The 10 Greatest Rock Bassists in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Geddy Lee Edition
Photo by Jeff Balke
I could sit here and write paragraphs about my appreciation of Geddy Lee. He was the first true influence I had as a bass player when I was in high school. For years after, I admired not just his talent as a musician, but his ability to improve and grow. He is also underrated for how great a "rock" musician he is, since he is often lumped in with more artsy prog-rock acts of the '70s.
Now that Rush is finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today, it seems only fitting to count down the best rock bass players in the Hall now that he is entering. It most definitely shifts the order around, but is he the king of the Hall?
(Please note that, with all due respect to the brilliance of players like James Jamerson, "Duck" Dunn and Larry Graham, I'm sticking with rock music for my list)
10. Michael Anthony (Van Halen) Anthony is one of the more underrated bass players in rock music history as was his rhythm-section partner, Alex Van Halen. But some of the more intricate and interesting rhythms in hard rock music were born in Van Halen. Unlike so many rock guitarists of his time who preferred simplistic beds of music for solos, Eddie Van Halen wanted syncopated, quirky rhythms under his and Anthony laid them down.
9. Cliff Burton (Metallica) So often prior to Burton, metal bass was simple and plodding. Prior to his horrific and untimely death, Burton was changing the way people thought about the low end for really heavy bands. His combination of distortion and melodic lines made him a pioneer for the instrument in a genre where bass was only supposed to play a supporting role.
8. Sting (The Police) Sting has been much-maligned for his elitist musical bent, particularly after the Police disbanded. He even left the bass behind for many years, choosing instead to hand those duties over to brilliant jazz musicians like Darryl Jones. But in his prime, Sting was not only a master of the four strings, he was able to do it while singing rhythms as complicated as his bass lines.
7. John Deacon (Queen) Singer Freddie Mercury was such a powerful figure and guitarist Brian May such an innovator that people often missed out on the fine work by drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon. Just keeping up with the powerhouse that was Queen was tough enough, but filling as much space as he did between Taylor and the rest of the band was impressive. Then there was "Under Pressure."
6. Jack Bruce (Cream) Still considered one of the most influential early rock bass players, Bruce practically invented the style of rock bass playing as he held down the low end between Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. And besides being a serious rocker, Bruce could be damn funky as well.
5. Flea (The Red Hot Chili Peppers) There are bass players who defy categorization and those that redefine genres. Flea is most certainly the latter, infusing the punk and hardcore of the '80s and '90s with the very best of '70s funk bassists like Larry Graham and Louis Johnson. It gave rock bass players permission to be truly funky no matter how loud, noisy or punk the music was.
4. Paul McCartney (The Beatles/Wings) It is arguable that no bassist before or since McCartney has blended rhythm and melody quite as well in popular music. It's hard to argue when you listen to "Something" or "Come Together," but Sir Paul understood the meaning of a great groove ("Tomorrow Never Knows") even though his playing was overshadowed by his massive presence in front of the band.
3. John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) In truth, Jones is my favorite bassist on this list. I'm not sure anyone has ever combined the soul of Motown with the gut-busting balls of hard rock music like him, and I doubt anyone ever will. Led Zeppelin was the perfect match of three heavyweight musical badasses in Jones, Jimmy Page and John Bonham. Arguably, the greatest rhythm section in the history of rock music.
2. Geddy Lee (Rush) Surprised? Don't be. I'm a huge fan, but that doesn't mean I'm blind to other great musicians. Lee didn't so much change a genre as he took the balls of rock and roll and added the sick technique of jazz fusion. And over the last nearly 50 years, he has continued to improve. The last time they visited Houston, I was taken by just how fluid playing is for him even on some of the most complicated things any rock musician has ever recorded.
1. Jonn Entwistle (The Who) With all due respect to everyone else, no one in rock could outdo Thunderfingers. In a time when bass was muddy and barely audible, he played an instrument with the tonality of piano wire and soloed like a guitarist.
His bass growled and snarled as he stood statue-like playing unimaginable parts with the ease of someone who looked like he was about to yawn. If there is a king of the rock bass wing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's The Ox.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.