Lead Bassist

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Yes: "Schindleria Praematurus ..."

Fans: "Come again?"
The Fish
"Bass solo, take one. (echo)"
Cliff Burton, before the start of "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)"

So Nobody Loves the Bassist, eh? Think again. That dude in the spotlight, the one everyone’s cheering for, the famous face everybody remembers ... is it me, or is that axe he/she’s wielding suspiciously oversized? VINDICATION! The Lead Bassist takes up an instrument that screams "anonymous role-player," and somehow rides it to fame. For one reason or another, he’s better-known than the band’s lead guitarist, or even the lead singer.

But what could cause such a perversion of the natural order? There are four fundamental factors that can give birth to a Lead Bassist:

Type A: The Virtuoso. This bassist is so famously skilled and so near the top of the field as to overshadow the band’s other musicians—who may be excellent in their own right, but not necessarily at the pinnacle.

Type B: The Singer. This musician is mainly famous for being a lead vocalist, or part of a Vocal Tag Team. The fact that he plays a bass is secondary, and may even go unnoticed by casual fans.

Type C: The Face of the Band. This bass player is well known for non-musical reasons, such as:

  • Being a founder or guiding creative spirit of the band
  • Engaging in notorious behavior, such as drunken misadventures or a newsworthy love life
  • Being Mr. or Ms. Fanservice
  • Dying tragically ... or at least memorably

Type D: The Genre Lead. Rather than rock or popular music, this bassist plays jazz, funk, African folk music, etc., genres in which the bass cuts a larger figure—sometimes even a central one.

Bassists may qualify under more than one of these tropes: Paul McCartney, for example, manages to flawlessly embody Types A, B, and C.

This is not a list of "Good Bassists" or "Bassists I Like." This page is for bass players who, for one reason or another, garner a distinctly larger share of public notice than more traditional band "frontmen" such as the singer or lead guitarist. If the bassist is less well-known than said frontmen, then however well-regarded he might be, his situation is par for the course and he doesn't belong here.

See Nobody Loves the Bassist.

Examples of Lead Bassist include:

Anime and Manga


Real Life

Type A: The Virtuoso

  • Justin Chancellor of Tool is a Type A. Although everyone in the group is enormously talented, Chancellor has a distinctive sound and plays many of the more recognizable Epic Riffs.
  • Matt Freeman: Type A. Mostly recognized among the band's fandom, though.
  • John Myung: Type A
  • Joe Principe is definitely a Type A.
  • Billy Sheehan: Type A
  • Chris Squire is the prototypical Type A. He's also sung on a couple of solo albums, some of which repeat his famous stunt of using only multitracked bass guitars.
  • Victor Wooten: Type A. Arguably Type D, but that would require his conforming to a genre.

Type B: The Singer

  • Tom Araya: Type B
  • Sam Black (Everything Else) Type B. Seeing as he also does guitar, keyboards and co-lead vocals, his exceptional bass playing is sometimes unnoticed.
  • Rick Danko: Type B
  • Steve Grisaffe (of country band River Road): Type B
  • Mike Herrera: Type B
  • Marco Hietala: Type B.
  • Mark Hoppus was once a Type B, but as guitarist Tom Delonge has moved into the spotlight, Hoppus has regressed into a more common trope.
  • Russell DeCarle (Prairie Oyster): Type B.
  • Gary Jarman of the Wakefield Pop-Rock trio The Cribs is a Type B Vocal Tag Team type with his twin Brother, Ryan, who plays the guitar---their little brother Ross takes the drums. The band as a whole can be a Type A, each knowing how to play the other's instruments as well as others.
  • Steve Kilbey of The Church: Type B
  • Greg Lake: Type B
  • Aimee Mann: Type B
  • Richard Page (Mr. Mister): Type B
  • Dickie Peterson (Blue Cheer): Type B
  • Doug Phelps (The Kentucky Headhunters): Type B. In the original lineup, he was bassist/backing vocalist, with brother Ricky Lee on lead vocals. After both Phelpses left, Mark Orr briefly became lead singer and Anthony Kenney took over on bass. Doug quickly re-joined as lead vocalist, ultimately falling into this trope after Kenney left.
  • Doug Pinnick of King's X is a Type B.
  • Suzi Quatro: Type B
  • John Rich (of Big & Rich) was originally a Type B in Lonestar, where he traded lead vocals with Richie McDonald. Lonestar has not had an official bassist since Rich was fired in 1998; several different bassists have backed them on the road without being counted as official members, and they usually use a session musician in the studio.
  • Marcel "Schmier" Schirmer (of Destruction): Type B
  • John Wetton (of King Crimson, UK, and Asia): Type B

Type C: The Face of the Band

Type D: The Genre Lead

  • Juan Alderete de la Peña of Vato Negro is a type D (bass-driven noise rock).
  • Bakithi Kumalo is a Type D, as one can hear on nearly half the tracks of Paul Simon’s Graceland.
  • Joe Lally of Fugazi is a type D: many of the band's songs (including their most famous one, "Waiting Room") feature his melodies front and center, sometimes even pushing the guitars into more of a support role. Towards the end of his tenure, he also contributed some lead vocals.
  • Stuart Zender (Jamiroquai, Azur) Type D.

Types A and B

  • Kevin Ayers (Soft Machine, solo): Types A (during his Soft Machine days), B
  • Jack Bruce: Types A and B.
  • Geddy Lee is a canonical combo of A and B.

Types A and C

  • Cliff Burton: Normally considered a Type A, he's a Type C among some long-time fans.
  • Joey DeMaio: Types A and C.
  • Steve Harris: Type A and C.
  • Arif Mirabdolbaghi: Types A and C, for writing the band's lyrics until recently.
  • Squarepusher: Types A and C--his bass playing is as well-known as his electronic work.
  • Norman Watt-Roy from The Blockheads: Type A. Has become Type C since Dury's death with fans chanting "Norman, Norman, Norman..." during solos. He is also unquestionably the fan-favorite Blockheads member.

Types A and D

  • Stanley Clarke (Return to Forever, The Seatbelts): Types A and D
  • James Jamerson (Funk Brothers/Motown Records session musician): Type A and D
  • Marcus Miller: Types A and D
  • Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report, solo): Types A and D. His alcoholic descent and unfortunate death add C to the list.

Types B and C

  • John Cale (Velvet Underground, solo), Types B and C
  • John Cooper of Skillet combines types B and C.
  • Kim Deal: Type C, and B (more in The Breeders than The Pixies).
  • Kim Gordon: Types B and C
  • Lemmy Kilminster: Type B and C
  • Phil Lynott: Types B and C
  • Terry McBride (of country band McBride and the Ride): Type B and C. Due to Executive Meddling, he was briefly just the lead singer while a new bassist joined. After a break-up, reunion and re-break-up, he joined Brooks and Dunn's road band and wrote several of their songs, plus a handful for others.
  • Mike Mills sang several REM songs, and in public served as co-Face of the Band (in tandem with Michael Stipe).
  • Colin Moulding: Type B and C
  • Johnette Napolitano (of Concrete Blonde): Type B and C - Concrete Blonde is basically Napolitano and whoever she decides to play/record with.
  • Troy Sanders is a little bit of Type B, a little bit of Type C.
  • Jason Sellers: Type B and C. Originally a member of Ricky Skaggs' band, he recorded two solo albums in the late 1990s and played bass on both. He is now a prominent backing vocalist and songwriter (most notably, he co-wrote Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson's "Don't You Wanna Stay").
  • Gene Simmons: Types B and C
  • Jeffrey Steele (of country band Boy Howdy): Type B and C. After Boy Howdy broke up, he became a solo singer and started writing songs for other artists.
  • Peter Steele: Types B and C.
  • Sting: Types B and C.
  • Roger Waters: Types B and C
  • Brian Wilson: Type B and C, though he pretty much abandoned the instrument by the time he stared work on Pet Sounds.

Types C and D

  • Charles Mingus: Types C and D

Types A, B and C

  • Peter Cetera, during his years in Chicago, was types B and C (especially in The Eighties, partly the reason for the conflicts that led to his removal from the group), and sometimes A in The Seventies.
  • Mark King of Level 42 is type A, B and C. Arguably, he's type D as well, since Level 42 is a very funk-inspired pop band.
  • Paul McCartney: A, B, and C, as above

Types A, B and D

  • Larry Graham: Types A and D, and a B in Graham's Central Station.

Types A, C and D

  • Jean Baudin of Nuclear Rabbit: Types A (rocks an ELEVEN-string bass!), C (he's the founder/leader), and D (the music's built around his eccentric technique).
  • Flea: Types A and C; also somewhat type D, as the band's sound is based largely on Funk.

Types B, C and D

All Four Types At Once

  • Les Claypool: Les is the epitome of Lead Bassist, being types A, B, C, and D
  • Bootsy Collins: A, C, and D, with an excursus into B by way of Bootsy's Rubber Band