American Bass Guitarists

Bass guitar player

The bass guitarist is an often under-appreciated figure. While many players have a genuine love for the instrument, many other bassists are simply guitar players who were demoted. If you are an American bass player looking for inspiration from those who have gone before you, you have a number of people to admire and look up to. Regardless of which style of music you like to play, there is someone who has blazed the trail before you. These American bass guitarists hold their own artistically and commercially with the bassists of any other country.

Notable American Bass Guitarists

Which American bass guitarists you admire and emulate will largely depend on which type of music you listen to and play.

Jazz

America has a longstanding tradition of great jazz bassists.

  • Stanley Clarke: This Philadelphia-born bassist is best known for his years in the pioneering jazz fusion act Return to Forever. His innovative technique involves playing the electric bass guitar as if it were a standard upright double bass. Jazz bassists such as Victor Wooten have cited Stanley Clarke as an influence on their playing.
  • Jaco Pastorius: Deceased bandleader of Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius is a legend among American bassists. His distinctive style involved using only the bridge pickup and strumming his strings directly over the pickup.

Heavy Metal

While the style started in the United Kingdom, America has no shortage of heavy metal bassists.

  • Cliff Burton: Metallica's deceased bassist Cliff Burton continues to be an inspiration to American heavy metal bassists. He had a fierce style of playing, but was also classically trained. This training is evident on the instrumental track Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth).
  • Glen Benton: One of the most notorious figures in metal, Glen Benton is the bassist and vocalist of death metal act Deicide. Benton's bass style shows the typical technical prowess associated with the sub-genre.
  • Sean Yseult: As the bassist of White Zombie, Sean pioneered the sounds of alternative metal and noise rock that became wildly popular throughout the 1990s.

Funk and R&B

Some of the best funk and R&B bassists come from the United States.

  • Bootsy Collins: Bootsy is known for his outlandish outfits, which started when he was playing with George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic musical collective. Collins got his start in James Brown's second band, the JBs.
  • James Jamerson: Jamerson is perhaps the most prolific bassist that you have never heard of. He played bass on hundreds of hits that came out of Motown during the 1960s and 70s. He was known for never changing his strings unless they broke.
  • Curtis Mayfield: Known best for his hit soundtrack to the film Superfly, Curtis Mayfield is a pioneering musician in soul, funk and R&B. Many of Mayfield's songs were anthems of the civil rights movement.
  • Meshell Ndegeocello: Starting out on Washington, D.C.'s go-go circuit, Meshell Ndegeocello later pioneered the movement that would come to be known as neo-soul. She plays a heavy, funky, but surprisingly smooth brand of bass.

Punk

America has produced its fair share of pioneering and influential punk rock bass players.

  • Dee Dee Ramone: Dee Dee's name itself is inseparable from his most famous band, The Ramones. Dee Dee is known for having a simplistic but very tight style of playing using only down strokes. This created the tough, hard sound that epitomizes the early Ramones records.
  • Jerry Only: Jerry Only of The Misfits is a punk rock bass player rooted in the rock and pop of the 1950s and 60s. His bass style is very similar to Dee Dee Ramone's, with both men utilizing almost all down strokes for a meaner, tougher sound.
  • Eric Wood: Equally influenced by the sounds of punk rock, thrash, prog rock and early heavy metal, Eric Wood pioneered the subgenre of hardcore punk known as powerviolence with his bands Man Is the Bastard, Neanderthal and Crossed Out.
  • Gaye Advert: Billed as the "first female punk star" by The Virgin Encyclopedia of 70s Music, Gaye was the bassist of first-wave punk band The Adverts. Gary Gilmore's Eyes was a Top 40 hit for Gaye and her band in the UK.

Getting Started

If you're a new bass player or a bass player looking to find your style, you should study the works of bass players who have gone before you. This will allow you to decide which parts of their playing you like and which parts you don't like. You can also listen to bass players from genres that you aren't particularly interested in and learn from their technique. The best way to develop your own style is to play around with other people's and see what works for you and what doesn't.

American Bass Guitarists