Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” is the inspiration for this month’s feature on the best bass players I have seen perform live. This column is steeped in subjectivity and unapologetic, which is my fancy way of saying it’s simply my opinion, take it or leave it.
At the top of my list is Mike Levine of Triumph. Now Mike does not make many lists for the greatest bass player of all-time, and while his bass playing is not flashy, he keeps a solid beat and has his own style.
None of those reasons are why he is on my list though, Levine was the quintessential arena rock cheerleader. Triumph shows were spectacles that featured a lengthy rant by Gil Moore to introduce “Rock and Roll Machine” and guitar pyrotechnics by Rik Emmett often took center stage. Levine’s understated and cool swagger capped off the show with “Triumph loves you” as the band closed their show, and his spoken intro to “American Girls” represents everything that was great about the arena rock era.
Next is Levine’s fellow Canadian, Geddy Lee. Rush played enough instrumentals to allow you to hear Lee’s proficiency at bass, and having to keep up with Neil Peart’s drums is not an easy task. Lee falls in a small category of lead singing bass players, many of whom were likely inspired by the next guy on my list.
Jack Bruce. Even if I saw the guy in a parking lot he would make my list, but I was fortunate to catch him with Ringo’s All Starr Band. What could I possibly say that has not already been said?
Speaking of bass Gods, I will lump two in this paragraph, John Entwistle and Chris Squire, neither of whom do a lot of lead vocals, but taken for their prowess on their respective instrument. Live, both of those guys are amazing to watch and listen to, I have seen Squire multiple times and he makes it look so darn easy.
Another guy I have seen multiple times is John Wetton of Asia, King Crimson, U.K, and many more. I love Wetton’s vocal ability, and since he is a singer people sometimes forget what a great bass player he is-which may also be due to the fact he is usually playing with legendary progressive rock players.
The next guy has been in the news lately, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. If Phil was having a great night you knew the band was having a great night, as is evidenced on the legendary Cornell 1977 performance by The Grateful Dead, Lesh’s performance on that night is breathtaking.
Speaking of breathtaking bass players, how about Tony Levin? The first time I saw Levin was with Peter Gabriel, but later I stood about five feet away from him at a small club in Rochester, where he performed with Steve Gadd behind a Rochester NY singer/songwriter named Joe Brucato. When Levin threw on those long stick on his fingers it was mesmerizing.
There is another name I would be foolish to leave off the list, Sting. Unfortunately, I was never able to see Sting perform with The Police, but did catch a solo show that had plenty of Police classics in the set. We know Sting is a great vocalist, and his bass playing is just as impressive.
Two more to go, one has to be Kasim Sulton. He is the only one on this list who I named a pet after, my beloved dog whose picture is on the cover of Sulton’s latest album “3”. As a longtime “Utopian” I always appreciated his vocal ability and pop sensibility, it was not until I saw him at a bass clinic that I began to pay attention to his bass playing. The guy is incredibly versatile which is probably why he has been on a million different albums and tours.
Finally, I saved the best for last, a guy who made his name as the bass player for a popular 1970’s band named Wings, and spent the 1960’s with another influential band whose name escapes me at the moment, Sir Paul McCartney.
I saw Paul in Toronto after a friend told me that as a lover of live music that I was “required” see him live, and that it would be “the best show” that I had ever seen. I did not want to pay the huge ticket price, but Paul exceeded my friend’s high expectations. No wonder he left Wings to pursue a solo career!
It’s likely I forgot a few, but I will put it out there that I have never seen Billy Sheehan, Glenn Hughes, Stu Hamm and a few more of some of my favorite bass players perform live, but when and if I do, it will be all about that bass!