The 70's In Bass
Bass Player|December 2020
“The Seventies were all about lead bass!” says the mighty Suzi Q. Let’s take a 148-bassist look back and figure out what really went on back then...
By Joel McIver

You know what? Suzi has a point... but it’s not quite as simple as it seems. Looking back from 2020, all these decades later, you could argue that the first couple of years of the Seventies were essentially an extension of the Sixties, certainly in bass terms, and indeed from many other cultural angles too. Before funk and jazz fusion really started to make themselves felt, many high-charting bass-lines were heavily indebted to the classic bassists of the previous decade, an early example being Free’s 1970 single ‘All Right Now’, anchored by Andy Fraser’s sublime, James Jamerson-alike line. On that note, Jamerson himself remained active on sessions throughout the Seventies, with recordings alongside Gladys Knight &

The Pips, Robert Palmer, Smokey Robinson, and Ben E. King making it clear that the master wasn’t about to hang up his P-Bass just yet.

Jamerson wasn’t the only Sixties stalwart playing his way into the new decade. The great Carol Kaye worked on soundtracks, and the occasional session with artists such as Barbra Streisand; Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who had created an influential body of work in the Sixties with Booker T & The MGs, was as busy as ever; and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane was still delivering the West Coast vibes. Meanwhile, Charles Mingus was still playing, although his health was poor; Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez was sporadically active at club level; Milt Hinton was showing no signs of retiring; and Norbert Putnam and Jerry Scheff were playing with great panache alongside Elvis Presley over the doomed icon's last few years.

Still, as time passed, many of the old stagers upgraded their bass style. Most famously, Paul McCartney—who had walked away from the world’s biggest band at the end of the Sixties—returned with a new band, Wings, and focused on building a new fanbase. He pulled it off, too, reaching stadium level in the USA by the latter years of the Seventies. His Beatles-era colleague Klaus Voormann continued to play alongside that band’s alumni, too.

Meanwhile, Bill Wyman brought a little more funk into his act as the Rolling Stones entered their imperial period; John Entwistle of the Who evolved into a technical genius, developing his still-mystifying ‘typewriter’ plucking technique; and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin brought his best melodies yet, as his band ascended to become the biggest hard rock act of them all.

By ’73, the times they were definitely a-changing, and a new—and defiantly Seventies-flavored—brand of rock star was headlining stadiums worldwide. Aerosmith ruled the waves, with Tom Hamilton delivering expert support; the Eagles were no less popular, with a weighty bottom end from Timothy B. Schmidt. Kiss and Queen were also touring at the top level within a couple of years, and while you might not immediately notice any similarities between the fire-breathing Gene Simmons and the mild-mannered John Deacon, consider both bassists’ economical approach to melody and groove.

By the end of the decade, fans of rock bass were spoiled for choice, thanks to Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, Garry Tallent of the E Street Band, Dee Murray and Kenny Passarelli of Elton John’s band, John McVie of Fleetwood Mac, John Lodge of the Moody Blues, Peter Cetera of Chicago, Ross Valory of Journey, Tiran Porter of the Doobie Brothers, and even Walter Becker of Steely Dan.

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