Do we only belong at the back of the stage?
By Jon Liebman
Week of August 26, 2019
This week, we published an upbeat interview with Jacob Lowery, bassist with the Michael McDonald band. In addition to some inspiring banter about Jacob’s musical upbringing, career highlights, and paying homage to Tiran Porter’s killer Doobie Brothers bass lines, the conversation also included an interesting perspective about what role of the bass player “should” assume.
We’ve all heard the clichés about the bass player being relegated to the background, standing at the back of the stage, dutifully supporting the rest of the band. As Jacob observed, anyone who chooses bass doesn’t want to be in the forefront, and is content to play that supportive role. He went on (half jokingly?) to say that the only time anyone turns around to look toward the back of the stage is when the bass player screws up!
The bass, traditionally, does play a supportive role. The original function, regardless of genre, was simply to provide the low end. Subsequently, the groove element became an important component of the bass player’s job. Eventually, the instrument broke free from the confines of being exclusively a “background” instrument, thanks in no small part to players like Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten, and many others.
So is there a wrong and a right?
Well, there kind of is, and there kind of isn’t. The primary function of the bass is still to lay down the groove and make the music feel good, without (consciously) being in the forefront. James Jamerson, for one, did a mighty fine job in that role, as did Carol Kaye, Lee Sklar, and many other highly respected bass players known more for their strength as solid groove makers and timekeepers than bass “shredders.”
If you’re trying to become a good bass player, don’t lose sight of what’s truly important to the music. Lay it down and make it groove, knowing that you’re the one making everyone feel good. Members of my online lessons at For Bass Players Only understand this point very well!
If you want to learn two-handed tapping, or become a master of a mega-extended range bass, that’s beautiful. There’s definitely an audience for that. Just be sure you know how to take care of business first, regardless of your proximity on the stage. The band will appreciate it. Even if they never turn around.
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 Jacob here.