The World’s Greatest Bass Solo
It wasn’t about chops. It only had one note. But it was the best solo I’ve ever heard.
Everyone knows a version of the old joke: When drums stop, bass solo begins. The bass solo could well be the Slim Jim™ of the music world: people either love listening to them or they hate them so much they conjure thoughts of tossing a grenade at the bass amp as soon as one starts. As a bassist myself, this quandary is something I’ve contemplated many times during my career.
Why do so many people regard bass solos as mere commercials between musical episodes? I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to watch one band or another and noticed that during the bass solo audience members strike up conversations, order drinks, go to the bathroom – anything but listen to the solo. Of course, this never happens when I solo (he says sarcastically), but you know what I mean.
Perhaps it’s because we bassists, along with our band-mates, don’t consider our solos in the same light as we do the solos of other instrumentalists. And, if that is true, that difference is transmitted to the audience.
I’ve watched numerous bass solos in my day. One thing I’ve often noticed is that the bassist seems to be playing for himself (or herself) and not the audience. The solo has nothing to do with the song; it’s all about blazing runs and other “look-at-me” antics. As a counterpoint to this “all about me” attitude, I’d like to tell you the story about the simplest and most effective bass solo I’ve ever heard. No, it wasn’t one of mine and the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
I went to hear two friends at a concert years ago. They were the drummer and bassist for a successful regional band that played some raucous punk-rock. The hall held about 2,500 people and, as headliners, their set lasted over two hours. The last song, a medium-fast piece, had a heavy eighth-note bass line supported by your basic thud-rock drumbeat – bass drum on 1 and 3, snare drum on 2 and 4:
Boom Crack Boom Crack B-Boom Crack Boom Crack
Pretty straight, but slammin’ in its intensity, and the crowd is just loving it. After a guitar solo, a third verse and chorus, and another guitar solo, it’s finally the bassist’s turn. Everyone dropped out but the drums. Big intro by the singer, the whole bit.
The singer points at Mike at the appropriate downbeat, all the lights dim except for a spotlight on him, and a little on the drummer. And Mikey stops along with the rest of the band…all except for the drums, which keep playing, even though Joey (and the rest of the band) is a bit confused.
Walking to the edge of the stage, Mike cops his RockGod Pose #24 – feet spread, menacing look as he peers out of tons of hair. He grabs his bass neck in his left hand, raising it and his right hand to the ceiling. The crowd goes nuts.
Mike holds this pose for some time, gazing around at the audience. He sees someone worth pointing to and does so with conviction. The people in the general direction of his pointing hand go wild.
Lowering his hands, he struts across the stage looking for someone else to point at. Every time, the crowd’s intensity rises a little more. Joey’s back there doing his beat, putting everything he has into it. The one time he tries a small fill, he gets the look of doom from Mike that says “Don’t do that. This is my solo.”
So Joey’s playing straight as can be and, two minutes into the “solo”, Mike hasn’t played a note. But the crowd is going absolutely bonkers. Finally, standing dead center at the front of the stage, Mike begins to play a low E:
THUD! (two, three four) Th-THUD! (two three four)
The crowd screams so loud they drown out the drums completely. On Mike goes, Thudding away on the downbeats only, looking every bit the god of thunder. Whenever Mike throws an occasional glance back at Joey, Joey gives him a look like “well, great. When are you gonna solo?”
To which Mike responds with a look that says, “this is my solo”.
The crowd is going completely nuts; they’re about to start tearing out the seats and setting them on fire. Finally, Mike gives the look, and after one final THUD, plays a series of eighth notes that start at the low threshold of hearing and crescendo to the limits of his amplification, bringing the band back in for a chorus. The lights flare to life, the pyrotechnics belch forth and you’d have thought you were witnessing the end of the world. The whole place is shaking with the stomping and yelling and cheering of the crowd – it’s so loud, you can barely hear the band. And we’re talking a band playing at Ramones-level volume.
Later, after the show, backstage was filled with people. And you couldn’t get near Mike for hours because everyone wanted to talk to the guy that brought the house down with a Low E on the downbeats, an attitude, and nothing else.
It may not have been an impressive display of chops…or theory…or anything else. But, man, that was a Bass Solo!
Was this article helpful? Let me know in the comments below. Share it with your friends using the tiles below, and hit the LIKE button if you’re of a mind! ~ LoB