Stuart Hamm's 10 greatest bass albums of all time
"First, a disclaimer: There was a time in my musical career when I stopped listening to other bass players. In my quest to craft my own individual voice on the instrument, I simply tuned out as many players as possible.
"Those days, of course, were long ago, and I’ve since caught up with all the greats. (Truth be told, part of the reason I asked Jeff Berlin and Billy Sheehan to join the BX3 Tour was so I could steal as many of their licks and ideas as possible!)
"No discussion of influential bass albums should fail to include the work of Billy Sheehan. But I initially became aware of him during my ‘self-imposed influence-celibacy,’ and as a result, I didn’t spend much time listening to his first band, Talas.
"Similarly, it would be negligent not to name recordings featuring Jeff Berlin or Marcus Miller and those bassists who came after me, such as Victor Wooten, Flea and Les Claypool, among many others. When you get right down to it, the list is endless and entirely subjective. So, what I have assembled for my ‘top 10 greatest bass albums of all time’ are those records that influenced me when I was a wee lad in the order that I heard them. In that way, it’s something of a diary, my own personal bass journey. Enjoy!"
First up: Yes - Fragile
Yes - Fragile (1971)
"Without a doubt, this is the album that made me want to become a musician and bass player.
"Starting with Roundabout and the groove from South Side Of The Sky, Chris Squire’s playing caught my attention in a way that nothing else had before. With The Fish, I was hooked (pun intended) - it was my first exposure to bass harmonics.
"The polyrhythm of Long Distance Runaround and the intensity of Heart Of The Sunrise…wow! Squire's bright, clear but this-close-to-distorted tone defines an era for me and continues to inspire."
Listen: Yes - Roundabout (1971)
The Who - Live At Leeds (1970)
"My older brother played lots of Who records, and I did see the Woodstock movie before I discovered Yes and Chris Squire. But when I heard Live At Leeds, my ears opened in a new way.
"John Entwistle’s melodic yet busy playing style was my first inkling of how a bass could function differently in a band while still holding down the low end and harmonic motion. It was a much more defined sound and active both harmonically and rhythmically.
"The mix on Live At Leads is very generous to the bass - panned hard left, it's enormous. And I’m sure the live version of My Generation was the first bass solo that I ever heard. (My, how I loved that trebly, semi-distorted sound favored by British players like Entwistle, John Whetton of King Crimson and Chris Squire.) This album was my primer for how a bass could function in an instrumental trio. If you haven’t listened to this one in a while, break it out and feel the power, baby!"
Listen: The Who - Heaven And Hell (1970), featuring John Entwhistle on lead vocals
Yes - Yessongs (1973)
“If Fragile was the appetizer for my musical life, this album was the lobster entree. Chris Squire's tone on songs such as Starship Trooper is absolutely awe inspiring. And the chordal stretching on the live version of The Fish, along with the dynamics of his picking, why, it still sends shivers down my spine.
“I got kicked out of the band room at Hanover High School for playing the whole live solo (cranked to 11!) for my friends at lunch time. At that age, all I wanted to do was play a Ric, wear a cape on stage and use a quarter for a pick!”
Listen: Yes - Starship Trooper live (1973)
Parliament - Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome (1978)
"There’s funk, and then there’s Parliament/Funkadelic. Booty Collins’ deep bass grooves on songs like Bop Gun, The Placebo Syndrome and Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk were both eye- and ear-opening.
And what can you say about one of best and most infectious bass lines EVER on Flash Light - which wasn’t even played on a bass, for God’s sake! That credit goes to Bernie Worrell, who performed the parts on a keyboard synthesizer bass. Man, he rocked my youth. I only wish that I still had my Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk poster...dang!"
Listen: Parliament - Bop Gun (1978)
Stanley Clarke - Stanley Clarke (1974)
“I guess that the only reason that I chose this record over Journey To Love and School Days is just for the fact that it came out first. But make no misatke: whatever the album, Stanley Clarke is the man!
“When I first heard Lopsy Lu and Power, I nearly broke my fingers trying to pop the strings on my bass to get that same attack and sound. On the other end of the spectrum, Clarke’s beautiful, virtuosic upright playing on Spanish Phases and the Life Suites were revelations as to how an ancient instrument could be relevant in a modern and evolving music form.”
Listen: Stanley Clarke - Lopsy Lu (1974)
Weather Report - Heavy Weather (1977)
"It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the impact of Birdland, Teen Town, A Remark You Made and Havona, the latter featuring an astounding bass solo by the legendary Jaco Pastorius.
"This is simply a great recording of groundbreaking musicians at the top of their game, caught in a moment of true evolution. I consider it a ‘light bulb moment’ for a lot of bass players, including yours truly."
Listen: Weather Report - Havona (1977)
Jaco Pastorius - Jaco Pastorius (1976)
“What can you say about this record? I saw Jaco Patorius with Weather Report live before I ever heard this album, and after seeing him and having my life changed I searched out everything he recorded.
“Donna Lee…you mean you can do that on a bass?! Who knew? I stole and played the riff from Come On, Come Over in just about any song I could, no matter how inappropriate it might have been musically.
“The evolution of harmonics on Portrait Of Tracy and the compositional aspects of Jaco’s musicality in Okonkole Y Trompa and Forgotten Love showed me how a bass player can transcend technique for its own sake and be a musician and songwriter.
“The melodic playing on Continuum and the solo on (Used To Be A) Cha-Cha set a generation free. Where would we be if this album never existed?”
Listen: Jaco Pastorius - Come On, Come Over (1976)
George Duke - Reach For It (1977)
"George Duke put out so many good albums, but this is the one for me. Lemme At It, Hot Fire and Diamonds are fusion classics. The record features stellar performances by Stanley Clarke.
“But the meat and potatoes that must put Reach For It in anyone’s top 10 bass albums list is Byron Miller’s amazing, better-than-awesome, gotta-learn-every-lick-for-myself solo on the title track. It’s like…hmmm…let me try to imagine the funkiest, grooving-est best bass solo that anyone could possibly ever play, and this is what you’d come up with…in your dreams!”
Listen: George Duke - Reach For It (1977)
Brand X - Masques (1978)
“I had to include at least one Brand X Album, and this is my favorite. From the opening unison lines of The Poke to the haunting harmonics of The Ghosts Of Mayfield Lodge, Percy Jones shows us that it is possible to play fretless electric bass and not be a Jaco clone.
“The title track is a tour de force for our man Percy - talk about sliding harmonics and overall chops! Earth Dance could almost have been a hit. To me, it's happy-fusion that pre-dates happy-jazz.
“Every track on this album is filled with metric modulations, unison runs and chops up the yin yang. Truly one of the greatest fusion records ever recorded.”
Listen: Brand X - Masques (1978)
Joni Mitchell - Shadows And Light (1980)
"It was tough to choose between this album and Weather Report’s 8:30, but I had to include at least one live Jaco Pastorius recording. I saw the Joni Mitchell tour twice - one night was great and the other was a bit of a disaster when Jaco stormed off stage after he couldn’t get the echo-repeat going in his solo.
“This record was obviously recorded on the brilliant night, and there is none of the aggressive/punk Jaco that surfaced at times on other recordings, and none of the ego wars between him and Weather Report leader Joe Zawinul that you can hear on 8:30.
“This is Jaco at his most sensitive. Like Miles Davis, his every note has a beginning, middle and end. I cry every time that I hear Hejira. Honestly, it’s just too beautiful for words.”
Listen: Joni Mitchell - Shadows And Light - Jaco Pastorius' bass solo (1980)
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