Even though 2020 has been one of the grimmest years in living memory, we in the bass community are counting our blessings – because we’ve been entertained, educated and enthralled by some truly astounding performances at the low end.
It was tough to assemble a list of bassists who’ve blown our minds in the year of the mutant virus, because there were so many deserving candidates, but you rewarded our efforts by voting in huge numbers for all the accomplished bass players below.
The winner combines everything we love about bass – a thunderous tone, a technique that beggars belief and an unselfish, band-comes-first attitude. As always, we bassists are there to serve the song, and nowhere does this maxim hold more true than with our Bassist Of 2020.
Let’s raise a glass to all who took part, and thank you for voting!
1. John Campbell, Lamb Of God
We’re delighted that John Campbell has won this year’s poll. While his band, American metallers Lamb Of God, play incredibly heavy music that is absolutely not for everyone, bassists of all styles can learn from his approach.
When we told him about this result, he said: “While recognition is not sought after by most in my position, it is a great honour to be recognised by the brilliant readers of the infallible Music Radar by being voted Bassist Of The Year.
"My day today has been made a little brighter from the show of support from our fans, thank you all. Until we can gather as we did to perform and enjoy live music, stay safe, stay healthy and wear a mask!” Check out Campbell’s incredibly finessed picking on LOG’s song ‘Memento Mori’, which came out in March this year.
2. Jerry Barnes, Chic
Second place this year goes to the amazing Jerry Barnes, whose slick work with the mighty Chic make him a worthy replacement for the great, sadly late Bernard Edwards.
Barnes fills the huge void of Edwards’ absence with driving, upbeat lines that redefine disco for the modern day. Precision-engineered disco bass literally doesn’t get better than the moment when ‘Le Freak’ goes into ‘Good Times’ at this Chic show from last year.
3. Michael Manring
The great thing about our community is that we’re not blinded by fame or bling, as evidenced by our third-place result for the great Michael Manring.
Experimental to the maximum, and exploring the sonic possibilities of bass with an innovative approach to tuning and range, Manring doesn’t play the mainstream game – and yet here is at number three, in recognition of his immense talent.
His new album, Small Moments, is stuffed full of Manring’s signature unorthodoxy. Who else taps, slaps and strums a bass with a capo halfway up the neck?
4. Victor Brandt, Dimmu Borgir
There is no more metal bassist than Victor Brandt, who held down the low end in premier Swedish death metallers Entombed before he switched nations and genres to the Norwegian black metal titans Dimmu Borgir.
The man even has a pickup on his signature Sandberg bass in the shape of an inverted cross. There’s an hour of live Victor, filmed just weeks before the coronavirus shut everything down, right here.
5. Suzi Quatro
After half a century and more as a professional bass player, Suzi Q is as creative as ever, spending this year’s lockdown in a frenzy of activity. She’s written two albums, embarked on a Quatro biopic and delivered a series of bass videos in 2020, while most of the rest of us were slumped on our sofas. Learn those immortal Quatro bass-lines here...
6. Ryan Madora, sessions
Blues specialist and bass educator Ryan Madora is a Philadelphia-raised, Nashville-based stage and studio musician of enormous creativity and style.
She’s been writing a column for Bass Player magazine throughout 2020, fortunately for us. In one of her recent video tutorials, Madora teaches us to create a groove using the minor pentatonic scale. Get to it...
7. Scott Reeder, session star
Bass player, producer, film soundtrack writer – and smallholding farmer, with a ranch out in the California desert – Scott Reeder is an everyman of the low frequencies.
He’s best known for the timeless albums he recorded with Kyuss back in the Nineties, but his huge body of work since then reveals a talent that just will not stop. Check out the ethereal bass tones on ‘When I Was’ for evidence of the genius of Reeder.
8. Lee Sklar, session legend
One of the most recorded bass players in history, Lee Sklar has a CV that includes a vast number of tours, sessions and albums.
Now 73 but with the energy of a musician half his age, Sklar continues to operate at the very highest level of our industry, most recently forming a band of legendary session stars called the Immediate Family.
Take a look at Sklar revisiting Phil Collins’s ‘In The Air Tonight’ (no gorillas or chocolate pictured...)
9. Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam may be on hiatus this year for obvious reasons, but that hasn’t stopped bassist Jeff Ament from getting creative: in fact, the renowned 12-stringer hasn’t really stopped moving since PJ’s Ten days.
His EP, titled American Death Squad as a description of America’s outgoing leadership, is packed full of his razor-sharp bass playing. Check out his eerie recent single here.
10. Cliff Williams, AC/DC
As we speak, AC/DC are at number one all over the world with their new album, Power Up. It’s bolted to the floor with Cliff Williams’ huge bass parts, played with a precise attention to muting and so perfectly timed that they’re practically hypnotic.
Anyone who thinks that bass in AC/DC is an easy job isn’t really listening. Listen to their latest single, ‘Shot In The Dark’, here.