Aug 132007

In the coming weeks we will examine the stage stances of rock musicians by instrument. So often you hear the phrase that a great performer is “larger than life.” For rock musicians, that larger than life pose is literally grounded in the musician’s basic stance. Everything the musician does from that initial stance – be it swaying to the music, keeping time with his or her foot, placing a foot on the monitor, punching the air with a sweaty fist – flows from that initial stance.

There’s no “right” stance, although as we examine the rock stances of various musicians, we may argue that there are “wrong” stances. I wouldn’t put it past us. I had planned on beginning this series with the archetypal stances of guitar players, but then I feared that at least one key bass guitarist stance would be overshadowed. For this reason we’ll begin our survey with a discussion of the main stances of rock bassists. It is highly likely, throughout the course of this series, that we’ll overlook an important stance. Please don’t hesitate to add to this base of knowledge.

Dee Dee’s theorem

Over the last 30 years, Dee Dee Ramone‘s classic wide-legged punk rock stance has risen in prominence and respect among electric bassists and their fans, although it is not practiced as much as preached. According to Dee Dee’s theorem, the bassist’s legs should form an isosceles triangle with the stage, with the apex at a 70-degree angle. Although there is no “right” stance, Rock Town Hall highly recommends a wide-legged stance for all standing musicians, regardless of instrument.

Although Clash bassist Paul Simonon is most frequently associated with a near-isosceles triangle stance while smashing his bass on the cover of London Calling, Simonon’s signature stance was the Machine Gun Shimmy, as seen in the following video.

It just looks like Bill’s trying to tune up without being plugged in

Bill Wyman rose to fame using the “Don’t Think I Can’t Play a Stand-Up Bass” style. As ridiculous as it looked, it was the coolest thing the otherwise boring Wyman ever did, despite self-reported tales of wild nights trolling for young flesh while on the road. Wyman would get more traditional – and more boring – as he entered the ’70s. By the time he switched to a headless Steinberger bass, he’d long cemented his status as Most Boring Rocker EVER!

Most Likely to Bore Aspiring Bassists

Some bassists play with a knock-kneed stance. Don’t ask me why. Don’t ask me how they keep their balance, although Graham Parker and the Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar works his feet nonstop, taking little marches around the stage and practicing rhythmic knee bends. It’s also possible that this stance is all in support of his cream-colored satin bellbottoms.

A survey of archetypal electric bass stances in rock would not be complete without mention of the Small Woman Playing a Large Bass. Tina Weymouth and Sara Lee immediately spring to mind.

What is the mathematical relationship between bass size and small woman playing bass?

For some, this is a powerful, sexual statement, and the political implications of this stance are among the heaviest in rock.

Tina goes full scale

Considering that Paul McCartney is one of rock’s premier bassists, the instrument and his role as bassist are never at the core of his stage stance. Tell me if I’m wrong, but the man has no distinctive stance as a bassist; instead he’s more of a straight-up showman, keeping the focus on his cheery facial expressions. We may return to this aspect of his stage presence when we focus on lead singers.

The Band’s Rick Danko is all elbows and jerky movements; sometimes he looks like a crazed marionnette on bass. Whereas most bassists do some sort of groovy pumping motion to keep time, Danko works the fretboard like he’s trying to snap a chicken’s neck.

While we’re on Danko, let’s not forget that bassists usually look totally wrong when they play the guitar. I know a lot of bassists are guitarists who lost the coin flip, but Danko, Nick Lowe, Sting, and many more lose their Rock Super Powers when they strap on a guitar.

Here’s another previously covered bassist out of water. Two additional strings and a higher octave and this guy might as well get a day job!

Some bassists refuse to be held back by the simple loss of a coin flip. Check out this rubbery funk bass solo by Bootsy Collins.

Finally, I’ll lay my cards on the table and ‘fess up on the main reason why it’s important you’ve read this far: Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo has redefined the electric bass stance. You know this guy, I think he’s Metallica’s third or fourth bassist. He used to be in some hardcore band that Berlyant digs. He plays from a ridiculously low-slung, “side-saddle” stance. It’s out of this world stupid looking, but I can’t take my eyes off it. Here’s the standard Trujillo stance:

Full-frontal Trujillo

Here’s is stance on passing downs:

3rd and long

And, finally, his goal-line stance:

A game of inches!

Where bass stances will go from here is anyone’s guess.


  5 Responses to “Taking a Stance on Rock: Electric Bassists”

  1. KingEd

    Gotta get Lemmy in there!

  2. trolleyvox

    Tina Weymouth is actually playing what would qualify as a small bass, namely a short-scale Fender Mustang bass.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    What you say is true, Townsman Trolleyvox, but it’s such a flattering picture of her I went with that one instead of one I found of her playing a full-scale bass. I’ll post that one for accuracy, but I’ll leave the original one for aesthetic purposes.

  4. BigSteve

    Check out today’s NYTimes for a bass-playing photo of no-chance Republican predidential hopeful Mike Huckabee:

    His band is called Capitol Offense. Unfortunately you can’t see his legs, but my guess is that he leans to the right.

  5. Big Steve wrote

    His band is called Capitol Offense. Unfortunately you can’t see his legs, but my guess is that he leans to the right

    Brump-ting! Thank You!

    Actually it looks like the guitarist is going to tounge his ear. Very ’78 Glimmer Twins

    I hate those XL scale basses.

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