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The Singing Bass Player (part 1): 5 examples of this musical rarity.

Updated on July 18, 2017

A singing bassist!

The typical lead singer in a rock or pop group on stage tends to either sing lead only, or play rhythm guitar, strumming chords rather than doing super-intricate string work, thereby not degrading the quality of their singing. There are of course exceptions, great blues guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Robert Cray handling both singing and soloing mid-verse with ease, John Mayer is a good modern example of this. But what of the singing bass player? Like viewing an endangered species, catching a bassist fronting a rock band, rather than singing only backup as is typical, is a real rarity! Seeing those whose bass playing and singing are both top-notch is even more rare, so let’s take a look at five examples of those players who can lead the band and keep the low end tight. This is by no means a definitive list, and for extra fun I’ve included, on a 5 star scale, 5 being the ultimate skill level, my own rankings on their technical ability on the bass, as well as bass loyalty (as opposed to putting the bass down in favor of other instruments). Let’s start with perhaps the best known example:

1. Sting

Technical skill: 4 stars

Bass loyalty: 4 stars

Spending his early days playing bass in a jazz big band, Sting’s ambition clearly forbade him from being anything other than a front man. In The Police, few would say he didn’t hold his own alongside band mates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers’ technical skill. But as he admits in his autobiography Broken Music (a great read, by the way), Sting would deliberately simplify his bass lines in order to keep his focus on singing. Yet the bass lines could be highly effective in their simplicity; the simple bass lines in “Walking On The Moon” demand nothing more or less, they’re just right. Had he been a bass player only and not concerned with vocals, who knows what technical flash he would have chosen to show in a different setting?

When beginning his solo career with the Dream Of The Blue Turtles and Nothing Like The Sun albums, Sting would choose to play guitar rather than bass. But by the time of The Soul Cages album, Sting reclaimed his role as bassist for his own music, both live and in the studio.

For a great example of a seemingly simple bassline, coupled with a fantastic song that some may have forgotten, check out his classic video “All This Time.” Not coincidentally, this song was the first video as a solo artist where he reclaimed his role as bassist!

Sting "All This Time"

2. Geddy Lee

Technical skill: 5 stars

Bass loyalty: 4 ½ stars

For technical flash coupled with great vocal skill, Rush’s Geddy Lee is hard to match. A power trio of immense skill and creativity, any Rush album is a showcase for great bass playing, and great singing too, depending on how much you appreciate his vocal style. Around the time of Rush’s 4th album “2112” Lee added keyboards to his arsenal, and yet never put down the bass, even when playing the keys! After 4 decades, Rush is still a force, and seeing a Rush concert is still a dazzling experience, especially for bass fans.

Choosing a definitive example of Rush itself or of Lee’s playing seems impossible, and so not to choose something too obvious like "Tom Sawyer," here’s simply a live version of a song I like, “Between The Sun and Moon” from the Counterparts album.

Rush "Between The Sun and Moon"

3. Chris Squire

Technical skill: 5 stars

Bass loyalty: 5 stars

Never exactly the front man of prog masters Yes, Squire has clearly been the man in control of the band’s direction, especially since lead singer Jon Anderson is no longer involved. More often than not, Squire adds his distinctive harmony vocals to both verses and chorus’, perfectly complimenting Anderson’s lead, and in rare cases when Squire takes a sole lead vocal, the effect is stunning. Squire is clearly an example of one whose loyalty to bass superseded his desire to lead a band vocally all the time, and yet, even without his bass playing, Yes would be a shadow of itself without him.

Here’s a video of Squire playing with the Yes line-up from the “Drama” album in 1980. Here, Squire sings co-lead with Trevor Horn and delivers some of his most distinctive bass work:

Yes "Tempus Fugit"

4. Aimee Mann

Technical skill: 3 ½ stars

Bass loyalty: 3 stars

One of the memorable images back in 1985 was Aimee Mann, frontwoman of Boston-based band ‘Til Tuesday. Striking visually with her punkish blonde hair with one long braid, Mann sang great, wrote great songs, and played a mean Fender Precision bass! And she still does today as a solo artist, with a string of acclaimed albums to her credit. The “Voices Carry” song and video is of course an 80’s classic, and its parent album contained much funk bass playing by Mann. After the first album though, the dance and funk elements gave way to more singer-writer style music, and the music became much better in the process, though selling less. She still played bass on the band’s latter albums, but frequently had someone else play it live while she switched to acoustic guitar. And as a solo artist, she often has someone else play the bass on record and in concert, while she continues to favor guitar. But rarely does a concert go by when she doesn’t take the instrument for a song or two. Check out this video from the mid 80s of ‘Til Tuesday performing a song they never released on record:

Til Tuesday "Enough To Save You"

5. Jermaine Jackson

Technical skill: 3 ½ stars

Bass loyalty: 5 stars

If you think it was easy for a teenager to copy the intricate bass lines of the Motown studio team, who played the instruments on the Jackson 5 albums, and then perform them in front of thousands of screaming fans, while singing co-lead alongside younger brother Michael and doing choreography moves, think again! Watch any Jackson 5 video from the 70’s and marvel at his efforts. When the Jackson 5 split Motown for Epic Records in 1975, Jermaine stayed at Motown as a solo artist, and soon was producing and writing his own material. Today, in the reformed Jacksons live group, he typically sticks with vocals only, but does take over the bass for certain songs, such as “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).” Check out this video of Jermaine fronting his own group in the late 80s, and keeping the bass firmly in check:

Jermaine Jackson "Let's Get Serious"

Next time I’ll showcase 5 more singing bassists, including a certain Beatle, and some others you may have forgotten. That’s all for now. Keep the low end solid!

Comments

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    • AJVogt profile imageAUTHOR

      Adam Vogt 

      4 years ago from LA, CA

      Thanks Mrs. Richards! It's great to hear from you. Always suspected Reed was a bass fan.

    • profile image

      Sue Richards 

      4 years ago

      Wow this is great,will have to tell Reed. He loves the bass and your hubpage!

    • Spirittravel profile image

      DragonSpirit 龙的精神 Lóng de jingshén 

      4 years ago from Universe

      Hello AJVogt,

      I agree with Lady Penelope and Parker. You are definitely awesome ! And great taste! Lady P. and Parker, I am also a Brit! LOL

      you can visit , my optional blog at:

      http://dragonswealth-dragonspirit.blogspot.com/

      Be greatly blessed!

      Kind regards,

      DragonSpirit

      龙的精神

      Lóng de jingshén

    • AJVogt profile imageAUTHOR

      Adam Vogt 

      4 years ago from LA, CA

      Thanks, Penny! And might I add, both here, and in Part 2, feature several British bass players. F

      FAB indeed!

      -A

    • profile image

      Lady Penelope 

      4 years ago

      Wow, this is one of the most unique pages!

      Great work! Very nice and informative. Parker and I will

      have to invite you for tea! Well done lad.

      Lady P.

      FAB out!

    • Spirittravel profile image

      DragonSpirit 龙的精神 Lóng de jingshén 

      4 years ago from Universe

      Hello, This is a very nice site!

      Really like it a lot. very informative

      like the above said i am excited to see where

      you go next!

      A Travelling Spirit

    • profile image

      BritGirl82 

      4 years ago

      What a great article! Thanks for this.

      I was just wondering if you might be a Singing Bass Player

      yourself? Love the BASS-BASS-BASS

      Drop the beat!

      BritGirl82

    • profile image

      Bass Afficionado 

      4 years ago

      Wow, this is brilliant! Never realized how many Singing Bass Players

      there were in the world! Really like the way you gave us a good variety!

      I am really looking forward to the next article. Great piece!

      Thanks for this beautiful and funny page!

      BA

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