This topic has been a hot topic for musicians for years, sometimes even resulting in full-blown arguments. The question is “Who’s the greatest bassist of all time?” This is a great discussion, as everyone qualifies musicians differently.
Some people are more concerned about music theory and technical skills. Some people care about the bands that the bassists played in, and which ones had the greatest mass appeal. Others care about how many albums were sold and the tours they took. Many people will listen to “authorities” and favor those who have won more awards.
All of it is important to our list. All of it matters. It’s difficult to narrow it down to a top 10 list, as there are many more worthy of mention. We have an honorable mentions section as well as a runner-up section. If you don’t find your favorite, continue reading. All of the greats are honored here.
It is also fascinating to see which artists and bands are the greatest bands of all time. While some were able to share the success with other greats while others had to bear the weight of their greatness while also playing with lesser-talented musicians on different instruments, some bass players struggled to balance that. Let’s now count down the top ten list of bassists…
#10 – John Paul Jones
ASSOCIATED ACTS : LED ZEPPELIN, THEM CROKED VULTURES
John Paul Jones has collaborated with many top musicians around the globe as a session musician and arranger, writer, producer, and writer. While he was a part of songs by Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens and Donovan, Jones was already regarded as one of the top. We all love and know him as the keyboardist and bassist of Led Zeppelin.
Jones was happy to be a support role but it was his licks and riffs that made the foundation for the great songs of one of the most recognizable bands of all-time. His commitment to the arts is evident in the number of albums, tours, TV shows and charity appearances he has appeared on or at.
Trivia Facts John Paul Jones formed a supergroup called Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and Josh Homme after Led Zeppelin’s disbandment. Others on the list consider Jones their greatest influence like Flea and Gene Simmons. He is also very rich, but in a good way.
#9 – Jaco Pastorius
ASSOCIATED ACTS – WEATHER REPORT, PAT METHENY
Jaco Pastorius is well-known in the bassist community. Although most music fans may not be familiar with his name, they have probably heard him perform with great artists such as Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. His unique blend of Latin, Caribbean, Latin, jazz and Motown styles is what makes him so popular.
Pastorius’ expressiveness and stamina are a benchmark for musicians, especially when it is about playing fretless bass or pounding out 16th notes. Pastorius was the epitome of “effortless mastery”, using techniques such as artificial harmonics or the movable anchor.
Trivia Facts Jaco Pastorius began playing drums, but after sustaining a wrist injury playing football, he started to learn how to play the bass guitar. At 35, he was beaten up by a bouncer in a club. Charles Mingus was also a major influence on his life. His Bass Of Doom became a Custom Shop Fender series.
#8 – Victor Wooten
ASSOCIATED ACTS : BELA FLECK, THE FLECKTONES, SMV
Victor Wooten is well-known for his ability to master complex R&B arrangements. Many say he picks up where Jaco Pastorius left him but with more funk. He is a strong performer, and has developed new techniques like “double thumping” or other variations.
His impact on music is more than just performance. He has held “Bass/Nature”, has published a lesson book, has released 11 solo albums and has formed partnerships with other bassists to help promote the art. Fodera is his favorite model of bass.
Trivia Facts Victor Wooten was a guest on many occasions with the Dave Matthews Band, and created some of their most memorable moments through his solo’s. Three times he was named Bass Player of the year by Bass Player magazine.
#7 – Geddy Le
ASSOCIATED ACTS – RUSH
Geddy Lee, the keyboard player and lead singer in Rush, is a musical genius. Geddy Lee can do all three simultaneously with foot pedals and act as a rhythm section. This incredible talent has earned him 7 Grammy nominations and sold over 40 million records.
His style of bass playing is to treat it as a lead instrument. He rails the strings very hard and focuses only on the high treble. Fender introduced the Geddy Lee Jazz Bass signature model in 1988. Fender also received governmental titles in Canada, which is his country of origin.
Trivia Facts – Geddy’s inspirations for bass are Paul McCartney and Chris Squire. He is an inspiration to Les Claypool, and many other musicians. His distinctive vocals are a countertenor falsetto. He is a wine and watch collector with over 5,000 bottles.
#6 – Stanley Clarke
ASSOCIATED ACTS: RETURN TO FOREVER, THE NEW BARBARIANS, SMV
Stanley Clarke is a big winner, even though you may not have heard about him. He has won 5 Grammy’s and been nominated for 15 more, largely with Chick Corea’s band Return to Forever. He is undoubtedly the first bass star, having headlined sold-out shows around the world and recording to gold.
Clarke uses a bent wrist technique to approach the strings as if he were playing an upright bass, as shown in the above image. This allows him to achieve his slap-n pop sound. He originally wanted to join the Philadelphia Orchestra. It’s a good thing it didn’t!
Trivia Facts Stanley Clarke is a prolific film and television scorer, including Boyz n the Hood and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Clarke started Roxboro Entertainment Group in 2010, named after his high school. Clarke’s electric bass is on permanent display at Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
#5 – Les Claypool
ASSOCIATED ACTS : PRIMUS. OYSTERHEAD. THE FROG BIGADE. C2B3.
Because he has been asked to compose music for many TV shows, Les Claypool is more popular than people realize. For example, he’s the genius who wrote the South Park theme song. He is also the founder and lead musician of Primus, where also contributes vocals.
Claypool is well-known for his unusual bass playing style, which includes tapping, slapping and Flamenco-style strumming. Chris Squire and Geddy Lee are Claypool’s main influences. Jerry Was A Race Car Driver will show you how crazy and unique this man is.
Trivia Facts Les Claypool has written for many TV programs and video games. He was the composer for South Park and Robot Chicken’s theme songs. He is an avid fly fisherman. He records the majority of his music, both self-producing and engineering in his Rancho Relaxo studio.
#4 – Larry Graham
Larry Graham is not only a pioneer of soul and funk, but he is also known as the inventor of the slapping technique to electric bass guitar. It’s what he calls “thumping, plucking.” Other greats have used this percussive enhancement to the bass sound, such as Victor Wooten, Bootsy Collins, and Stanley Clarke.
Graham’s story goes that his mom fired him as a drummer in an early band and he had to learn how to add drum sounds to his playing. This was a major turning point in the history of funk. Although he doesn’t know if his mom was being stingy at the time, he has no regrets.
Trivia Facts Larry Graham worked closely alongside Prince to produce his solo album GCS 2000. Darric Graham, the singer-songwriter and uncle of Drake, is his son. Only 1000 copies were printed on one of his solo albums, and it was only sold at concerts.
#3 – James Jamerson
ASSOCIATED ACTS : MOTOWN, THE FUNK BROOTHERS
There might be a lot of emails about why I didn’t put James Jamerson in number one, but I think the man who played bass on almost every Motown song should get that slot. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has helped push 23 songs onto the Billboard Hot 100 and 56 to the top spot on the R&B charts.
By adding inversions, syncopation and ghost notes to the basic bass playing style, he expanded it. His modifications were so well-received that they became an integral part of Motown’s sound. As an early adopter, he helped to define how the electric bass guitar should sound.
Trivia Facts James Jamerson was part of the Funk Brothers. This group consisted of studio musicians who played the majority of Motown’s hits in the 1960’s, 70’s, and then performed gigs in the evening. Although it’s difficult to list all his hits, he was a part of the top songs for The Supremes and The Temptations, Stevie Wonders, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and many others.
#2 – Flea
ASSOCIATED ACTS RED HOT CHILI PETERS, ATOMS RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS.
Flea is a founding member the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea’s playing style combines hard rock, punk, and funk elements. He also slaps and pops the strings. His talent was so sought-after that he recorded over 40 records for other artists from 1995 to 1998. These included Alanis Morissette’s classic Jagged Little pill.
Their 2002 concert at Hyde Park was the most-grossing concert in a single venue. He was driven to learn more and enrolled in college in 2008 to study composition, music theory, and jazz trumpet. This is what it takes in order to be one the greatest bassists ever.
Trivia Facts – Flea is actually Michael Peter Balzary. He is an actor who has been in more than 20 movies and television shows. Silverlake Conservatory of Music is his co-founding organization. It provides music education for children from underprivileged backgrounds. In high school, he met Anthony Kiedis, a vocalist for the Chili Peppers. They became best friends and remain best friends today.
#1 – John Entwistle
ASSOCIATED ACTS : PETE TOWNSHEND, ROGER DALTREY
John Entwistle was The Who’s bass player. His musical skills were unmatched by any other member. He played at full treble at high volumes, much like Geddy Lee. His pentatonic lead lines set him apart from the rest and earned him the nicknames The Ox and Thunderfingers.
He was able to attend school alongside other great musicians, which allowed him to be involved in many top-tier bands at the time. His playing style consisted of fingerstyle, tapping and using a pick. He also incorporated many harmonics. His style was known as the typewriter approach.
Trivia Facts – John Entwistle was an inspiration to many others like Geddy Lee or Chris Squire. He was a key player in the creation of the Rotosound roundwound string. As a member of The Who, he was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on September 1, 1990.
Runners up: Who is almost a best bassist?
It is difficult to choose ten of the most outstanding bassists of all-time. We have four runners-up to make it easier for you not to react. These guys may be in your top 10, so we thought they deserved a mention.
ASSOCIATED ACTS JAZZ WORKSHOP MILES DAVIS, JONI MITCHELL
Charles Mingus is regarded as one of the greatest jazz composers and musicians in history. After switching to the cello in highschool, his primary instrument was the double basse. He was soon writing and playing with some the greatest musicians of the 1940s and 1950s.
Mingus’ style incorporated elements of soul, hard beat, black gospel and blues as well as classical and jazz (especially Third Stream). He was a strong advocate of collective improvisation. His list of collaborators is extensive, with names such as Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Pepper Adams.
Trivia Facts The Library of Congress bought Charles Mingus’ music, sound recordings, photographs, and letters in 1933. They called it the most significant acquisition of jazz ever. Mingus Dynasty, Mingus Orchestration and the Mingus Big Band still perform his compositions.
ASSOCIATED ACTS METALLICA, EZSTREET, TRAUMA
His career was defined by Cliff Burton’s four-year stint as Metallica’s bass guitarist. You can hear Burton’s bass on the first four albums. He mentioned Stanley Clarke and Geddy Lee as his influences. Burton was so great that Anthrax, Metal Church and Metal Church each dedicated an album to him.
Aria Pro II Cliff Burton Signature bass was a replica of Burton’s original. His royalties were secretly donated by his parents to a scholarship fund that supports music students attending the high school where he went.
Trivia Facts He died in an unfortunate accident when Metallica’s bus flipped over on its side. In 2009, he was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From the age of 13 through Metallica’s career, he was known for his habitual practice of at least 6 hours per day.
ASSOCIATED ACTS – CREAM, THE GRAHAMBOND ORGANISATION
Jack Bruce is most well-known as the lead singer and bass player of Cream with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ginger Baker. Many of their most memorable hits were co-written by him. He has won all the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. He started as a jazz bassist, but soon moved to R&B and rock music.
His first instrument was the upright bass, but he eventually switched to electric bass because of session work. He was in many bands before and after Cream. His career ended with numerous collaborations with our favorite artists and bands.
Trivia Facts – Jack Bruce went to 14 schools during his youth, as his parents were musicians who moved often.
ASSOCIATED ACTS MOTORHEAD HAWKWIND THE ROCKIN’ VICKERS
Lemmy is actually Ian Fraser Kilmister. He is most well-known as the founder, singer, primary songwriter and bassist of the heavy metal band Motorhead. His distinctive features, including his mutton chop sideburns and soaring voice, made him one the most recognisable figures in rock.
He was a star of many bands, including Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard and the Scorpions. He was featured in movies, TV shows and video games as well as adult films. He was a rock star who lived large and took charge.
Trivia Facts Lemmy was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix before starting his own career. Lemmy was a Rickenbacker bass player, and eventually released his signature 4004LK basse. As a tribute to Lemmy, the Hollywood Vampires performed at Grammy Awards 2016.
Honorable Mentions for The Best Bassists of All Time
Even with the runners-up, there are still many players who deserve to be recognized. So we created this honorable mentions section. We’ll most likely include your bass icons if we don’t. We can’t help but to say that we don’t know of any. There is only so much space!
- Paul McCartney was, among other things, The Beatles’ extremely talented bassist. You probably already knew this.
- Chris Squire was best known for being the bassist of Yes. He had an amazing stage presence and often stole the show.
- Ron Carter is a jazz bassist who rose to prominence with the Miles Davis Quintet.
- Anthony Jackson not only is an amazing bassist, but he also played a part in the design of the contrabass guitar. This is a brand new design for the six-string bass.
- Ray Brown, a jazz double-bassist, worked extensively with artists like Ella Fitzgerald or Oscar Peterson.
- Marcus Miller was another great musician who worked with Mile Davis and Herbie Hancock as well as Luther Vandross.
- Pino Paladino is a bass player for John Mayer and Nine Inche Nails. He also played with Jeff Buck, D’Angelo and other artists due to his immense skill.
- Scott LaFaro is best remembered for his time playing bass in the Bill Evans Trio.
- Bootsy Collins is the bassist that captured hearts with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic.
- Geezeris most well-known as the bassist for heavy metal band Black Sabbath.
Although I feel sorry for all the other names that should be mentioned, it is necessary to end this discussion at some point. We will always remember legends we have missed and we will keep them close to our hearts as top players. They didn’t make it beyond the top 10.
You’d be interested in our list of the greatest drummers , since bass is such an important part of the rhythm section. Because of their close relationship at the low-end frequency spectrum, you’ll see people named here in our list of the greatest bassists of all times.
The Top 10 Best Bassists of all Time
This table lists the top 10 most influential bassists. It includes their names as well as the associated acts.
|1||John Entwistle||The Who, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey|
|2||Flea||Red Hot Chili Peppers, Atoms For Peace|
|3||James Jamerson||Motown, The Funk Brothers|
|4||Larry Graham||Sly & The Family Stone at Graham Central Station|
|5||Les Claypool||Primus, Oysterhead and The Frog Brigade, C2B3|
|6||Stanley Clarke||Return To Forever: The New Barbarians. Smv|
|8||Victor Wooten||Bela Fleck & The Flecktones Smv|
|9||Jaco Pastorius||Weather Report, Pat Metheny|
|10||John Paul Jones||Led Zeppelin and Them Crooked Vultures|