Bass inspiration (in unexpected places)

I was listening to some LPs the other night, and was reminded of some inspiring bass players that had a big influence on me as I was learning to play, especially through my teenage years. Some of them are quite well known amongst my musician friends (not just other bass players)—people like Flea, Jaco Pastorius, John Pattitucci—these are the players likely to end up on the cover of Bass Player magazine. But it struck me that some of these players are probably far less well known. So I thought I’d like to put forward a few of their names here, paying my respects to their influence and inspiration.

Guy Pratt

I first became aware of Guy’s playing on Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder tour. My friend Ashley and I used to watch this ad-nauseum when we came home from school (on good old fashioned VHS video). I was completely blown away by Guy’s playing—grooves, fills, attitude (see Guy’s dual vocal on Run Like Hell, for example)—loved it all. I recently re-listened to this album (on iTunes) and noticed just how well Guy holds the grooves together even in spots where the drums aren’t quite as great as I remembered them being! Really made that rhythm section work I think. The groove on Money was a great take on this 7/4 gem, really updating it to the time. And I can still (almost) sing along to Guy’s solo—the melodic sensibility to it was so strong, and made such an impression, that I can still remember the key phrasing years later.

As I dug deeper into Guy’s background I discovered he was also responsible for the bottom end on early albums from another of my favourite bands growing up—Icehouse. And also for a number of tracks on Madonna’s Like a Prayer. Listen to the title track from the second chorus—despite the synth-like effect on the bass sound there are some tell-tale Guy Pratt licks and fills in there suggesting that it’s his handiwork. Some great groove work as the mood shifts to a more gospel-inspired lines. (And proves you can find bass inspiration in some unlikely places!)

Curt Smith

Curt is one half of Tears for Fears, as well as a solo artist nowadays. While I got into Tears for Fears’ hit tracks when I was very young (I remember listening to my brother’s copy of Songs from the Big Chair in a hotel room in Hong Kong when he bought our family’s first CD player on holiday when I was about 10 years old), it was the bass playing on The Seeds of Love that really blew me away. I note that Pino Palladino is co-credited with bass playing duties on this album—but I have a live DVD where Curt plays pretty much every cut on the album with great confidence and skill. The phat grooves on tracks like Woman in Chains and Badman’s Song, or the sublime fills in Standing on the Corner of the Third World—gives me goosebumps thinking about them!

Nick Seymour

If you’re anything like me, you may not overtly notice Nick Seymour’s understated playing in Crowded House’s catalogue. But the minute you scratch beneath the surface it becomes apparent how integral his parts and playing are to the success of that band. The melodicism of Nick’s playing is just wonderful—there’s rarely a “straight” groove in amongst those songs, even when it would be easy to fall into one. There’s always a twist and a quirk, and the interplay with Neil Finn’s vocal melodies is always a delight.

Joe Creighton

Joe Creighton played bass for John Farnham for many years both in his touring and recording band. (Yes, I was a fan of John Farnham when I was younger…) I probably need to credit Joe as being a key inspiration in picking up the bass in the first place—I distinctly remember watching one of Farnham’s massive tours in the late 80s/early 90s and hearing Reasons come across the TV and seeing Joe on stage and thinking “That’s what I want to do!” (I have since, of course, worked out that it was David Hirschfelder who was responsible for that line, which is predominantly synth bass, but that’s by the by.) There’s some great playing on Farnham’s album (especially once he got beyond the synth-driven tracks). I had the pleasure of sitting in on a master class with Joe when I was at uni, and he was such a humble voice, wonderful musician and very generous with his knowledge from years of playing. So on a personal level, even just that one meeting had a big influence on me also.

Lloyd Swanton

I heard Lloyd’s playing for the first time on a late night ABC gig with Vince Jones. I don’t know the name of the show, where it was (I recall it being the Basement, but my memory ain’t all that great for such things). He pulled out a solo on one of the tracks that night that had me completely enthralled. Another of those moments where I thought “That’s what I want to do!”, though this time wanting to get more into upright bass playing (which I did a bit of at uni, but still have that same feeling “I want to do more of that…” but never seem to actually do). Lloyd was another person I got to see in a masterclass session at uni when he was touring with his band The Catholics. Another down-to-earth, very generous player. In hindsight, I think I aspired more to the ideal/idea of being a player like Lloyd, an ideal that I’d built up in my head—the mystique of that gig on ABC TV, the Basement etc. It did spur me to get a copy of It All Ends up in Tears (featuring Steve Hadley on bass) which included the track Jettison—which would have to be one of my top 5 favourite tracks of all time.

Pino Palladino

Pino Palladino has actually appeared on the cover of Bass Player, and is pretty well known in bass circles at least. But I feel it worth mentioning him because he’s not really a “household name”, as it were.

Pino is a leading session musician and probably appears on more tracks than I actually realise (including his surprising appearance on Nine Inch Nails’ latest, Hesitation Marks). But it was his wonderful fretless playing with Paul Young that first caught my ear. He’s also co-credited on The Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears, so there’s a very high likelihood that some of the passages I love from that album came via Pino’s hands.

I was a fretless player for many years—I had a fretless electric bass as my primary instrument through the latter part of high school and early university—so I was totally inspired by the lyricism of Pino’s playing and the interplay between the low-end melodies he put together in support of great vocalists.

Sting

Sting, of course, is probably a household name in many parts, but is mostly renowned as a vocalist and songwriter (perhaps his last few albums notwithstanding :\). Of course, as the bass player with the Police, he was also responsible for some of the most iconic basslines of the late 70s and 80s. From the reggae-inspired Walking on the Moon to the grounding rising chordal outline that introduced Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. It is this combination of bass in support of the song—in some cases it is the song—that was most influential on me. How a simple shift in the root note underneath a guitar part utterly transforms the mood and intent. I really dug this “driving from the back seat” approach.

Sting handed over bass playing duties to the ever capable Darryl Jones for his first two solo efforts, but picked up the instrument again for Soul Cages and beyond. To me, the standout album for his bass playing is Ten Summoners Tales where he paired up with the monstrous Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Check out their rock-solid interplay on the odd time signature Love is Stronger than Justice (The Munificent Seven) for just one example.

Paul McCartney

Another famous singer-songwriter, of course Paul McCartney was also an accomplished bass player. I can’t tell you one track that really inspired or influenced me directly. But the number of times someone has commented to me over the years that “You must really be into McCartney?”, in reference to the melodic aspects of my playing in particular, he has to have had a big influence. If only indirectly through all of the players he has inspired that in turn have inspired me. A common thread through all of the players above is a melodicism on the bass—this is no doubt a result of the effect McCartney’s playing has had on musicians across the decades since the Beatles first took off.