What’s Your Real Reason for Playing Bass?

Did you do it because you wanted to, or because you had to?

By Jon Liebman
Week of December 30, 2019

It’s such a common occurrence among bass players: Aspiring guitar players are “relegated” to playing bass because nobody else wants to do it. 

Sound familiar?

While some players are enamored with the bass from the very beginning, so many of us (yes, I include myself in that category) assumed the role of bass player somewhat reluctantly because it was the only opportunity to be in the band.

The subject comes to mind from this week’s interview with Joe Milliken, author of Let’s Go, the biography of Cars bassist Benjamin Orr. Did you know that Ben didn’t start out as the band’s bass player?

According to Milliken, Ben actually started out as a drummer, then switched to guitar and vocals when the need arose. It wasn’t until the formation of the Cars when Ben started playing bass. 

While some bassists have gone kicking and screaming to the bass chair, imagining themselves being banished to the back of the stage, others actually fell in love with the bass, diving deep into the instrument’s potential (Paul McCartney, for one, comes to mind).

While bass players may still be the butt of some musician jokes, we’ve come a long way in turning around that “background only” perception, garnering respect from musicians and non-musicians alike. In addition to being appreciated for rock-solid grooving and impeccable time keeping (Abe Laboriel, Leland Sklar, Neil Stubenhaus), bass players have also been lauded for jaw-dropping technique and overall virtuosity (Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten, Stu Hamm…).

Thanks to all the pioneers of the bass world for laying down a strong foundation, demonstrating how vital a component the bass is in any musical setting. Now, rather than avoiding being “ordered” into the role of bass player, future generations of musicians will more likely embrace that role, proudly providing all of its wonderful attributes, and essential groove-ability.

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 Joe here.

Comments on What’s Your Real Reason for Playing Bass?

  1. John Schmid says:

    Started playing bass back in the early 70’s loved the way bass could crush your chest yea it was all loud. Then to add to the love of bass I met another player from a couple miles away from me. Billy Sheehan he really opened some musical doors for me. Always a great guy.

  2. Doug says:

    Started out as lead singer. No band I was in could find a bass player, or they were not dependable. Someone had an old Rexina bass in their basement. Took a few guitar lessons so I had a foundation. Still didn’t play bass in a band seriously for a number of years, but once I did I never looked back. Being a quality lead vocalist made, and still makes, the combination a valuable commodity.

  3. Rick Bevan says:

    I was “forced” to play bass; as that’s what they needed. I had maybe a year, year and a half experience on guitar. So I knew the basics. Started out with a “cut down” national guitar then I bought an actual
    BASS. Crude, cheap, but I learned my basics and how to play different positions. (goin from a 6 string to a bass was a tad bit of a “Xition” but, I did OK at it. I (as a kid) was very much in demand back then. I basically laid off it for almost 30 plus years, and got back into it. Sadly, I am just not that enthused about it anymore. No regrets!

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