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Is Tony Levin the most versatile bassist?

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by bassstrangler, Apr 10, 2016.

  1. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    It's been my opinion that Tony Levin is the most versatile bassist. He easily switches from fretted Four, five and even three string basses. He plays Fretless. He uses picks, finger plucking, funk fingers and slaps and pops. Tony plays upright with finger plucking and a bow and even utilises the new finger bow. On top of that he plays the Stick like no other. Plus, he plays it all at a master level.

    From King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and solo he does it all. Is there anyone else this versatile?

    EDIT: This is not a bashing thread, a contest or a who's better or the best. It is about Tony Levin being a versatile bass player who uses many techniques, styles and instruments to provide the bass part of the projects he is in and the versatility he has doing this. My question is are there any other players this versatile? Who are they? And why do you think they are versatile.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2016
    ShirazBop, aaronious, SWRnut and 9 others like this.
  2. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    You make a good case. Will Lee and Anthony Jackson would have to be up there, but they're not known for playing all the atypical instruments that Tony is.
  3. Icemanaroonie


    Sep 6, 2015
    I've only listened to his King Crimson work, but that man can play a Stick in a band setting beyond anyone I've ever heard.
    Papazita and Atshen like this.
  4. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    If you've heard just about any Peter Gabriel song, then you've heard Tony's playing, with few exceptions he's Peter's main bassist. Slip Slidin' Away by Paul Simon is another popular Levin track.
    Icemanaroonie likes this.
  5. winterburn69


    Jan 27, 2008
    I'd say Pino Palladino may be more versatile than Levin.
    svtb15 and MG514 like this.
  6. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    How? For the sake of discussion! I would disagree, I say Pino is versatile but playing Fretless and hanging out with Trent Reznor certainly isn't more than Levin.
    TJH3113 and SWRnut like this.
  7. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Honestly, I think you may be onto something.

    You could make a case for Victor. He does play fretless, cello and upright. He does slap, tap and play finger style. I can't say if he uses funk fingers. And he does play a wide variety of music. He does tour with others as well as doing solo work.

    But with the stick, and his studio catalog Levin may edge him out.
    bassstrangler likes this.
  8. HeavyJazz

    HeavyJazz Supporting Member

    Jan 26, 2013
    Mr. Levin is certainly one of the most musical bassists. He doesn't play bass for his own sake, but for the the music's and never seems to internalize how revered he is in the bass world. He has that perpetual thirst to learn as if it's his first day as a musician. I have always loved that about Tony. One of my top 3 influences surely!
    ShirazBop, SWRnut, anton72 and 4 others like this.
  9. Yogi Bear

    Yogi Bear Supporting Member

    Aug 14, 2000
    Statements like 'Most versatile" or "Best" are purely subjective. Musical talent isn't really quantifiable or measurable.

    I am a big Tony Levin fan, but as others have said, there are other players with impressive resumes as well. Lee Sklar, Pino (who's done so much more than play fretless and hang around Trent Reznor), Anthony Jackson, Nathan East, Nick Beggs - just to name a few.
  10. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Agreed, but I think "versatility" is something that isn't as purely subjective as "most talented" or "best tone," etc. You can actually count things like how many different kinds of instruments someone plays, how many different genres they've played in, and how many different techniques they use.

    That said, I'm never a fan of arguing about how is "THE most...." anything, as if it's a competition and there can only be one winner.
    Robroy likes this.
  11. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    He's certainly one of the most versatile. He's played just about every music style under the sun, from classical to fusion, classic rock to metal... You name it.

    Oh, what's that finger bow thingie you're talking about? E-bow?
  12. Robroy

    Robroy Guest

    Jun 21, 2006
    I see Tony as pretty much the ultimate. The stick took it over the top. Oh, and the drum sticks on his fingers. :)
    ShirazBop and Atshen like this.
  13. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    I see your point, but if you read my post again you will see that I never said "best" in my original post. Versatility isn't subjective in my book.

    Given the many things Levin does in the bassist role including playing synth/keys (check out Big Time live on Back and Forth, he's fulfilling the bass part without a bass) he is the most versatile bassist I know of. Plus, you could count background vocalist amongst his many talents too, not to mention all of the other non bassist rolls he is capable of fulfilling.

    So,for the sake of discussion how is Pino more versatile than Levin? I honestly I would like to know because I don't think he is from what I know. It wasn't a dig against Pino, but playing bass for NIN is not showing versatility, especially when I'm fairly confident I could pull that off. That's just a waste of Pino's talent.
    PortlandBass77 likes this.
  14. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    Yes, Funk Fingers aren't a gimmick, try using them! Fun stuff but definitely not easy!
  15. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    The finger bow is an actual real horse hair bow. Check it out at the Expanding Hands Music website.
  16. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    He also plays tuba, keyboards and if I recall correctly, he funk-fingered a nylon-string guitar on one of his solo records.
    ShirazBop and bassstrangler like this.
  17. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    Thanks! I will have a look.
  18. blastbass

    blastbass Inactive

    Mar 8, 2016
    When it comes to the body of work, several.
  19. Honch

    Honch Guest

    Sep 7, 2006
    fanboy aren't we?
    He's musicality is that of a .. well, you could hand him a welding unit, and he would make music on that. But I reacted to your statement about the Chapman Stick. Have him seen perform 2 live gigs with Stick Men, and seen a lot of YT videos, I can tell numerous persons that are better Chapman Stick players than he is. He has also stated this in interviews himself. I do find his playing a bit too erratic LIVE when trying to "tear it up" on the Stick. Michael Bernier had a more nuanced style. This is maybe because Stick isn't Tonys main instrument, and uses it as a bass stick so to speak.

    But on bass, he's like no other. He has a unique and special style, his wide vibrato over a couple of frets comes to mind. And you can drop an atom bomb beside him, he would still know where ONE is. As a matter of fact, I've not heard him play that much jazz, so I can't comment on that. If he's a swing player, that can do walking lines. His mainstay seems to be art rock and prog rock, so that may leave him a little bit too in the pocket and stiff for other more loosely knit music styles, I don't know. I do like when I can hear the bass player within any hit. Sometimes, when listening to Nathan East, Lee Sklar, you can't really tell, if they're in the background. But with Tony, it's like... you can't even mix him down, you'll hear him anyway. He cuts through, no matter how low he is in the mix. I know he had some trouble with playing with Bruford, in spite of Bruford naming him his first choice, a tie with "busy" player like Jeff Berlin. Bruford was the only drummer that could throw him off in timing. Live, when jamming.

    That said, "most versatile" would be a stretch, because I haven't heard him on every musical style in the world.
    Atshen likes this.
  20. bassstrangler


    Mar 2, 2015
    I didn't want to start an argument thread. In this case though Levin plays, many styles, instruments, and uses numerous techniques and has appeared on hundreds of albums. Who else is this versatile?

    Most players have one style, one technique and one type of bass they play. I'm assuming the majority of bass players are a four string fretted user, using either a pick or finger plucking. You can own numerous basses but that doesn't constitute versatility.
    Lobster11 likes this.
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