10 Bands that Changed Bass Players…

… and what happened next!

By Gary Graff, Contributing Editor
October 23, 2014

Like the instrument itself, bass players tend to be stalwarts in their bands — solid, grounded, rooted. Chris Squire of Yes. Mike Rutherford in Genesis. Judas Priest’s Ian Hill…There’s a long and impressive list of players who are the unwavering foundation of their groups, serving a steadying role and rarely causing the inner-band drama usually associated with lead singers and guitarists.

That said, the bass chair is not without its ch-ch-changes, too — and some of them as sensational and scandalous as a Justin Bieber bust.

Well, almost…

With that in mind, here are the first 10 in a series of chronicles of bass player change-ups resulting from personality conflicts, creative differences and even death. Rest assured there’s plenty more where these came from — so maybe that idea that the bass spot isn’t quite the rock we stated earlier.

But, hey, we still like to believe it is…


Cliff Burton/Robert Trujillo

The Drama: The most eventful history of any group when it comes to bass, with, count ‘em, four changes through the years. Ron McGovney started things off in 1982, but was replaced by Cliff Burton that same year. Burton’s tragic death in a 1986 bus crash brought Flotsam & Jetsam’s Jason Newsted into the band for a 16-year run, replaced after his acrimonious departure by the well-pedigreed (Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society, Jerry Cantrell) Robert Trujillo.

The Upshot: Burton was part of the architecture and foundation of the Metallica sound, but Newsted’s timing — for 1988’s Top 10 breakthrough …And Justice For All and the mega-selling Metallica (aka “The Black Album”) — brought him into the band for its peak (he now leads a band that bears his surname). Trujillo was widely welcomed by fans, despite 2003’s polarizing St. Anger, and has been around for the group’s most ambitious touring (up to and including Antarctica) and envelope-pushing projects, such as the Orion Music + More festival and the Through the Never 3D film.

Deep Purple

Glenn Hughes/Roger Glover

The Drama: Three bassists, four changes. Founding bassist Nick Simper spent an eventful 16 months and hit the charts with “Hush,” but it was Roger Glover, whose bass playing, songwriting and studio skills helped steer Purple’s ascent during the four years of the Mk. 2 lineup from Deep Purple in Rock through Who Do We Think We Are — including, of course, Machine Head. Trapeze artist Glenn Hughes certainly made his mark between 1973-76, adding an R&B/funk edge and helping to keep the band going after guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left in June of 1975, but it was Glover who’s been rightly back in place since Purple reconvened in 1984.

The Upshot: Since the Hughes period has been largely, and regrettably, consigned to the sidelines once Glover and frontman Ian Gillan came back on board and helped craft one more “classic” album in 1985’s Perfect Strangers, it’s Glover’s stamp that reigns supreme on Purple’s bottom end.

The Beatles

Stuart Sutcliffe/Paul McCartney

The Drama: Addition by subtraction. John Lennon’s pal Stuart Sutcliffe was the Beatles’ pre-Fab four-stringer and was also the first to model what was to become the “Beatles haircut,” courtesy of fiancée Astrid Kirchherr. Sutcliffe’s decision to leave the band to stay in Hamburg with Kirchherr and focus on his art studies led Paul McCartney to pick up the bass in his stead.

The Upshot: Do we really have to say it?

The Eagles

Randy Meisner/Timothy B. Schmit

The Drama: Poco veteran Randy Meisner held serve in the Eagles from its 1971 formation through 1977, when illness during the Hotel California tour led to confrontations with bandmates Glenn Frey and Don Felder and a decision to leave the group, with Meisner’s Poco replacement, Timothy B. Schmit, stepping in.

The Upshot: Parting has not exactly been sweet sorrow. Meisner was miffed that he was not approached for the Eagles’ 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion and that he had to strong-arm his way into the group’s 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. Schmit remains with the Eagles, while Meisner did take part in the 1989 Poco Legacy reunion.

Allman Brothers Band

Berry Oakley/Oteil Burbridge

The Drama: For most Allmans aficionados, there is one bass player for the Southern rock kings — Berry Oakley, who was there at the beginning, 1969, and held down the bottom until his death in a November 11, 1972 motorcycle accident in Macon, Ga., nearly a year to the day after bandmate Duane Allman suffered a similar fate.

The Upshot: Oakley certainly defined the Allmans’ bass sound — “At Fillmore East?” ‘Nuf said… — but the four players since, particularly Lamar Williams, the late Allen Woody and current bassist Oteil Burbridge, have all applied their own stamps while still honoring Oakley’s approach. But with the Allmans about to end the road that apparently does not go on forever, Oakley looms understandably large above all others.

The Faces

Ronnie Lane/Testu Yamauchi

The Drama: Ronnie Lane, who had co-founded the Small Faces even before Rod Stewart and Ron Wood came along in 1969 after frontman Steve Marriott’s departure, was an unhappy camper by 1973 — disgruntled over Stewart’s solo career eclipsing the band, over not being able to sing more lead parts and over some genuine creative differences. Testu Yamauchi came from Free but was only around for the live album Coast To Coast: Overture and Beginners before the group split up during 1975.

The Upshot: As far as fans are concerned, the Faces stayed in a single Lane in the bass department. He was a mover, shaker and architect of the band’s sound, a primary songwriter whose contributions included “Flying,” “Had Me a Real Good Time,” “You’re So Rude” and “Ooh La La.” His battle with multiple sclerosis galvanized the all-star A.R.M.S. movement, but his death in 1997, at the age of 51, left him sadly absent from the Faces’ recent reunions and 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

Van Halen

Michael Anthony/Wolfgang Van Halen

The Drama: Van Halen’s lead singer issues are one thing, but even seven years later it’s still hard to understand the group’s treatment of Michael Anthony. The stocky ’n’ stalwart bassist and trademark harmony singer found himself on the outs in 2006, when guitarist Eddie Van Halen installed his then 15-year-old son Wolfgang in Anthony’s spot — and, for a minute, even airbrushed Anthony off of some VH album art before fan outcry led to him being reinstated.

The Upshot: Let’s say first that Wolfgang has acquitted himself well with VH and was even credited as a driving force behind 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, the group’s first new album in 14 years and first with founding frontman David Lee Roth in 24. But by any measure, whether formal poll or social media feedback, it’s clear the fans really want Anthony to be in the band, especially once Roth came back into the fold. You’ll likely never see it happen, of course, but at least he (and second singer Sammy Hagar) got to enjoy their due at the group’s 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction while the other band members stayed home.

REO Speedwagon

Gregg Philbin/Bruce Hall

The Drama: Gregg Philbin was actually REO’s second bassist (taking over from Mike Blair in 1968) but his near-decade with the group marked the beginning of its recording career and classics such as “Keep Pushin’” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” His last gasp was on the platinum Live: You Get What You Play For concert album in 1977, after which Bruce Hall joined the band.

The Upshot: Hall’s arrival coincided with REO’s highest charting albums, starting with 1978’s You Can Tune a Piano… and, of course, including the chart-topping, nine-times platinum Hi Infidelity and the Top 10 Good Trouble and Wheels Are Turnin’. Hall also provided the lead voice for the fan favorite Back on the Road Again and remains with REO to this day.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Ron Blair/Howie Epstein

The Drama: What goes around comes around. Ron Blair was with the group from its 1976 formation and through its first four studio albums. Exit Blair, who returned to Florida for a quieter life, and enter the accomplished Howie Epstein, a multi-instrumentalist who acknowledged that he began to focus on the bass more seriously at that juncture. But an escalating drug habit led to a parting of the ways (he died in 2003) and Blair’s return in 2002.

The Upshot: Bass has never really been a defining characteristic of Petty’s sound, and it’s a compliment to Blair and Epstein (as well as Petty, who’s played it on some of his recordings) that they held down the bottom with such deceptively understated styles while capably navigating the changes and variances Petty has made throughout his career.

The Rolling Stones

Bill Wyman/Darryl Jones

The Drama: After more than 30 years, Bill Wyman made as graceful and gentlemanly an exit as you can from an iconic band, even if some of his bandmates took the piss out of him for doing so. Darryl Jones, who’d been with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and more, came into the breach, and while not designated a full-fledged band member has himself been around for 20-plus years and has played on several late-period albums.

The Upshot: Wyman will always be THE Stones’ bassist, but Jones should be given his due as a fine player with his own more jazz- and R&B-tinged flavor that more than served its purpose on albums such as Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon and A Bigger Bang.

Coming Next: Weather report, Pretenders, Blondie, King Crimson, Guns N’ Roses and more. Have a suggestion? Hit us with it below in the comment box!

Comments on 10 Bands that Changed Bass Players…

  1. Chet Perry says:

    Billy “Bass” Nelson, William “Bootsy” Collins,
    Rodney”Skeet” Curtis, Lige Curry and the late
    Cordell “Boogie” Mosson

  2. Rafy says:

    The bad thing about lists of 10 is that you always either forget some essentials or simply don’t have the spot for them. For example, I was surprised P-Funk was not here, or Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Led Zeppelin, Weather Report (if we’re talking about bands that changed the way bass was played just think of how many Jaco clones came after that?), CREAM, for crying out loud! I would even have to include the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

  3. Rafy says:

    I just made an ass out of myself. This is not a list of bands that changed the way bass is played but bands that dramatically changed their bassists. Sorry about that. XD

  4. Tom says:

    Suggestion: Living Colour – Muzz Skillings/Doug Wimbish.

  5. William Young says:

    Little Feat changed from Roy Estrada to Kenny Gradney. That was significant.

  6. Anthony Cook says:

    Nice job, Gary … Changes do happen and good bands survive ,and often take the music to a higher level , or another direction .Cheers !

  7. Lee says:

    Doobie Brothers. Original Dave Shogren to Tiran Porter to Willie Weeks to Skylark to John Cowan

  8. shawn says:

    that’s Bruce Hall in both pictures

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      By golly, you’re right! All fixed now. Look again. Thanks!

  9. Michael Bowmam says:

    The title is all wrong for this article. It should have been “10 Bands That Changed Bass Players In Rock and Roll.”

  10. Geoff Wood says:

    Supertramp : Dougie Thompson – Cliff Hugo

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