Death of the bass guitar THE DEATH OF THE Bass Guitar St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Jun 29, 2003; GINA VIVINETTO; Abstract: The White Stripes and a slew of other white-hot, critically acclaimed new punk and blues-rock bands are eschewing the bass guitar, an unflashy instrument whose players have never received much respect anyway. Now bass guitar aficionadoes wonder: Could this be the Death of the Bass? Rod Swanigan, a music instructor at Bringe School of Music in St. Petersburg, has evidence that the bass guitar isn't going anywhere. Swanigan, 51, has been teaching music for 25 years, 22 of those at Bringe. He says that kids are still clamoring for bass lessons. Of his 65 students, six are taking bass lessons; he says that is a strong showing. Flowers surround a headstone displaying the headstock of a bass guitar.; The White Stripes, with Meg White on drums and Jack White on guitar, show off their single-guitar style in June at the USF Sun Dome.; The Black Keys: singer-guitarist Dan; Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney; Photo: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION, MICHAEL RONDOU; PHOTO, THOMAS M. GOETHE; PHOTO, Publicity photo Full Text: Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 29, 2003 A heavy rumble slivers snakelike across the concrete floor of the USF Sun Dome. The White Stripes' Jack White plucks the ominous opening notes of the hit Seven Nation Army on his guitar during the Detroit blues-rock duo's recent Tampa performance. On the radio, you'd swear that those creepy, low-register notes were played on a four-string. But White, through crafty detunings and effects pedals, compensates for the band's lack of a bass guitar player. Well, compensates isn't the right word, because the White Stripes - Jack and Meg White - don't even want a bassist. Wait a minute. No bassist? In a rock band? The bass guitar has been a pivotal part of rock 'n' roll since the thumpity-thump of songs by Bill Haley and His Comets and Buddy Holly and the Crickets. But the White Stripes and a slew of other white-hot, critically acclaimed new punk and blues-rock bands are eschewing the bass guitar, an unflashy instrument whose players have never received much respect anyway. Now bass guitar aficionadoes wonder: Could this be the Death of the Bass? These aren't third-rate garage bands we're talking about. Who's that featured in Entertainment Weekly's recent "It" issue? Manhattan's Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a bassless punk trio led by brazen singer Karen O., who regularly douses herself with beer onstage. EW also spotlighted bassless blues-rock duo the Black Keys, from Akron, Ohio, as one of its 10 "Bands On The Brink" this year. That magazine and countless others regularly review - and rave over - releases by alt-rockers Sleater-Kinney, one of the first of the new wave of bassless bands, and the Gossip, a punk band from Olympia, Wash., that packs gritty soul in the form of powerhouse singer Beth Ditto and the wild detuned stylings of guitarist Nathan. (He and drummer Kathy don't use their surnames.) One Gossip disc's liner notes say "No thanks to the kids that don't dance." Another hot no-bass band is the trans-Atlantic noise rock duo the Kills, whose female singer-guitarist, VV, is from Florida. (Here she was known as Alison Mosshart, lead singer of Vero Beach punk band Discount.) Spin magazine recently featured the Kills, whose male singer-guitarist, Hotel, is British, as a "band to watch." And the White Stripes, which played June 18 at the University of South Florida, have seen themselves on the cover of nearly every music magazine in North America. A bad experience Nathan, guitarist for the Gossip, says that his band didn't intend to shun the bass. "We actually had a bassist," Nathan, 22, says from the home he and Beth Ditto share in Olympia. "This girl showed up, but (the experience) was so bad that it permanently scarred us. We never tried again." Nathan laughs: "She came over to practice in our basement. She had seen us play before and really liked us. She knew our songs. But we started playing the songs, she threw her bass around her back and started singing. She wanted me to make up all her bass lines. I was like, 'You're the bassist. You do it.' So, she was the only the bassist we ever played with." So, the Gossip decided then and there that it didn't need a bass player? "Totally," Nathan says. "Plus, the way I tune my guitar, I kind of cover all the bass frequencies. I really detune my guitar." Nathan says that choosing to forego a bassist had nothing to do with other bands. "When we started, we had never heard of the White Stripes," says Nathan, adding that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Kills hadn't formed when they started. Now, he says, the members of the Gossip, who moved together to Olympia several years ago from their native Arkansas, are so close, they wouldn't dream of adding other musicians. "We don't want to have anyone else," Nathan says. "We're a really tight family now. We don't want to bring anyone else in. It would be weird." Nathan thinks that all this basslessness is just a matter of musicians being influenced by the same music. "It's one of those things that happens, like grunge," he says. "Every once in a while, there is just a slew of bands, of kids who are influenced by the same things because of their age group, and they start similar bands. It becomes a trend. Like grunge was. All those grunge bands started at the same time, and they didn't even know each other. "We all want to do something raw and stripped down and melodic. It's just one of those things that just weirdly happens." Paul, and the bass, are dead How long has the Death of the Bass been looming? The hints, like the clues in that whole "Paul Is Dead" scare that had Beatles fans in a tizzy in the late 1960s, were there all along. (Conspiracy theorists, take note: Paul McCartney, a bassist.) Bands with no bass player can be traced back to a handful of little-known Detroit garage rock bands in the mid '60s. The first bassless band to make it big? The Doors. "We always wanted a bass player," Robby Krieger says by phone from his Los Angeles home. "We could never find one that we liked. It just didn't sound right." A crafty keyboardist solved the band's rhythm problem. "Ray (Manzarek) played the bass lines with his left hand because he learned how to play stride piano when he was a kid," Krieger says. So, Manzarek could replace an entire musician with his left hand? "Yep," Krieger says. "We often used bass players on the album, to add a little bottom end, but never when we toured. Even then, they would play exactly what Ray would play on his left hand." (However, the Doors 21st Century, the band's new incarnation, is touring with the drummer and the bassist from Krieger's solo band.) Is a bass player necessary? "Absolutely not," Krieger says, laughing. "If I never hear another bass solo in my life, I'll be happy." After the Doors came a few more bassless bands: the Cramps (the legendary rockabilly punk band was bassless early on) in the late '70s and the Spinanes and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in the early '90s. Then in 1995 came Sleater-Kinney, which immediately dazzled critics. Sleater-Kinney has since invited other bassless bands - the White Stripes and the Gossip in 2000 and the Black Keys this year - to open for it on tour. 'A failed guitarist' A handful of bands in the Tampa Bay area, including the popular guitar-drum duo Nutrajet, have gone bassless. But that doesn't scare Martin Rice, 35, of St. Petersburg, who plays bass for local favorites Sparky's Nightmare. (Rice previously played in Tampa Bay area bands Smashmouth and Misfortune 500.) He's been playing bass since he was 17 years old. Why? Because he loves the deep, rich thump of the instrument? Because of its subtlety and class? "I'm a failed guitarist. That's why I play bass," Rice says, laughing. "When I started, everyone I knew was a guitar player, so I went for the bass because I was no good at the guitar. Then, really, you just kind of fall in love with it. It's a weird instrument. It's a support instrument, but you're still out in front onstage. It's just got a cool sound. There's nothing like it." Rice's background is in punk and heavy metal music. He has a couple of problems with bassless bands, not including the threat to his livelihood. "Musically, the sound leaves a bit to be desired. You can simulate a bass, which is what the White Stripes do. But sonically, it's just not the same. You're missing that heavy bottom," he says. "And, secondly, visually it leaves out an element onstage. Can you imagine seeing the Rolling Stones without Bill Wyman standing there, expressionless? Or seeing the Who without John Entwistle?" Rice says this "fad" will pass. "The bass is staple of rock 'n' roll. What if the Beatles hadn't had Paul McCartney?" he says. "This trend is just like all trends in music. How many bands sounded like Pearl Jam in the 1990s? People just jump on bandwagons." The gospel of Di Meola Rod Swanigan, a music instructor at Bringe School of Music in St. Petersburg, has evidence that the bass guitar isn't going anywhere. Swanigan, 51, has been teaching music for 25 years, 22 of those at Bringe. He says that kids are still clamoring for bass lessons. Of his 65 students, six are taking bass lessons; he says that is a strong showing.