10 bass greats pay tribute to the genius of Queen’s John Deacon

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(Image: © Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty)

Although the Queen legend continues to develop over time - with this year’s Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, the latest chapter in the tale - it has been 21 years since the band’s unsung bass hero, John Deacon, hung up his strap.

Ranked the 30th best bassist of all time by MusicRadar users and responsible for two of the best basslines ever for Under Pressure and Another One Bites The Dust, Deacon was the bedrock of Queen’s orchestral approach to rock, embellishing and supporting the song in all the right places.

To celebrate his low-end legacy, we asked 10 of our most illustrious bass pals, including the likes of Lee Sklar, Mark King and Billy Sheehan, why they love Deacon’s playing. Here’s what they had to say…

Lee Sklar (Phil Collins, Toto, James Taylor)

“I performed at the first Rock In Rio festival in 1985 with James Taylor – we were on before Queen on that show. All I have to say is that it took me a day to lift my jaw off the floor. I sat with my mouth agape watching one of the most professional shows I’d ever seen. I’m such a huge Queen fan and John created some wonderful bass parts.”

Mark King (Level 42)

“John’s role in Queen is often overlooked, given the larger-than-life characters he was in the band with, but having played many of his basslines with Brian and Roger, and having had the pleasure of standing stage-side watching him perform on tour in Germany back in 1986, I was in awe of his ability to always do the right thing for those great songs. Top man and a top player.”

Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, Winery Dogs, Sons Of Apollo)

“Queen were a huge band, real musicians – I was a big Queen fan. John wasn’t instantly noticeable. The voice and guitar usually mean everything to the public, but the public don’t realise that the bass and drums are probably the most important element. He was a great, great, solid bass player and I love when a guy can jump between genres and do it convincingly.”

Nathan East (Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson)

“John not only laid down the bass to Queen’s big hits, but he composed several of their Top 10 singles, like Another One Bites The Dust, where the bassline identifies and drives the tune home. It made it all the way to my neighbourhood.”

Neil Fairclough (Queen + Adam Lambert, Elio Pace)

“It feels very special to play John’s basslines. The Fairy Fellers Masterstroke is a tour de force, as is The Millionaire Waltz. I’ve heard that John never wanted to be told the chord progressions, because he wanted to do his own thing. There’s the functionality part of the bass which John performed great, and then there are the lovely parts he created without stepping on anyone’s toes. When you hear the back end of Sail Away Sweet Sister, it’s a lovely trail-off part and you’re actually saying ‘Keep going, keep going!’”

Neil Murray (Brian May, Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Rainbow)

“Having played many of John Deacon’s basslines live around 3,000 times, I’m a great admirer of his creativity and solidity as a bassist. A nice chap, too!”

Paul Turner (Jamiroquai, Annie Lennox, Take That)

“My dad was a big fan of Queen, and A Day At The Races and A Night At The Opera were two albums that we shared time listening to over and over – and over! John’s sense of melody and counterpoint, and his ability to add tasteful sub-hooks and runs, were key ingredients in the band’s music. Quality.”

Phil Spalding (Robbie Williams, Tina Turner, Elton John, Mike Oldfield)

“Is there anyone in the music world who isn’t familiar with the intro bass riffs to Under Pressure or Another One Bites The Dust? There lies powerful and irrefutable evidence of John’s enduring influence on popular music culture. Freddie Mercury once said to me, ‘I must always know what the bass is doing.’

“John always supported the song and the singer perfectly, as if he were a modern-day Motown bass player. He always played the right thing for each song, giving his more flamboyant bandmates the space they needed to do their respective things. Queen without John’s musical sensibility would have been a very different animal.”

Dave Swift (Jools Holland - and a cast of thousands)

“Considering John was known for his quiet demeanour, he quite often displayed some fearless and audacious playing in Queen. He clearly wasn’t afraid of playing exposed basslines and fills in the upper registers of the instrument. Listen out for all those tasty triplet fills, and some truly bodacious playing up ‘the dusty end’!”

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