A dozen female bassists who rock our world
By Gary Graff
May 11, 2018
When it comes to bass, it’s definitely not just a man’s man’s man’s world. Women have made their mark with four strings (and more) for decades, as their own artists or in collaboration with others. The list is long — longer than some myopic folks might think — and robust, with an imprint on some of the most legendary recordings of all time. Here’s our pick of the 12 most notable female bass slingers…
Melissa Auf der Maur
The Montreal native was working with the band Tinker when she joined Hole in 1994, playing on the breakthrough Celebrity Skin album. She was a member of Smashing Pumpkins during 1999-2000 and has worked with Rufus Wainwright, Indochine and others. Auf der Maur has also released two solo albums, while her photography has been featured in National Geographic and exhibited by Sotheby’s. As an actress she’s appeared in films such as Beyond Borders and Collaborators.
Emerging from the Hollywood Latin rock outfit Tito & Tarantulas, Condos became a major gun for hire, working with Stevie Nicks, Ray LaMontagne, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Henry, Ryan Adams, Sam Phillips and many more. She produced an album for Charlie Faye in 2013 and was part of the team that recorded the score for Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life in 2016.
Gail Ann Dorsey
The Philadelphia native has a stacked resume, including Tears For Fears, Gwen Stefani, Lenny Kravitz, Bryan Ferry, Indigo Girls, Susan Werner and many more. But Dorsey is indelibly attached to David Bowie, who she worked with from 1995 until his death in 2016, recording on four of his studio albums and frequently showcased as a singer during his concerts. Dorsey has also released three solo albums.
Gordon showed there’s a place for bass in the world of dissonant and discordant rock, riding a broad frequency range during her 30 years with Sonic Youth. One band was never quite enough to contain her ambitions, however, and Gordon was seldom wanting for project as she went on to endeavors such as Harry Crews, Free Kitten, the Supreme Indifference and Body/Head. Gordon also produced Hole’s 1991 debut album and, in 2016, released her first solo recording the single “Murdered Out.”
The grand dame, if we may say, of this group. If Kaye had only played on the Beach Boys’ landmark Pet Sounds, she’d be immortalized. But as a member of Phil Spector’s Wrecking Crew, and in other situations, she has a credits list longer than a Rickenbacker neck — 10,000 recordings, by some estimates — and the list of who she hasn’t worked with is probably shorter than who she has. All hail the Queen…
The British bassist — and, yes, that’s her real name — was discovered by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp while she was working as a secretary at Polydor Records. She worked briefly with his League of Gentlemen before making her name working with Gang of Four from 1980-83. Lee went on to be a bottom feeder for the B-52’s, Indigo Girls, Robyn Hitchcock, Todd Rundgren and others, and she released a solo album, Make It Beautiful, during 2000 on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records.
Straight outta Argentina, Lenchantin stepped into the limelight with A Perfect Circle during the early 2000s, then went on to play with Ashes Divide, Entrance, Zwan and others and is now a full-time part of the Pixies. As a violinist and string arranger, meanwhile, Lenchantin has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Jenny Lewis, Melissa Auf der Maur, Trust Company and Jarboe, and she’s released a pair of albums bearing her own name.
Though it’s her singing and songwriting that has garnered Ndegeocello 10 Grammy nominations, her unique playing style — fusing funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, rock and reggae, with a sharp instinct for using space and dynamics — has given her standing as a virtuoso instrumentalist. Ndegeocello has fused that into a dozen solo studio albums, as well as collaborations with Chaka Khan, Marcus Miller, Jazzamatazz, the Robert Glasper Experiment, the Blind Boys of Alabama and more.
We may know her more for her tight-fitting leather outfits of the ‘70s and her run as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. But Quatro has been a potent bassist since her teen years, playing with her sisters in the Pleasure Seekers and Cradle before moving from her native Detroit to England and launching a solo career in 1971. (She also played drums in her father’s jazz group, the Art Quatro Trio.) Quatro is still active and most recently formed a new group QSP with the Sweet’s Andy Scott and Slade’s Don Powell.
As much as she’s part of the jazz world, this four-time Grammy Winner — including Best New Artist in 2011, the first jazz artist ever to win that award — is a versatile stylist from years of study at Portland State University and the Berklee College of Music. Spalding’s expanse is evident on recent releases such as Emily’s D+Evolution and Exposure, and guest appearances on albums by Stanley Clarke, Mike Stern, Jack DeJohnette and others shows how nicely she plays with others.
Just 20 years old when the Allman Brothers Band let her join them on stage a the Beacon Theatre in 2006, this Australian native quickly wound up on the road with Chick Corea and Jeff Beck — getting a visibility boost when the latter played Eric Clapton’s 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. Wilkenfeld’s resume grew to include work with Herbie Hancock, Steve Lukather and Toto, Lee Ritenour, Keith Urban, Todd Rundgren, Macy Gray, Jackson Browne, Wayne Krantz and others, and a second solo album is in the works.
Starting with the Waitresses, Wormworth quickly became one of the busiest bassist on the planet, going on to work with the B-52’s, Sting, Cyndi Lauper, Wayne Shorter, Regina Carter, Joan Osbourne and more, with studio credits that include Paula Abdul, Lena Horne and David Lee Roth. Wormworth was also part of the house band for The Rosie O’Donnell Show on NBC.
Have a favorite female bassist of your own? Email your choice to firstname.lastname@example.org with an explanation of why, and we’ll round up some of our reader choices for a future feature.
FBPO interview with Carol Kaye
FBPO interview with Rhonda Smith
Esperanza Spalding to launch Emily’s D+Evolution Tour