The impact of what we do must never be underestimated
By Jon Liebman
Week of August 12, 2019
It’s kind of funny how so many bass players took up the instrument simply because nobody else wanted to play it. Or, perhaps more commonly, because there were already plenty of guitar players. Having asked hundreds of bass players how they started on the instrument, a huge percentage gave me an answer similar to those two.
Often underappreciated, it used to be that that the bass player was “relegated” to that role, forced to stand at the back of the stage and support the real rock stars. Little did anyone know, way back when, the enormous potential that lay hidden in the bass, just waiting to be discovered. It’s doubtful that even Leo Fender could have foreseen the possibilities of the instrument once it landed in the hands of James Jamerson, Stanley Clarke, and Jaco Pastorius.
While the heroics of the aforementioned bass players is a testament to instrument’s potential, there’s still something to be said for respecting the fundamentals of the instrument too, and, in most cases, keeping it simple.
This week, my interview is with longtime Pat Benatar bassist Mick Mahan, a seasoned player, with a genuine love of bass. When I asked Mick what characteristics of a bass player he thought were important, the first thing he said was to have fun. He also stressed how necessary it is to understand the role of the bass, to know its history, and stick to that. “Keep it really simplistic,” he says, “but study it, go after it, and get excited about it. You gotta bring it!”
My takeaway from Mick’s interview is that functioning in the traditional role of a bass player must not be underestimated. If the song calls for you to play nothing but 1-5, 1-5, give it the best 1-5, 1-5 you’ve got! The test of your talent lies in putting each note exactly where it belongs, with the right articulation, duration, volume, nuance, and everything else that makes the music feel good, even if nobody else knows – or appreciates – the fact that whatever is happening that’s making us all feel so good is actually coming from the bass player! We know it is, and that ought to be good enough.
I guess the reason Mick’s comments struck a chord with me is because so much of what I cover in my online bass lessons, right here on FBPO, deals with “takin’ care of business” bass playing. When I developed all the practical, hands-on resources in my bass courses, what I had in mind was helping my members get good at laying down a groove, and giving the music just what it needs, regardless of genre. The fact that my students, numbering well over 100,000 bass players, will attest to the results, there’s definitely something to be said for keeping it simple.
If you have a thought on the subject, leave a comment below. I like to know what you think. In the meantime, you can check out my interview with Mick here.
When I started gigging, it was a country band. I HATED playing “Good Hearted Woman” with it’s steady root/five part and one simple walk up. When I realized I was gonna play that every night (and sometimes twice a night) I figured I could either hate those three minutes of my life, or find something to do with that time. It became my little bass lesson each time. Finding the exact right pressure with the left (fretting) hand and the right hand, getting the exact time to attack and release the notes for THIS drummer TONIGHT, controlling my sound with my fingers instead of the knobs, how to make the chorus sound different from the verse without changing the notes, etc. I grew to look forward to those six notes (including the key change) each night.