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What makes a good blues bassist?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Rockin John, May 30, 2005.

  1. I've a couple of threads going in General Instruction on the subject of blues times sigs which, as a side issue, has lead me to wonder exactly what attributes make a really good blues bassist.

    I've also been listening to a bit of blues lately - SR Vaughan, Clapton, Led Zep, Cream to name but 4 - and the question of what makes a good blues bassist again cropped up in my mind.

    So I'd like to respectfully to put that question to the good folk on TB, along with the parallel question, "Who are good blues bassists to listen to?"

    Thanks very much.

  2. Poverty
  3. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

  4. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Well, many would argue that these are actually rock-based blues artists, rather than authentic blues. :) Regardless: my suggestion is Johnny B. Gayden who played with Albert Collins. One of my favorite albums is "Frozen Alive" by Albert Collins and the Icebreakers: Johnny shows that he can play straight blues, funky blues, and jazzy blues. He can lay back and also step out.

    To answer the general question: being a blues player is all about the pocket. Of the artists you named, Jack Bruce of Cream and JPJ of Zep are much flashier than is standard for the genre. I'd suggest that you begin by listening closely to Tommy Shannon and Nathan East, and remembering that what you don't play is more important than what you do play.
  5. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    Interesting thread.

    My instructor leads a couple of blues jams a week in local bars and he wants me to come sit in. It'll be total improv with him calling out the chord progression before each song. A scary proposition in front of a crowd of people but I want to force myself to do it.

    I tried learning some Led Zeppelin tunes (about the only bluesy stuff I have) starting off with "Dazed and Confused." I quickly got my ass chewed up by JPJ. I'm used to blues lines only having 3 or 4 parts at most that repeat. I went back to learning Queens of the Stone Age tunes.

    *slaps self*

    I need to get back to the Zepp. :(
  6. PunkerTrav


    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    If you have a girlfriend you should look into another genre.

    But seriously, I think it's important to outline the chords and emphasize the changes while staying tight with the drummer.
  7. Your examples are more what I would call "derivative" blues or blues / rock than "fundamental" blues. Assuming you want to stay in the post-World War II era, I would listen to Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Jimmy Reed (do you think maybe I might be Chicago influenced?). Willie Dixon played bass on much of the stuff coming out of Chicago, just like James Jamerson played much of the bass on the Motown records. Jamerson would be a great one to listen to also. The songs are typically, but not always, 12 bars in a I, IV, V pattern. Definitely learn that pattern. Learn the "blues scale". Learn to outline the chords using the blues scale and to walk the bass. Listen, listen, listen and then listen some more. And listen with your bass in your hands.
  8. Matt Till

    Matt Till

    Jun 1, 2002
    Edinboro, PA
    Uhm... I-IV-V :D

    But seriously, as far as Blues rock goes Cream is a good direction to look in. Because they do "Blues" but at the same time... it's not the same walking bassline that runs through 90% of Blues rock tunes. It's kinda like riffin' through the changes instead of the same bland stuff.

    Allman Bros and Gov't Mule are fantastic blues rock... Mule moreso IMO. They add funk to blues, groovin' through the changes. Basically, one of the main reasons I hate a lot of classic rock is the "Keep your hands to yourself" type songs... stupidity thrown over top of I-IV-V that's been going on for years. It's boring, it's interesting when something "different" is done with that pattern.
  9. The greatest living blues bassist (and by blues I mean traditional blues, not rock called blues) is Willie Kent. In the blues world, a W.C. Handy award is roughly equivalent to a Grammy. The Handy award for the best blues bass player has been given every year for the last decade to Willie Kent. He is a monster player and one of the very nicest people on the planet. Willie fronts his own band and sings quite well. One of my favorite CDs by Willie is "Too Hurt To Cry," on Delmark Records. Another CD featuring Willie on bass and perhaps the greatest female blues singer under seventy is "Nora Jean Bruso Sings The Blues," available at CDBaby.com. Nora is my wife. As my wife says, "If you don't love the blues, you have a hole in your soul."
  10. If there are any recordings of Robert Johnson with a bass then that would be essential. Of course early Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and the such.

    Also, John Mayall always had good bassists.
  11. I would like to add that I agree with Fuzzbass completely. Johnny B. Gayden is an incredible player. He was the bassist on my wife's first CD many moons ago with Jimmy Dawkins, "Can't Shake These Blues," (Earwig, 1985). There are so many misconceptions about blues bass playing that it would take a book to dispel all of them. One of them is that most blues bass playing is alike. Johnny B. and Willie Kent play different styles of blues. Johnny is more modern than Willie. Which you prefer is really a matter of taste.

    If you truly want to delve into blues bass playing and its different forms, you could do no better than to compare Duck Dunn's playing on Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign," (Stax) with James Alexander's (of the Bar-Kays) playing on Albert King's "I'll Play The Blues For You," (Stax) or "I Wanna Get Funky," (Stax). I am told by someone who use to be in Albert King's band that King preferred Alexander's playing. The point is that both Dunn and Alexander are both great, but they are trying to accomplish different things.

    Another misconception about blues is that it is all I-IV-V. Listen to "I'd Rather Go Blind," done by Etta James, Koko Taylor, and my wife (on "Sings The Blues"). It is I-ii. The key is A and the only two chords are A and Bm.

    Once you enter the world of the blues and start looking around you will find out what a varied and wonderful world it is.
  12. This morning I heard an interview / promo for a new CD collection of Billie Holiday. An entire career could be devoted to learning from her recordings.
  13. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    How many blues players does it take to change a light bulb?

    One....no, Five....no, One.... :)
  14. bigtexashonk

    bigtexashonk Supporting Member

    Playing the pocket while keeping it so loose that it almost sounds like everything is on the verge of falling apart. Learn to play slightly behind the beat and avoid rushing at all cost.

    A sense of telepathy with your brother drummer.

    Well thought out walking patterns that don't just repeat over and over.

    Knowing it's even more important to not play in some places.

    Playing what best serves the song.
  15. First of all I must apologise.

    I meant I'm into the blues - rock part of the genre. Actually, I don't at all like what might be called traditional blues, authentic blues, etc

    Sorry for the confusion.

    I am adicted to the electric / rock/ blues 12 bar in most of it's forms but, in particular, what might be called slow blues. The old British rock band, Ten Years After (Alvin Lee) did a brilliant number called simply, Slow Blues in C.

    There is also something else about the blues I'm listening to at the moment. It's fairly predictable which is helping me enormously with my attempts to figure written music (not TAB).

    Yes, folks, I appreciate the input.


  16. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ
    I figured you were talking about that as i read this thread, and it seemed quite ironic at a point for that fact. To recommend one, I'd say you want John Paul Jones. Not all Zep songs are bluesy, but JPJ's feel is fantastic in all circumstances and, well, it's Led Zeppelin.
  17. Time Divider

    Time Divider Guest

    Apr 7, 2005
    OMG - Cold Cuts is one of the best blues/funk cuts I have ever heard. Johnny B. Gayden is unbelievable.
  18. keeping it tight, stompy and groovin.......gimme tommy shannon anyday...he da man.....

    coincidentally, im recording a blues album on sunday :)
  19. Matt Till

    Matt Till

    Jun 1, 2002
    Edinboro, PA
    I think ZZ Top's Dusty Hill is very underrated.
  20. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    Yeah, what he said! Especially stickin' with the drummer.

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