Imitating the bass legends versus just being yourself

Are you daring enough to put your own take on a legendary bass line?

By Jon Liebman
Week of February 15, 2021

Having conducted nearly 700 bass player interviews, oftentimes I find myself talking with someone who’s stepped in for a well-established bassist, frequently replacing the founding bass player in a major band.

When this happens, the “replacement” bass player generally feels compelled to honor and respect his or her predecessor. But is there also room to just be one’s self?

The situation came to light in this week’s interview with Danny Miranda, longtime bassist with Blue Öyster Cult, Meatloaf, and other high profile rock acts. What I found especially compelling was when I asked Danny about playing John Deacon’s brilliant bass lines during the We Will Rock You musical, as well as the period he actually played with Queen the band.

Maybe there’s a balance that needs to be struck in that scenario. On the other hand, maybe it’s more appropriate to play the lines exactly as they were originally played.

This very circumstance applies to many other interviews I’ve done too. Take Matt Bissonette when he played bass with Elton John, a job that used to belong to Dee Murray. Or Darryl Jones, who took over for Bill Wyman in the Rolling Stones, and Bob Lizik who played Carol Kaye’s impeccable Beach Boys lines in the gig with Brian Wilson. And don’t forget Victor Bailey stepping in for Jaco Pastorius in Weather Report!

What should be going through a player’s mind in an instance like that? 

Danny fully embraced the opportunity to pay homage to John Deacon, particularly in We Will Rock You. “It was like reading from the bible,” he says. “It was so inventive, and so daring, and fearless.” 

Even though he’d heard the songs over and over, Danny continued to discover intricacies in the bass lines he’d never really noticed or appreciated before. “Songs you thought you heard and you knew well enough,” he continues, “you’d be surprised that you’re always uncovering things.”

Danny totally dove in, devouring the book and learning everything he could about John Deacon’s bass lines. “It was a pleasure to really dissect it and micromanage everything he was doing,” he says.

In some cases, it’s acceptable, even desirable, to offer your own interpretation, while striving to find that balance. Other times, it’s best to leave well enough alone.

“It was a great discipline to learn,” Danny says, “because when you listen to something like that, you go, there’s nothing that can do better than this. So you want to cop it. You want to learn.”

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Danny here.

Comments on Imitating the bass legends versus just being yourself

  1. Rob Pizapio says:

    Hello Jon, as a bassist for many years and playing classic rock covers since 2005 till the present ( off last year due to the pandemic) I have played some songs note for note, but I have through the those years found adding me into the mix at times. Live situations bring out the creative me. Something happens and you just think to yourself this could have been a great possible fit for this song.

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