Warning: This essay contains irony, humor, and instances of exaggeration with the intent to inform and entertain. Note that the writer is over the age of 55 and revels in his right to wax curmudgeonly.
We are the ones who serve the singer, the song, and the soloist. Though we do not possess the harmonic nor sonic range of a guitar, keyboards, horns and other wind instruments, nor the dynamics of drums –it is us who determine how a chord actually sounds – which, in essence – often determines whether or not you’ll like the artist, or the track. We are the only individuals on the bandstand and in the recording studio with that critical responsibility.
Our function is to make everyone around us sound better than they are. We keep the singers in tune, the pickers on course, and the arrangers, producers, sound technicians, and engineers from jumping off the ledge! In return, we garner the least amount of attention and acknowledgment from the masses – and sometimes our band mates. We are expected to do our job perfectly – one mistake or miscue can be fatal. On stage, a diligent bass player can rescue a failing band member – yet a failing bass player can be saved by no one.
To be a bass player is to exude skill, confidence, humility, patience, tolerance, and knowledge: very few are chosen, and fewer still are called!
You can fool a singer. You can easily dupe a guitar player. Be careful around keyboard players. Drummers are easy targets. Horn and string players are just happy to be here, there, or anywhere. But never, ever, dare bullshit a bass player!
Which brings me once again to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; worth the price of admission to read Pete Townshend’s handsomely scripted, hysterical multi-page diatribe aimed at a scribe who didn’t quite understand Quadrophenia, and to genuflect before John Paul Jones' Alembic bass!
Once again, I congratulate the latest motely of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees: Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, The Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC 5, The Meters, The Moody Blues, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Rufus, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray, and The Zombies.
As much as I respect Nina Simone and LL Cool J – they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as much as Pele belongs in the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. Neither Nina nor LL are major or even minor rock and roll influencers.
Link Wray is a no brainer. Rage Against the Machine and Eurythmics go into the Hall of Very Good. Bon Jovi goes in the Hall of WTF.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe? Not before Tommy Bolin, Rick Derringer, Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Tommy Tedesco, Chris Spedding, Al Di Meola, Steve Vai, Richard Thompson, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Johnny Winter, Adrian Belew, Alan Holdsworth, Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, John Scofield, Greg Howe, Robert Quine, Robben Ford, Joe Satriani, Steve Morse, Hiram Bullock, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and Mick Ronson. Just sayin’… cause I know better!
As a teen coming of age in the 1970s, I draped a poster of my beloved Chaka Kahn beside treasured enlarged images of fantasies Linda Ronstadt, Star Stowe (with a blue Rickenbacker), Farrah, and that awful dog poop brown George Harrison foldout from All Things Must Pass. Rufus featuring Chaka Kahn was a funk, soul band that didn’t influence any rockers, nor made records that even resembled rock and roll.
And I had no idea Radiohead made music - though I've seen photos of a few of the band members holding guitars and they have a guy who sits behind a drum kit. All the best to them!
You could argue that The Meters are a New Orleans R&B funk ensemble and not rock and rollers, however Keith and Ronnie love ‘em, and I dare not cross Stones nor Faces.
Kate, Depeche, Dire Straits, J. Geils, MC5, Moodys, Priest, and The Zombies have earned their Hall stripes. Let 'em in and apologize that they were not granted entrance upon their first year of eligibility.
The Hall’s reasoning for inducting non-rockers – some blather about exuding the “attitude” of rock and roll – as attributed to Chic, Abba, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, among others, is bullshit with a side order of bullshit. Yes, there are elements of rock in some of their music, but they are not rock artists.
Rock, rock and roll is not an attitude, nor is it a fashion statement. It is an artform, and/or genre of music given to a particular set of practitioners.
When I encounter folks wearing rock and roll garb I am curious to inquire “what instrument do you play?” “Oh you don’t?” “Then take off the uniform Russell Brand!” I have great respect for our Armed Forces, but you won’t see me outfitted in military gear. I am a bass player, I earned the right to wear shades indoors.
Back in 2015 I scripted a Huff Post op-ed regarding bass players who deserve Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognition.
I cited three prominent bass players who were excluded from the Hall despite the fact that the bands they played in and recorded with were enshrined; The Kinks’ John Dalton (“Lola,” “Celluloid Heroes,” Arthur Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, Muswell Hillbillies, Everybody's in Showbiz ) and Jim Rodford (every record and tour from 1977 to 1994), and Doug Yule of the Velvet Underground (Velvet Underground, Loaded, Live at Max’s Kansas City).
Two bassists who played on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members’ seminal recordings and ensembles and had a major impact on the careers of their bandleaders were also mentioned; Dee Murray from the classic Elton John Band, and Carl Radle from Eric Clapton’s 1970s groups and Derek & The Dominos.
And I made a strong case for six bassists who distinguished themselves with a myriad of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists as sidemen on landmark recordings, tours, and concert performances; Klaus Voorman, Kenny Aaronson, Harvey Brooks, Will Lee, Lee Sklar, and Herbie Flowers.
In 2016 I predictably followed-up with Eleven More Bass Players Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Huff Post.
Once again, I championed players who were excluded from the Hall even though their respective bands were enshrined: John York and Skip Battin of The Byrds; and Lamar Williams, David Goldflies, Allen Woody, and Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers Band.
And I verified the amazing players who made great bandleaders, composers, producers, and recording artists even greater: Carol Kaye (Wrecking Crew), Tim Drummond (Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young in various permutations); studio legend Chuck Rainey (Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Laura Nyro, Aretha Franklin), Kenny Passarelli (Hall & Oates, Elton John, Joe Walsh, Daryl Hall), and Doug Stegmeyer of the Billy Joel Band (and Graham Parker’s magnificent Another Grey Area).
This year, we are being told that our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame votes count! Where have I heard this before? In the spirit of American democracy – and I emphasize “spirit” as America is effectively a bullshit democracy - I voted for the bands with the best bass players: Danny “Ace of Bass” Klein of the J. Geils Band, The Meters’ George Porter Jr., John Lodge of the Moody Blues, Ian Hill of Judas Priest, and The Zombies’ Chris White and Jim Rodford.
Once again, my latest selections are not bassists who are members of bands who I feel should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – these are sidemen and recording artists. Please do not return a rant to me that Andy Rourke, Steve Harris, Lemmy, or Peter Hook should be on this list! They go with their respective ensembles!
In reverence to the number "11" as immortalized in Spinal Tap, my eleven choices in 2017 are as follows: Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Aston Barrett, Robbie Shakespeare, Marcus Miller, Willie Weeks, Rudy Sarzo, Bob Daisley, Pino Palladino, Joe Osborn, and Jerry Scheff.
Herein is my testimony:
Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke: On his brilliant Underground Garage Sirius/XM show, Little Steven meritoriously explained to a younger generation the effect of The Beatles debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on a generation. He likened it to aliens landing in Central Park. Well, imagine if those creatures were two bass players! These two icons, who sound nothing alike, were masters in a genre known as Jazz Fusion, aka Jazz Rock. Fusion was a major force in rock music during the late 60s, and 1970s -though you wouldn't know it thanks to revisionist journalism. Many rock reporters despised fusion because, as Frank Zappa noted they were "people who can’t write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." Frank was too kind, in my opinion.
Numerous jazz scribes were no better, especially jazz police nitwit Wynton Marsalis and his enabler documentarian Ken "I Never Saw a Fact I Couldn't Omit or Alter to Please My Corrupt Corporate Sponsors" Burns - and that includes his baseball and Vietnam travesties. Jaco and Stanley expanded the language of the electric bass far beyond Leo Fender's imagination. Listen to Jaco on Ian Hunter’s All-American Alien Boy (1976). Jaco's work with Joni Mitchell; Hejira, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, Mingus, and Shadows and Light are all jazz rock classics. Listen to Stanley’s School Days (1976) and with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Listen to Jaco and Stanley on Al Di Meola’s Land of the Midnight Sun (1976). Not rock? Bullshit!
Jaco and Stanley’s collective influence is embedded in every bassist whether they realize it or not. I am old enough to recall when the electric bass was still considered the bastard child of the electric guitar and upright by the music establishment. When the old guard derided the instrument we simply responded with one of two words - Jaco! Stanley! And they knew we were right. When someone opines that a bass is easy to play since it only has four strings, kindly fit them for a dunce cap to warn the rest of us!
As jazz rock innovators, the late Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke are deserving of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors as Performing and Recording Artists, and for Musical Excellence. Take your pick.
Aston “Family Man” Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare: Imagine a Baseball Hall of Fame sans Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. The influence of reggae and its subgenres on rock and pop music, especially in the UK, is incalculable. Spanning Eric Clapton, The Clash, Living Color, PIL, Madness, The Police, Rolling Stones, Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, UB 40, Simply Red, Rush, No Doubt…the list of artists fueled by reggae grooves and sounds is exhaustive.
The two giants of the genre are Aston Barrett from Bob Marley’s Wailers, and Robbie Shakespeare most noted from the Sly & Robbie duo.
How on earth could the Hall enshrine Bob Marley and not The Wailers? What instrument fortified Marley’s melodies and libretto into a worldwide social and cultural phenomenon? I’ll give you a subtle clue – THE FUCKING BASS! And on Bob Marley’s official Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio, there is no mention of Aston Barrett. Blasphemous! Bullshit!
Bassist Robbie Shakespeare along with his partner, drummer Sly Dunbar, are among the most influential rhythm sections in the history of pop music – and that includes rock. Akin to his mentor Barrett, Shakespeare introduced rock bassists to an expansive array of rhythms, tones, and overall approach to the instrument. And as for the rock artists he backed, just check out Bob Dylan’s comeback Infidels (1984), and tell me that Robbie didn’t augment the role of the bass – especially given that his bandleader on that date was not particularly known for grooves!
Aston Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare are deserving of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors for Musical Excellence.
Marcus Miller: Since he emerged as a first-call session cat, sometime around 1976 (that year again), Marcus Miller has anchored scores of seminal sides. You’ve heard Marcus every day for decades. With an instantly recognizable tone and a slap style that befits rockers, Marcus is another jazz fusion / jazz rock giant – and a disciple of both Stanley and Jaco.
Marcus’ extraordinary solo canon and collaborations with Miles Davis and David Sanborn are the innovative bedrock of jazz rock. His Sirius/XM show Miller Time is a college education on jazz, rock, soul, blues, and hybrids thereof – and you can dance to it. A prolific film-soundtrack composer and recording artist, among Marcus’s high-profile side gigs include slabs with Bryan Ferry (check out Marcus and Bryan at Live Aid 1985) and Donald Fagan.
If you had to give the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Musical Excellence Award another name, call it “Marcus Miller.”
Willie Weeks: Don’t recognize that name? The Rolling Stones “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” David Bowie’s Young Americans. George Harrison. Rickie Lee Jones. Gregg Allman. Leon Russell. Eric Clapton. Rod Stewart. Steve Winwood. Joe Walsh. John Mellancamp. Aretha Franklin. Buddy Guy. Bobby Womack. Isaac Hayes. Ron Wood. Billy Joel, Chaka Kahn and Rufus together and solo. Randy Newman. B.B. King. James Taylor. Al Kooper. And the Doobie Brothers, to cite a ridiculous few.
Most of those artists are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and one of them, Al Kooper – should own the place!
If it were only for his bass solo on Donny Hathaway’s Live (1972) album for “Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)” Willie would be a legend. But that was just one night on the gig with Mr. Weeks! If you were to carve a Mt. Rushmore of bass players, get to work on Willie Weeks’ profile.
Willie Weeks deserves Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Honors for Musical Excellence.
Rudy Sarzo and Bob Daisley: We’ll never know how many rock and roll singles /45s, Eps, albums, downloads have been sold or streamed in the history of the genre, nor the overall concert and merch figures. However, my educated guess is that rock’s most potent subgenre is “heavy metal” aka “hard rock” and permutations thereof - however you may define its origins, physiognomies, and its artists.
Hard rock has always reigned supreme – and its neglect by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is rather curious. Hard rock has generated billions of dollars for the entertainment industry and its fans number in the millions worldwide. Of all the genres in rock and roll, hard rock is the most bankable.
Several metal bands have been shunned by the Hall, so my inclination is to highlight two exemplary sidemen.
Among the most prolific and accomplished bassists on stage and on record, Rodolfo Maximiliano Sarzo Lavieille Grande Ruiz Payret y Chaumont has anchored some of rock’s most groundbreaking and influential artists: Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Dio, and Tony MacAlpine, to cite a select few.
An author (Off The Rails), composer, clinician, educator (Rock Bass Essentials), and designer (Signature Peavey Cirrus Bass) - Rudy plies his craft with a crisp tone, deft use of chords and harmonic extensions, and a proclivity to leave space in a genre oft given to over-playing!
Incorporating signature jazz, rock, classical, and Latin motifs in his bass passages, Rudy exemplifies one of rock’s most treasured characteristics: inclusiveness!
And along with Hall of Famers Bill Wyman and Jack Bruce; Tony Franklin, and should-be Hall of Famer Boz Burrell of Bad Company: Rudy is a rock fretless bass pioneer.
Bob Daisley’s discography reads like a hard rock history book: Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie Malmsteen, Uriah Heep, Gary Moore, and Black Sabbath, among others. A composer, and supportive player, Daisely’s disposition is decidedly of a blues origin – which is evidenced by his early work with Chicken Shack and Mungo Jerry.
In 2014 Bob published his highly controversial autobiography For Fact’s Sake – which reveals more than a few hard truths behind the hard rock legends! In fact, Daisley, along with Dave Spitz and Neil Murray should be included with Black Sabbath’s Hall of Fame honors. Granted those players did not wax Sabs’ classic slabs, but they played for millions of fans before Ozzy and Geezer retuned into the fold.
Rudy Sarzo and Bob Daisley are deserving of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors for Musical Excellence.
Pino Palladino: Akin to his peer Marcus Miller, the chameleonic Giuseppe Henry “Pino” Palladino has been among the most in-demand session and touring bassists on the planet for thirty years and counting. Pino’s prominence lies in his mastery of the fretless bass – best exemplified on Paul Young’s hit rendition of the Daryl Hall composition “Everytime You Go Away.”
Greatly inspired by classic rhythm and blues and American soul music - Pino’s resume spans stellar work with non-rock artists D’Angelo, Adele, and Herbie Hancock to rock artists including the John Mayer Trio, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, and Nine Inch Nails.
Many of my fellow bass players salute Pino for anchoring Roger and Pete as they oft resurrect The Who for a new generation, and for the pleasure of geezers like myself. And kudos to Pino's approach towards the gig as he brings his signature artistry to The ‘Oo canon rather than attempting to copy the irreplaceable John Ox Entwistle as evidenced throughout Quadrophenia Live in London (2014) among other releases and live shows.
Pino Palladino is deserving of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors for Musical Excellence.
Joe Osborn: He was a first-call Wrecking Crew session virtuoso whose command of upper register countermelodies, to my ears, are among the greatest in the pop music canon, and are on par with such high-note notables as Sir Paul, Brian Wilson, and Chris Squire – all of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
With a Fender Jazz equipped with LaBella flats that he hardly ever replaced and a plectrum, Joe Osborn was a staple on radio, television, and films throughout the 1960s-70s. Trust me, you’ve heard Joe Osborn.
And Joe’s work with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Hal Blaine on the electric Simon & Garfunkel studio sides is matchless. You can’t imagine those songs sans Joe’s contributions. Ditto his work with Mamas & The Papas, Neil Diamond, The Monkees, and scores of other artists too numerous to cite.
Joe Osborn is deserving of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors for Musical Excellence.
Jerry Scheff: “And on the Fender bass, I’d like to introduce you to Jerry Scheff ladies and gentlemen…” warbled Elvis Presley in his hazy 1970s baritone.
Jerry Scheff joined “The King” at the onset of his decline, anchoring the legendary TCB (Takin’ Care of Business) Band – which waxed several killer live sides and such singles as “Burnin’ Love” and “Moody Blue.” Note that Elvis’ upright bassist Bill Black is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – however most fans actually saw Elvis in his jumper with Mr. Scheff on the concert stage.
Aside from Elvis, that’s Jerry on The Doors’ LA Woman – which to my ears, one of the great rock bass slabs, though not recognized as such. Scheff’s bass passages on the title track, “Love Her Madly,” and “Riders on the Storm” solidified the Doors status as a world class ensemble. In fact, Jerry makes that album – go back and listen if you doubt me!
Scheff’s resume is astounding: Tommy Roe, Nancy Sinatra, The Monkees, Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Rivers, Delaney & Bonnie, Todd Rundgren, Helen Reddy, Tom Scott, Bob Dylan, Buckingham Nicks, Lobo, Hoyt Axton, Larry Gatlin, Mink DeVille, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Roy Orbison, Glenn Frey, Suzanne Vega, Randy Newman, and Bruce Cockburn, to cite a few.
Jerry Scheff deserves Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors for Musical Excellence.
Sure, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is given to politics, advertising dollars, and corruption – what isn’t in American life? America’s greatest musical artforms - rock, blues, rhythm & blues, and jazz – are founded on the bass.
The Hall may be a dump, but it’s our dump.
Where do I set up my bass rig?
Photo of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Rich Stefens.
Photos of Tom Semioli by Avi Bonime and Lorraine Leckie.
Read Tom Semioli on www.KnowYourBassPlayer.Com