It’s been another vintage year for the bass guitar, with old and new media emitting pavement-weakening low end and a ton of excellent bassists stepping to the fore.
All the bassists here qualify for inclusion in this list because they’ve been active in 2021, whether that means recording, playing live or just making a loud, low-down noise on a website.
As you can see from your winner, fans of bass aren’t afraid to look backwards for inspiration – although there’s plenty of hot new players on our year-end list too.
1. Winner, Best Bassist 2021: John Taylor, Duran Duran
It’s been 40 years since the Birmingham New Romantics Duran Duran first entered the limelight with their debut single, ‘Planet Earth’, and by rights they should have retired to a private island in the Caribbean decades ago. You might think that a career involving 100 million album sales and 30 Top 40 UK hits sounds like a laugh, but with band splits, reformations and – in bassist John Taylor’s case – stints in rehab to contend with, life in Duran Duran must have been pretty exhausting. And yet here they are, not only back in the charts with their new album Future Past but with Taylor winning this poll by a massive margin. You couldn’t make it up, right?
2. Wolfgang Van Halen
It’s been a year since the premature passing of guitarist extraordinaire Eddie Van Halen, and while we remain gutted about his absence, the rise of his talented son Wolfgang has been a pleasure to witness. Forming a band, Mammoth WVH, and releasing an excellent self-titled album, Wolfie has shown himself to be an accomplished singer, songwriter, guitarist and drummer as well as bassist, the role he took up in Van Halen after that band’s bassist Michael Anthony parted ways with them in 2006.
3. Mike Kerr, Royal Blood
Another year, another failure by us to fully understand what Royal Blood bassist and singer has in his pedalboard or how on earth he makes the sounds that propels his band. We do know that he splits his signal into ‘guitar’ and ‘bass’ tones, but beyond that you’ll have to ask him for details. Mind you, we did that a while back and he said no. What an incredible bass player, though, as evidenced by RB’s new album, Typhoons.
4. Henrik Linder, Dirty Loops
You can’t categorise the Swedish fusion band Dirty Loops, because there is no musical territory that they won’t enter and no genre of music that they haven’t effortlessly mastered. Their recent single ‘Ring Of Saturn’, recorded in collaboration with Vulfpeck guitarist Cory Wong, is a smooth jazz workout with a slithery bass part by Henrik Linder that will leave you nodding your head in appreciation, ideally accompanied by a cocktail or two.
5. Alex Webster, Cannibal Corpse
Relentlessly violent death metal has been Cannibal Corpse’s forte for three decades and counting, but behind the horrible song titles, lyrics and artwork lies a band of unexpected subtlety and skill. See the Florida quintet’s new album Violence Unimagined for evidence of the advanced musicianship of bassist Alex Webster, and specifically the tasteful fills he delivers at 1’29” in this clip. “Major thirds were happening there, but I thought a major scale would be a little too happy, so I went with Lydian because it has the augmented fourth, so there’s that tritone in there,” he told Bass Player earlier this year.
6. Gail Ann Dorsey
As all-star tribute bands go, Sound And Vision – who are playing live next month – will take some beating, composed as they are of former members of David Bowie’s many live groups. Prominent among them is the fabulous Gail Ann Dorsey, who played bass with the late icon for many years, as well as singing ‘Under Pressure’ with him live, as you can see here. Like John Taylor, she received Bass Player magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award this year, and for good reason.
7. Lee Sklar, The Immediate Family
If there’s a rock song from the Seventies that you like, Lee Sklar either plays bass on it or would have done if he hadn’t been busy that day. Only Ron Carter and Chuck Rainey have recorded as many bass sessions across their careers (we think), and yet, after thousands of studio dates, the great man is still exploring new projects. His latest band, a gathering of studio veterans called the Immediate Family, is very much worth investigation, and he’s also been keeping us educated and entertained with an online bass channel.
8. Rhonda Smith
‘Won’t Come Back’ is the new single from Rhonda Smith, and we’ll be watching it because everything she does is sold-gold amazing. As you no doubt know, she was Prince’s bass player for many years, performing supremely funky lines alongside the late genius, but she’s been prolific as a solo artist and with other musicians too. Check out the slick bass solos atop this chunk of silky R&B.
9. Trevor Dunn, Mr Bungle
Mr Bungle is a frankly insane American band that decided earlier this year to re-record an ancient demo tape, and record it with special guests Scott Ian of Anthrax and former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. The resulting album, The Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo, is held down by the fast fingers of Trevor Dunn, who also has a rather more serious side gig with the experimental composer John Zorn.
10. Lee Rocker
The coolest band on the planet is the rockabilly heroes the Stray Cats, and we will fight anyone who says otherwise. Their bassist Lee Rocker defied the pandemic last year by driving an Airstream motorhome across America and writing a whole album, Gather Round, on the way. It came out this year and is a phenomenal collection of rock’n’roll anthems, anchored by Rocker’s deft upright bass.