As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine, Issue 8
The bass can—and perhaps should—be considered the not-so-distant, less flashy, and more charismatic cousin of the electric guitar. It’s certainly different, as it’s an instrument you have to play in order to fully appreciate and understand. It’s bigger than a standard guitar, has fewer strings, and speaks a deeper, more reflective tone.
As an audience, we hear a significant amount about guitars and the skilled artists who shred them, but what about the bass? Despite the fact that numerous hit songs are often led and carried by the bass, it is an instrument which, on stage and off, is commonly overlooked. Regardless of its commercially perceived importance, playing the bass is much more difficult than it may appear, and unlike the standard guitar, bass requires an entirely distinctive theoretical and technical approach to playing. Yet in some cases, all it takes is a woman’s touch.
Several of the most notable bassists in the music industry—from the ‘60s and ‘70s to the present day—include women who understood this specific instrument’s key importance within a successful band and demonstrated to the world what female bassists are truly capable of. As we couldn’t feature all of them in this issue, we wanted to touch on some we believe were worth mentioning.
One of the most-recorded bass players in music history, Kaye was a cornerstone of the legendary Wrecking Crew, the Los Angeles-based group of session musicians heard on thousands of celebrated recordings throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, hundreds of which were Top 40 hits. Kaye surpassed the idea that women musicians were a novelty. Her repertoire included pop, funk, jazz, and even acoustic music. Notable recordings include “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (The Righteous Brothers, 1964), “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (Nancy Sinatra, 1965), and “Wichita Lineman” (Glenn Campbell, 1968).
Spalding is considered one of the greatest jazz bassists playing today, and she has the credentials to prove it. With four Grammy Awards, she is recognized not only as an exceptional bass player but a skilled singer. Her ability to do both extraordinarily well, alternating between double bass and electric bass during her live performances, is truly remarkable. With nods to rock and blues, Spalding’s jazz formula is unique and easily crosses over to new genres and audiences.
If you’re playing bass for Jeff Beck and Prince, you know you’re a worldly musician—and that’s exactly what Smith is. This bassist from Canada is highly sought after in music circles thanks to her explosively funk-driven sound. Though she has also worked as a successful solo artist, Smith has consistently managed to bring her own unique talents to touring artists, providing a recognizable, compelling tone to live music that can only be achieved when a skilled bassist is in the mix.
Best known in the music world as a founding member of the late ‘80s, mid-‘90’s rock band White Zombie, Yseult successfully showcased what a solid and reliable bassist could achieve. Though a majority of White Zombie’s lyrics were written by vocalist Rob Zombie, it was Yseult who created much of the widely celebrated musical arrangements. Through these achievements, the band garnered multi-platinum success and two Grammy nominations.
In 1986, Deal responded to an ad for a band in search of a bassist. After auditioning and securing her position, the incredibly influential and groundbreaking alternative rock band The Pixies was conceived. Deal wrote iconic bass lines for tunes such as, “Where is My Mind” and “Gigantic,” which later inspired the likes of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. She would go on to write bass-heavy songs and sing vocals for her band, The Breeders, illuminating her creativity and solidifying her indestructible presence as a celebrated bassist.
Known for her time with Tom Tom Club and the incredibly influential new wave band Talking Heads, Weymouth is another example of a reliable female bassist capable of laying down the funk. Weymouth taught herself to play the bass mere months prior to the formation of the Talking Heads and would go on to open for the likes of the Ramones at the New York City experimental rock music hub, CBGB. Though only recording music sporadically since the Talking Heads broke up in 1991, there is no doubt that Weymouth will go down in the rock history books as an exceptionally powerful female bassist.
MELISSA AUF DER MAUR
The skilled bassist many recall as a member of two of the biggest alternative rock bands of the ‘90s, Auf Der Maur joined Hole in 1994, successfully touring the world with the band and contributing to one of their most celebrated albums, “Celebrity Skin.” She then went on to fill the bassist vacancy within the Smashing Pumpkins. Her versatility is evident in the way she successfully transitioned between two widely successful bands. Eventually, Auf Der Maur set out on a solo career to explore the bass through her own unique artistic lens.
Ndegeocello is a bassist full of groove, funk, and the envied ability to convey soul through her fingertips and onto the fretboard. Alongside her lengthy career representing genres such as rock, pop, jazz, funk, and hip-hop, Ndegeocello may be commercially best known for her surprising connection to John Mellencamp. Ndegeocello wrote the bass line for “Wild Night,” a celebrated Mellencamp tune, awarding her with deserved notoriety.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has since been corrected to note “Wild Night” is a Van Morrison song which Ndegeocello covered with John Mellencamp, and she did NOT write the bass line for “Wild Night.”
GAIL ANN DORSEY
Multi-instrumentalist Dorsey may be best known for her unshakeable bass skills and reputation. Dorsey has had a long career as a session musician and from 1995 to 2016, played with David Bowie’s band, again highlighting her outstanding skillset and adding to an already impressive resume. Dorsey was so well regarded by Bowie that she even filled in for Freddie Mercury during a performance of “Under Pressure.”
Wilkenfeld is a vibrant young multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer who has been well regarded by a number of the most iconic musicians of all time. As a bassist, Wilkenfeld has performed alongside Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler, David Gilmour, Sting, Buddy Guy, and Billy Gibbons. Following her magnetic 2015 Grammy Award performance, Wilkenfeld was sought out as a studio musician by Prince, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, and Joe Walsh. Highlighted perhaps by her incredible run with Jeff Beck, Wilkenfeld’s career has only just begun. This female bassist is set for a long and influential career most recently releasing her album Love Remains.
And not to be overlooked, most know Sheryl Crow as an acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter. But she is an accomplished and trained musician who started out on piano taking formal lessons as a youngster with performing musicians as parents. She wrote and co-wrote many Grammy award-winning hits and her love for bass evolved when she could not get the feel she originally intended with professional bass players so she would do the parts herself. Her influences range from Lee Sklar to Paul McCartney (she has a love for melodic bass playing). Sheryl believes in formal training but also sees listening and playing along to great music as invaluable. On female bassists, Sheryl was quoted in a recent article in Bass Player Magazine saying “I hate to pinpoint female bass players, because it’s sexist to separate the quality of their playing and art by their gender, but they’re the architects. And now with amazing younger players like Tal Wilkenfeld and Esperanza Spalding, my gosh!” On her latest album, Be Myself, Sheryl plays bass on most of the songs, and if you have not heard it already you should check it out!
Continue on and enjoy learning about the bassists featured in this edition and be sure and do your own research as there are plenty more out there!