (“War”), Freda Payne, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Del Shannon, and The Spinners just to cite a very select few.

An author (Awareness Guide for Bass Players and All Fellow Musicians), Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, solo recording artist, Bob’s riveting rhythm and blues drenched 90 second bass solo on Dennis Coffey’s and The Detroit Guitar Band classic “Scorpio” is the stuff of legend. 

 

 

Allan Dias

Allan Dias anchored some of PiL’s pinnacle recordings during his 1986-92 tenure wherein Mr. Lydon gravitated towards a more commercial "alternative dance" posture.   

Utilizing his formidable reggae / jazz rhythmic and harmonic chops coupled with a warm tone and precise articulation – Dias’ work on Happy? 9, and That What is Not seamlessly bridges world and punk.

In addition to his PiL pedigree, Allan worked with Sun Ra’s Dawson Miller, Pharoah Sanders, James Blood Ulmer, and helmed his own ensembles, among other musical endeavors.      

The Monkees / Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd

KNOW YOUR BASS PLAYER SEMINAL SIDES: Anchored by The Monkees’ frequent producer, composer, collaborator, and multi-instrumentalist Chip Douglas of Modern Folk Quartet and Turtles fame, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967) is stellar collection wherein country, psychedelic rock, folk, pop, and cabaret tracks coalesce into a rather captivating song-cycle. With plectrum in hand, the former Douglas Farthing Hatlelid plays the pocket on first-rate tunes by Jeff Barry, Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil, Harry Nilsson, Tommy Boyce / Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin / Carole King, Michael Martin Murphy, and Mike Nesmith.