Thoughts on bass players who simply follow the guitarist(s)

It seems there are some bass players who just follow whatever the guitarist is doing. Dee Dee Ramone comes to mind, as does Cliff Burton.

What are your thoughts on this? Are they doing it because the music would be worse-off if they put in a fill here and there? Or perhaps they’re not skilled enough (or have enough confidence) to deviate a bit from what the guitarist is doing? Or maybe I’m being unfair, and what they’re doing requires quite a bit of skill.

I think it depends on the music. I’m not very familiar with Metallica, but I would say the Ramones’ music was all about energy and simplicity. I wouldn’t have wanted a guy like Entwistle or Claypool in that spot.

On the other hand, if you’re listening to, say, some good ol’ seventies prog rock, you expect some degree of complexity. You want each player contributing something distinctive, with different parts weaving together. As to whether Dee Dee could have functioned as a member of King Crimson, well, I’m not prepared to speculate about that. But he found his niche.

One of the unwritten tenets of many metal styles is that the bass player basically follows / shadows the guitar players. I’m a bass player, and that’s the reason I wouldn’t want to play metal (outside a song here and there). Why would I, since there are entire genres where the bass is an upfront star instrument, with its own voice and powerful presence, like Funk, Prog, Art Rock, Reggae etc. etc?

Writing bass lines that are different and inventive yet fit the songs perfectly is one of the hardest skills to acquire in popular music. It is decidedly easier to just stick to the root and fifth, and duplicate the riffs the guitars are playing. That being said, many faster metal styles take a whole bunch of technique and stamina to play. I just can’t place that skill near as high as writing memorable bass lines.

The traditional bass approach is to play the root and 5th note of the chord. The bass also links chords by by walking up or down to the chord. For example G to C chord the bass may play A,B,C notes. Bass walks shouldn’t be over done.

You’ll hear it in hundreds of classic country songs.

Modern bass often plays some of the melody. It’s progressed a lot in the past 30 years.

Actually, Johnny followed Dee Dee…

…To the grave, that is. :smile:

Was that worth it, Czar-man?

Was it?

Another bass player here. I play quite a few originals, so I can write whatever bass line I want as long as the other members aren’t going to throw me out of the band for it. Some songs just seem like they call for a certain approach. If that is just to follow the root of the chords and play on the beat (or even just on the beats with a kick drum) in order to reinforce the song structure, that’s what I’m going to try to give it. If it seems like it calls for a bass line that’s syncopated, has a ton of leading tones, or even one with a counter melody - I’ll try to do that. The point isn’t to show off, after all. The point is to serve the song.

So, I think it’s just fine for a guitarist and bassist to play in unison. I don’t do it all the time, but it doesn’t make a person a bad bass player. Geezer Butler is certainly not a bad bass player, but he does it plenty with Black Sabbath.

Bach seems to have little trouble with invertible counterpoint and what not.

Interestingly, if I understand some of what Schoenberg explains in his “Theory of Harmony”, sixth chords (with the third in the bass) are easier to use freely than 6-4 chords, where the bass plays the 5th. If a chord is not inverted at all, of course, then the lowest note will be the root (with the fifth above it).

I admire Lee Skylar’s bass lines. He started a YouTube channel during covid. His stories about recording and touring are fascinating.

Lee got his start playing for James Taylor. Taylor plays a lot of bass in his fingerstyle patterns. It forced Lee to find other things to play and support the music. He had to do it without drawing attention away from Taylor.

He played and recorded with Taylor for almost a decade. Filled in on Toto tours when Mike Porcaro got sick and couldn’t tour. He also toured and recorded with Phil Collins.

Lee is currently touring with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. 75 years old and still touring and playing all over the US.

Skip to 8:30

Lee demonstrates his playing for Hold the Line

Oh! Leland Sklar! I wasn’t sure if you’d made a typo. I agree, he’s a great bassist, and he’s played with so many big artists.

Yes Leland, he goes by Lee in his videos. A lot of studio musicians don’t tour. They make more money recording.

Lee is the exception. He loves recording and the road. He’s giving behind the scenes tours of the venues with Lyle Lovett. Almost feels like I’m following them on the tour.

When I was in college I tried out w/ a metal band. Think minor league Judas Priest. I never really felt I was following the guitar. Instead, I was just locking in w/ the drummer, pounding out repetitive 8ths and 16ths.

They offered me the gig, but besides not caring for the music, I couldn’t take the whole image. I mean, spandex, long permed hair, big double bass drums… I sorta regretted it (tho not really) as they got many more gigs and drew much larger crowds than any of the bands I was in that played music I LIKED! :smiley:

I find that I usually like the instrument part of a song, when the bass goes off. It goes counterpoint, does interesting things. It seems that if one of the main writers of the music is the bass player, a good one, the more complex bass line adds so much interest to an otherwise standard rock song.

I was driving in the car yesterday, listening to the Spectrum (a rock station on SiriusXM), and heard a song that I’d not ever heard before. The lyrics and organ felt very late-60s psychedelic rock to me, but I didn’t recognize the band, until I heard the bass line – I could instantly tell, from the style of play and the sound, that it was Chris Squire, and, thus, I knew that it was a song by Yes. Squire was a great bassist, and was definitely one who created his own parts within each song, rather than just playing along with his guitarist.

(The song was “Beyond and Before,” the first track from their 1969 debut album. Normally, I’d also be able to recognize a Yes song by Jon Anderson’s vocals, but he was singing in a somewhat different style on this one, and I didn’t realize it was him at first.)

In the early parts, the bass really follows the vocals when they cut in. But then breaks off on it’s own for most of the rest.
I liked the guitar style too. It wandered a lot.
Yes did complex music. Lots of styles and mixing of them. Never followed them much. But some of their stuff really struck me. Can’t recall which ones now.

There’s bands like Van Halen, where one musician far outshines the rest, by design, and the band’s job is just to be a solid backing for all the noodling. Michael Anthony is a fine bassist, but his role in the band is basically to pound on the low E string, in rhythm. It just wouldn’t work if he was noodling too.

Yes ! - check out the selected discography on Wikipedia … it’s phenomenal

It’s weird to compare Dee Dee Ramone with Cliff Burton. The Ramones were a pretty low-talent three-chord punk band. Metallica has real musicians in it. I think Burton did that because it’s the style of music they played, and some of his parts are really difficult.

John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin sometimes followed Jimmy Page, especially during those awesome riffs, and sometimes did his own thing.

Great musicians will do what’s appropriate for the song and style – sometimes, that means following the guitarist, sometimes that means 1-5, sometimes that means melodic bass parts, etc.

And really, who says the guitarist isn’t just following me?