7. Rhonda Smith – Rhonda Smith has the look, style, and finesse as a bass player to keep up with one of the true rock bad-asses: Prince. For more than 10 years Rhonda has added quite the funky element to the Purple One’s music. She can slap with the best of them, as well as lay low in the mix when necessary. Rhonda learned from the best, Sly and the Family Stone’s Larry Graham, and as Prince says in the hyperlinked clip, “She’s takin’ it to another level.” Make it funky.
6. Carol Kaye – Carol Kaye was the first female bass player to truly make a statement. Her work on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is otherworldly. Most people think Brian Wilson played bass on the album, but he was too busy working on all the intricate details of recording his masterpiece. Kaye has played on some of the most important recordings of our time, including a few Motown recordings and many Simon and Garfunkel tracks.
Carol has a unique “plunky” style that she has been teaching other bass players since the release of her first tutorial in 1969. Kaye also is a helluva guitar player, having recorded with Ritchie Valens on La Bamba. Most recently, Carol is enjoying a semi-retirement, only doing the occasional session.
5. Sheryl Crow – I’ve always had a thing for Sheryl Crow. She is the perfect mix of beauty and ability, both as a songwriter and as a bass player. Crow first came on the scene as a backup singer on Michael Jackson’s Bad tour. Soon thereafter she released Tuesday Night Music Club and became one of the most well-known pop acts in the country. Crow has mad skills on both guitar and bass, switching between both instruments in concert. Sheryl rocks my world. What was Lance Armstrong thinking? One-nut bastard.
4. Kim Deal – In 1985, Kim Deal tried out to be the bass player in The Pixies, and even though she had never played bass before, she got the gig. It certainly helped that she was the only one trying out. Deal quickly learned on the job over the next few years, becoming a major force in the band’s sound. Deal formed The Breeders on the side and achieved great success with both bands in the early ’90s, and Kim has really come into her own as a bass player. Her work on the Pixies reunion tour was amazing. Rumor has it she is working on new albums with both of her bands.
3. Kim Gordon – Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon is the queen of noise rock. Gordon has been on the forefront of the NYC music scene since she helped form the pioneering band 26 years ago. Kim is capable of producing sounds never heard from the bass. Her playing is so incredibly unique, and her sound has changed so many times over the course of her career, shooting her towards the top of this list. Gordon, with her husband and band mate Thurston Moore, continues to create important music that combines aspects of sound from multiple genres.
2. MeShell Ndegeocello – Meshell can do it all. Slap funk? No problem. Smooth groove? Piece of cake. Need someone to sing? She’s your girl. Can she rap? Of course she can. Ndegeocello is one of the most in demand players in the business. Over the past 10 years she has played on albums by John Mellencamp, Alanis Morrisette, Prince, and Chaka Khan. Meshell has also played with a number of more jammy artists like Gov’t Mule, Soulive, Santana, and Josh Redman. Fourteen years after starting her career, Ndegeocello’s bass playing is only getting stronger, and her new album, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, has just been released.
1. Tina Weymouth – Now we get to the goddess who started this whole debate: Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads.
Tina was the first bass player to combine punk and disco within the same bassline. Over the years she has created a literal shit-ton of incredible basslines, including the driving beat of Psycho Killer and the urgent synth’d-out bliss of Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place). Weymouth picked up where Carol Kaye left off, and by doing so opened up bass playing to a whole new generation of female players. I love the way Tina looks when she gets serious and puts all of her effort into keeping a groove.
Since the Talking Heads broke up in the ’90s she has produced albums by The Happy Mondays, Ziggy Marley, and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. When I started playing bass in high school I studied the shit out of her bass lines, and the structure always blew me away. Tina will always be #1 in my book.
Honorable Mention: D’arcy Wretzky (Smashing Pumpkins), Michael Steele (The Bangles), Suzi Quatro, Gail Ann Dorsey, and Jen Z. (Antigone Rising)
So here is your chance to tell me who I missed or why my opinion is wrong — leave a comment below with your thoughts…