Five rock bands led by bassists.

Music Notes: Bass is the Place

Written by Jason P. Woodbury Category: Arts Issue: August 2017
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Five Rock Bands Led by Bassists
Few figures hold the same cartoonish appeal as rock ‘n’ roll bassists in pop culture. Think Harry Shearer’s Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap, Mark Kozelek’s Larry Fellows in Almost Famous, or Ethan Embry’s unnamed “T.B. Player” (“The Bass Player”) in That Thing You Do! – far and wide, bassists are portrayed as enigmatically goofy, as quick to ask about catering as new chord changes and the most likely to get lost on the way to the stage. But this representation hardly encompasses the scope of bass playerdom. Think of Paul McCartney, or Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. Sometimes the bassist is a genius. With mad sonic scientist/bassist Les Claypool’s Primus coming to the Marquee Theatre on August 8, we mused on four bands where the bass player isn’t an also-ran — they’re the main attraction. 

• Rush
No single player is slouching in Canadian power trio Rush. But it’s bassist Geddy Lee, who plays keys with his feet in addition to singing lead, who takes songs like “Tom Sawyer” to new heights. 

• Motörhead
Before launching punk/metal outfit Motörhead, Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister got the boot from psychedelic band Hawkwind for going too hard with illicit substances. Right up until his death in 2015, Lemmy never seemed to slow, partying as hard as he strummed his massive Rickenbacker. 

• The Church 
Led by bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey, Australia’s The Church blended stark post-punk with lush psychedelia. Kilbey’s steady bass lines pulsed under the band’s jangly guitars, evoking strident folk rock and a poetic, goth-friendly ambiance on hits like “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile.” 

• The Police 
It’s one thing to play bass and sing; it’s another to play and sing songs as tricky and complicated as “Roxanne” or “Message in a Bottle.” Sting managed to do it all, fusing reggae, punk and new wave all while navigating the tricky time changes of drummer Stewart Copeland. 

• Royal Blood
Guitarist? Royal Blood don’t need no stinking guitarist. Mike Kerr handles bass and vocals alongside drummer Ben Thatcher. Their bluesy stomp rock has earned them hits and comparisons to the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age. 

— Jason P. Woodbury