Apr 012021

In preparation for a long-overdue post on the mystery that is Carlos Santana (coming soon to a Rock Town Hall near you), I was plowing through some vintage Santana performances, and came across the above, from 1977.  It’s not the greatest version of “Carnaval/Let the Children Play” I’ve ever seen or heard, but I was really taken by the performance of Pablo Tellez, the band’s bassist at the time.  As I watched him dig in to his instrument (watch in particular at 2:56, and again at 3:54), horsing every note out for maximum impact, I thought (paraphrasing one of my favorite scenes from “Master and Commander”):  that’s bassmanship, people; my God, that’s bassmanship.

Bassmanship, in my view, is the ability to stroke the thunderbroom in such a way that you bring extra life, extra swagger, extra joy, and extra extra to an entire band’s performance.  It doesn’t mean adding more bass-as-cock-extension hip thrusting, or more Lee Sklar tastiness, or more in-the-pocket/locking-with-the-drummer-whatever-that-actually-means-ness.  It means doing what Tellez is doing:  making you enjoy the music more by watching the bass player love what he or she is doing.

Who’s got bassmanship?  Well, this guy is the all-time heavyweight champion, in my view.  Just watch.  Don’t tell me he doesn’t know full well just how much he lifts the entire band with his subtle in-place sashay.

Or Dan Hartman, leading Edgar Winter’s White Trash into a whole ‘nuther groovy dimension in this live rendition of “Frankenstein”:

Bruce Foxton?  Oh, yeah; bassmanship.

You know who doesn’t have any bassmanship?  Bill Fucking Wyman.  I actually really dig his playing, but on stage?  Give me a break.  It’s like watching mold grow.

Just thought I’d share.  



  53 Responses to “Bassmanship”

  1. Was Bill Wyman in that video? I didn’t notice him.

  2. garlic salt

    I really don’t think you can talk about this without at least mentioning Rick Danko. He always looks like he’s having a great time on stage, and that extends past his bass playing to whatever other instrument he’s playing at the time.

  3. BigSteve

    “…horsing every note out for maximum impact,”

    I’m not familiar with this use of ‘horse’ as a verb. Google wasn’t much help. Please explain.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    I know it as a term more commonly used to suggest fighting with something to get what you want — like “wresting.” Maybe it’s a regional thing. Or maybe I’m just a confused, lazy author. I meant to suggest that Santana’s bass player was clearly working hard to punch the hell out of those notes he was playing — and his body language also shows his total commitment to the job.

  5. Ha! You’ve dropped that Spiral Staircase video here before. It’s a stone cold classic. That cat is mesmerizing.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    Chickenfrank, my obsession with that guy is even greater now that I’ve watched the first two seasons of “Narcos” on Netflix. Spiral Starecase Bass Player Guy is a dead ringer for DEA agent Pena, which ratchets up his confident, bad-ass quotient even further, if such a thing is even possible.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    TANGENT: talk about missing the point! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IObqCf4alMo

  8. I think the spiritual successor to Bruce Foxton is Mike Dirnt from Green Day. They both play active bass parts to fill in the space of their respective 3 piece bands, and also are responsible for making the largest area of the stage their playground. They both also have the uncanny ability to sound exactly like their bands’ respective lead singers when they need to.

  9. BigSteve

    If you’re going to bring the Spiral Starecase bass player (and his mustache) out of the RTH hall of fame, let me be the one to introduce Prakash John (and his mustache):


    Maybe mustaches are an important feature of bassmanship.

  10. BigSteve

    My main takeaway from the Santana clip is that a stadium gig requires a huge amount of energy buildup before you even take the stage. I can’t even imagine doing that. I can’t imagine wanting to be in the audience either.

    Also I don’t remember Carlos Santana as a vocalist. 1977 would have after his jazz-fusion dalliance. I guess I’m surprised they were that popular then.

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    Big Steve, two things about the Santana popularity thing: 1. This was a Bill Graham show, and he was tight with Santana; 2. this was a show in Oakland, which I *believe* was the band’s home base.

  12. Listen, the third-to-last thing I want to do is use this thread to simply list out my favorite bassists. I mean, McCartney’s bass parts can make me cry, but I don’t think he’s especially cool while playing bass. He’s one of the greatest bassists ever, but his bassmanship is only a 6.5 out of 10.

    The second-to-last thing I want to do is go on about Bruce Thomas. I think most of you know that I’m basically married to his bass playing. You don’t want to hear me drag on about his all-access pass to the bass fretboard and his 11.7 out of 10 bassmanship.

    The LAST thing I want to do is to counter HVB’s love for that Five Stairsteps clown and Bruce Foxton. For a second, I thought to myself, “How can I like the Jam so much, while not really liking two thirds of that trio?” Primetime Weller is up there with Bono and Freddie Mercury for his ability to singlehandedly carry and awkward band.

    What I want to do most is throw some love on the bassmanship of Van Morrison’s old guy David Hayes.

    Too Late to Stop Now bassist David Hayes has bassmanship! Check out the segment starting here, on “Caravan,” as the solo gets underway. I love the way he jerks the neck while laying into a beat. He kind of rides sidesaddle. That’s one of those bass moves that shouldn’t be cool, but often is. Check out the way he looks over to his fellow musicians and eggs them on. Sure, he’s giving the mad props, but what he’s most doing is reflecting the love back onto himself. And of course, he is coaxing notes out of his bass. Bass notes love to be coaxed out.


    Then there’s this part, as they fire it up before the breakdown:


    Man, he is pleading with his bass, then he looks over a the drummer and gives that righteous cue. He’s not really the bandleader; he’s probably not even Van’s second in command, but the Captain can’t see what’s he’s doing back there, so he’s building his cred, laying the groundwork for a mutiny, if need be. (The Female-Fronted String Quartet breakdown that is next featured is worthy of a separate analysis. This must be the template for all MTV Unplugged performances by usually “harsh” bands that were showing their sensitive side in the early ’90s. Remember Black Flag’s Unplugged version of “TV Party,” with practically the same long-haired, willowy string players sawing away? Who was that actress who looked kind of like Daryl Hannah but was even a worse actress than Hannah? I think she even played a cellist in an Altman film. Oh man, she was excruciating.)

    Finally, strap in for the “TURN IT UP!” finale that’s about to hit. Wait until you see Hayes thrust, like he’s playing a bayonet.


    He executes a series of head shake that play off the Hammond organ runs. That series alone is worth the price of admission. He helps that whole ugly band gel and feel sexy. The E Street Band should have possessed half the magic of Van’s band at that time, who had some great name, like the Belfast Cosmic Cowboys. (I’m sure BigSteve knows what I’m forgetting.) Oh, right, he says it: The Caledonian Soul Orchestra.

  13. I just caught up on everyone’s comments so far, which is a good thing, because the next thing I planned on doing was writing more about Rick Danko and Prakash John!

  14. I think the actress who looks like Daryl Hannah but is a bad actress is named Daryl Hannah. And that cello player is a ringer for Splash era Daryl. That Hayes guy is getting at it. Nice.

  15. Lori Singer, who played a beautiful, willowy, ecstatic cellist in Short Cuts, is who I had in mind! It looks like she also played a beautiful, willowy, ecstatic cellist in Fame. When you can’t get Daryl Hannah in your film, you call Lori Singer.

  16. Wow, do they look alike!

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    cdm’s homo-erotic bassmanship FTW!

  18. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, EX-cellent call on Van’s bass player. That’s some A-1 grade bassmanship right there. Perfect balance of passive-aggressive band leadership and “knowing your place.”

  19. I’ve been on too many video meetings the last year. From certain angles, Mason looks like he’s singing in front of a Zoom background. And yes, good call by cdm on his bassist!

  20. Hey! Some respect here for Lori Singer. She starred in Footloose. For the record, I think she’s better looking than Daryl Hannah.

    That Mason bass player seems to play a right hand bass flipped over with no restringing.

  21. mockcarr

    I’m going to suggest Mike Mesaros from the Smithereens as a guy who does just enough to distract you from Pat DiNizio’s desperate attempt at hiding his rapidly receding hairline with a Roman comb forward before he started wearing hats. They don’t even give him a mic for his occasional harmonies, but he leans in expertly. He moves around the stage well in support of the downbeats and as a secondary target of viewing, while giving a fairly straight song a few bass highlights and locking in on the power chords when appropriate.


  22. MC, Mesaros is showing all kinds of admirable bassmanship, but then seems to go a little too far. An uncomfortable dynamic is created every time he takes his bass strut further forward than Pat is standing. He’s not going forward to reach a microphone, or a catwalk on stage. He just seems to be asking the audience to pay more attention to him even when Pat is singing. I’m all for a lead guitarist stepping forward for his turn at attention, and if a bassist gets his once in a set solo, then by all means prance forward. But Mesaros is almost in a bass mutiny area. You take that forward position if you’re doing Paul Siminon’s intro to London Calling, but otherwise you need to do your groove work behind that invisible line. HVB’s point of passive-aggressive knowing your place.

  23. cherguevara

    How about Pete Farndon in this clip:

    He balances between cool guy vibe and preening, flopping his hair and bouncing to the beat. And he gets his licks in.

  24. mockcarr

    CF, I would indeed liken his purpose to Simonen, however, I feel like he perhaps felt forced into more Mach Schau at this early stage of the band’s popularity and rose to the occasion given the limitations of the other guys. I mean, can DiNizio afford to lose any more hair by jumping around and/or capering in lead singer fashion?

  25. Entirely valid. The Smithereens had so much going for them that they should have climbed a bit higher than their middle management level. DiNizio was always kind of a charisma black hole. The bassist had to be lead performer.

  26. hrrundivbakshi

    All I know about DiNizio is that he dated Monty Melchior’s sister. Which will only mean anything to mockcarr.

  27. Happiness Stan

    Steve Hanley always looked like he had a lot to work out of his system while keeping an eye on his frontman. In this massive clip, he looks like he’s trying to wrestle a lively reptile, or possibly trying to budge the restraining bolts loose on a car engine


    And JJ Burnel, obviously


  28. I am truly heartened to see Pat DiNizio’s multiple challenges make an appearance in this thread. That guy, his hairdon’t, that band, and any positive associations anyone ever made between their music and our band’s music have long bugged me. This is the price one pays for loving Elvis Costello too dearly.

    My hang ups with that band aside, the discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of Mesaros hits on a lot of great things: how far a bassist should go in compensating for a lead singer like DiNizio, when it’s appropriate to cross the thin line between equal band member doing his or her thing vs stage hog, etc. Much to chew on, and it got me thinking about this grainy live video from 2004: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Z982S6ZdU

    Check out the bassist, a guy wearing a jacket to the left of the lead singer. He establishes a wide stance and settles in with a hip sway – not too much, but just enough to let folks in the audience know they, too, can bop along to the beat.

    Every 30 seconds or so he performs a sort of “security detail” prance around the rhythm section area. When I see him do this, I feel reassured. It’s like he’s giving the band members a thumbs up, asking how their kids are and what they have planned for the weekend.

    At the 1:12 mark, he gives an empathetic hand gesture that is perfectly aligned with that of the lead singer. It’s been reported that this was not rehearsed.

    I have had the honor of looking over at chickenfrank for nearly 4 decades as he practices his bassmanship. The man is subtle, yet commanding.

  29. Big ups to Hanley in that Fall clip. The guy has no subtleties, but his passion makes up for it!

    Farndon was something else. It’s too bad he and Honeyman-Scott didn’t live long enough to make a third Pretenders record. Farndon might have given Simenon a run for his money as Coolest Bassist of the Punk Era.

  30. Great blurry clip! Early in the intro, I’m already in the forward vanguard bass mutiny area. That’s a violation. The Velvet Foghorn should have pushed me off with his round bottom mic stand. It’s a clear encroachment on his territory by me. You need to mark your territory or you won’t have an area to prance about in for long. We should have gone over this issue more thoroughly during film session work.

  31. mockcarr

    CF, I’m ok with your spacing on stage, where the hell else could you be and have everyone stay in frame? You would be in cymbal crash range if you stayed too far back and risk getting on Sethro’s nerves; it also kind of seems like you’re teasing the audience into thinking you’re going to sing.

  32. mockcarr

    I’m a big fan of Farndon, he’s got style. And can’t grow a beard either!

  33. mockcarr

    That is to say, if those captions weren’t a joke, I actually have something more in common with him than the riffs I’ve stolen.

  34. Ancillary question after seeing that Pretenders clip; Have any of you played a whole set wearing a leather jacket? It is a boss look. His looks like an actual heavy motorcycle jacket. Great look if you can protect your instrument from the buckles and feel cool and not like a tool while wearing it. But, the heat and weight must be unbearable.

  35. mockcarr

    Not even outdoor events for me Chicken, that would be cheating though.

  36. cherguevara

    I could never pull off a leather jacket or sunglasses – on stage or anywhere. I did decide to chew a decent quantity of gum during a gig one time. I thought it imparted “attitude,” and I’m sure it wasn’t slightly effective.

  37. cherguevara

    Also, the Spiral Staircase bass player is like a groovy Walter Matthau.

  38. Gum chewing is very rock and roll. One step below smoking on stage, but still displays all the casual insouciance. It smells better and there is far less risk of it falling out of your mouth. I’m reminded of Lennon during All You Need is Love. Nigel Tufnel is a good gum chewer too. I have memories of HVB chewing gum while performing. That stick can get hard as a rock if you’re drinking beer though.

  39. BigSteve

    Dr. Matt Destruction of the Hives:


    It’s great that he gets a solo spot (about 2:50) in their signature song, Hate To Say I Told You So, because I think he’s the coolest guy in the band. What I like is that he gives the impression that it requires every ounce of strength he’s got to play those bass lines, but he’s all in, willing to give more than he’s got if it’s needed. In fact, he retired a couple of years ago ‘for health reasons’ I can’t even guess what it’s like to put on this kind of show night after night once you’re past the age of 25 or so, but I’m glad there’s ample video documentation.

  40. Busy as hell lately and haven’t been able to post, which is most probably a giant plus for just about everyone up here.

    Finally got around to reading the bass posts. Great thread with lots of funny stuff. And HVB, you drive me out of my mind, but that comment about Bill Wyman’s stage presence was a real winner. Still chuckling about it..

    I recall liking a lot of the first Smithereens LP. My enjoyment of the LP was somewhat lessened after seeing them at the Tower as a back up band for ????. That is one butt ugly band!

    Here’s my call for bassist extraordinaire, the Move’s Ace Kefford. I regret not capitalizing on his look during my Carousel days.


  41. Is it my imagination or are there several members of the Hives who look like they could be James Cordon’s older brothers?

  42. Roy Wood is dressed for the crusades!

  43. I see the Cordon connection.

  44. Good call on the Cordon connection and, wow, EPG, you really did miss the boat on aping Kefford!

    I sense I’m going to be listening to my Move albums this weekend. There’s something I find so RIGHT about the movement of the melodies in a great Roy Wood song.

  45. BigSteve

    James Corden and the bearded Hive (Vigilante Carlsstrom) are both 42.

  46. 2000 Man

    This was fun, but I haven’t been online in a while. Chris Squire should be in here because of his cape. I used to have a picture of him on my wall leaning back, letting the capey goodness flow free, in a way Rick Wakeman couldn’t back behind his portable organ showroom. The band hardly realized their triple cape superpowers.


  47. You’re a racist for sharing that. #cancelCDM

  48. It’s about time!

  49. I just remembered the time that Guided By Voices were on Letterman and bassist Greg Demos pushed the limits of bassmanship ate it on stage. I synched the video up to about 5 seconds before it happens. I particularly like how Mitch Mitchell looks over, chuckles briefly, and then picks up the slack with a big rock move.


  50. BigSteve

    I would guess that no version of GbV had ever played on a stage with clean (and slippery) floors.

  51. I give Demos credit for getting right back on the horse and doing another wide stance, then a neck thrust.

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