You used to know the song by the bassline. Are we getting gipped?
By Jon Liebman
Week of March 30, 2020
Any list of iconic bass players is certain to include names like James Jamerson and Duck Dunn near the top, particularly when the focus is on soul and R&B. Music was definitely different in the ‘60s and ‘70s. What’s more, basslines were different from what they are today.
I had a very inspiring interview with dUg Pinnick, published this week on FBPO, in which he weighed in on that very subject. In the course of our conversation dUg made some pretty powerful statements about the state of bass that are sure to make a lot of people perk up.
Basically, his message was that bass playing just isn’t what it used to be, and that the instrument has lost its identity. Can that really be true?
Specifically, dUg cites Dunn and Jamerson, and others from the Stax/Volt and Motown periods, as the ones who got it right. “Those are the bass players that taught us how to play bass,” says dUg, “not follow a guitar,” underscoring the stark difference in the way the bass role used to be filled. “Back in the day, bass players dominated,” he says. “You knew the song by the bassline.”
Nowadays, it’s all different, says dUg. Instead of being the instrument that makes the people dance, the bass has been relegated to the background, copying guitar and piano riffs, losing its independence in the process. “It’s annoying when you put a record on and all you hear is guitar,” dUg says. “The bass is so far in the background, you can’t hear it.” Especially because they’re not playing anything unique, he contends.
Instead of being inspired by what they could be hearing, he says, people are missing out on an important part of music today. The lack of identifiable bass has sapped out the excitement that used to exist for the instrument “because there’s nothing there to listen to. You’re gipping the people.”
I suppose there could be some truth to what dUg’s saying, depending on how you spin it. It really depends on what you’re listening to. The fact that styles change, is not necessarily a bad thing. At For Bass Players Only, we’re all about the groove. All of our lessons and courses are groove-oriented, even the Scales & Theory and Sight Reading courses!
I have enormous respect for James Jamerson and Duck Dunn. I say if the song calls for a soulful or Motown-inspired danceable bass line, go for it. And if the song is better served with low, growling whole notes, then play the most beautiful low, growling whole notes you’ve got. As long as you’re sensitive to what’s going on around you and you give the music whatever it needs, you’ve got the makings of a good bass player.
How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, you can watch my interview with dUg here.
These must-have James Jamerson and Duck Dunn transcription books are available in the FBPO store: