What Should A Bass Player Look Like?

Finding the balance between the groove and the visual

By Jon Liebman
Week of February 25, 2019

Having conducted hundreds of bass player interviews over the years, it’s become evident that most people who took up the instrument did so simply because no one else wanted to play it. Oftentimes their band director in school told them, “You’re a big kid; go play that big instrument over there.” In countless other instances, while there always seemed to be plenty of guitar players, the other guys would say “You can play bass!” often eliciting a reply, “What’s a bass?”

While many at-first reluctant bassists ended up launching successful careers as low-enders (Paul McCartney comes to mind), a surprising number of people went straight to the bass, bypassing obligatory piano lessons or dreams of being a thrashing, speed metal rock star idol. Why? Because they liked the way the bass player looked!

In some cases, just hearing James Jamerson, Bernard Edwards, Jaco, and other the groovemasters evoked an irresistible need to be a part of that groove-making ability in a way that only the bass can provide. Others, however, were drawn not only to the groove and feel of the bass, but the look. Usually, there was a memorable moment when they noticed something unique about the persona of the bass player in a band, the way he looked, moved, acted, that made them say, I want to do that!

Such is the case with this week’s interviewee, Tim Starace, of YYNOT, a group he describes as “an original progressive rock band with a penchant for playing vintage Rush covers.” As a youngster, Tim found himself appreciating all aspects of rock, taking in not just the music, but the entire rock persona of each band member, the bassist in particular. Once he discovered the likes of Gene Simmons, Glenn Hughes, Geezer Butler, and Steve Harris, Tim was hooked. Naturally, his list included Rush frontman Geddy Lee, as well as some non-bassists, like Yngwie Malmsteen.

In addition to KISS, the mind can conjure up all kinds of images of bands that have made their look part of their act. Anybody remember the New York Dolls? Culture Club? Devo??? Sticking to the bass world, what about Thundercat, Mono Neon, or Chris Kael, who sited Gene Simmons as an influence in my interview with him? And what about the “not-a-gimmick/just-my-personality” Leland Sklar? Can you imagine him without the beard?

I have no problem with anyone incorporating a “look” into the act. In fact it may even enhance the experience for the audience, if done right. My only admonishment, of course, is that the music remain the priority, first and foremost. In most cases it does, I suppose. Still, I wish I didn’t have to say it.

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below. I’d love to know what you think.

In the meantime, check out my interview with Tim here.

Comments on What Should A Bass Player Look Like?

  1. Michael Moore says:

    Interesting topic Jon. Should a bass player’s look be more important than the music? Absolutely not. Two of the three players you mentioned I’m familiar with, Thundercat and Mono Neon. Mono Neon is a monster player who was actually hired by Jimmy Haslip for a project. Thundercat is actually a virtuoso who has worked with Herbie Hancock and a host of other people.

    I’m sure there are lesser players who’s shtick is actually more image than playing ability. Mono Neon and Thundercat do not fit into that category-they certainly have a “look” and the chops to back it up.

  2. JFoster says:

    I always liked the way bass “Felt.” Started as a trumpet player in middle school, but got bored and dropped it after a couple of years. As high fidelity became better, I started hearing the bass on records and radio, I also started going to rock concerts in the mid to late 60’s and the monster live bass tones of JP Jones, Leo Lyons, Felix Papalardi, Mel Schacher, Cassidy, Cornick, Redding, Entwhistle, Glover, Graham, and Bruce (to name but a few), all had that big bottom that could be felt and sometimes heard as well. I knew that was for me! My kid brother had an upright checked out from the high school orchestra, so I signed up for beginning band 101 in my senior year. I used that old Kay 3/4 upright for almost a year, before going electric. And I never did learn to play the guitar!

  3. marcus davis says:

    Me personally image is’nt that important ,because i’v seen some really good Bass Players and some of them looked like crap but they sure as hell could lock it down in the pocket.I remember going to see Maceo Parker a couple of years ago and his Bass Player looked like a walrus guts almost touching the ground but boy did he ever hold that groove and he gave a killer Bass solo as well.I could mention a whole bunch of senarios like that.

  4. Mike says:

    As long he’s not a slob, I think the way a bass player looks is irrelevant. Let the music do the talking.

  5. Stephen Willcock says:

    I always thought Phil Lesh carried it well.

  6. Terri Templeman says:

    Let me count how many times I have heard “hmmm, you don’t look like a bass player”. For me it’s about the music and working with the drummer to provide solid support and rhythm for the band. I let my bass lines speak for me.

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