I don’t really get asked this too often, likely because the genres of music I specialize in aren’t necessarily known for great bass players—in the sense of flashy playing. On the contrary, flashy playing is what usually makes a poor bass player. Here are players that inspire me.
While her main band is about as far outside my wheelhouse as it gets, I love how Bridget Kearney lays down a groove (YouTube link) and can effortlessly sing complex phrases while playing. Singing and playing does not come easy for me, so I am always impressed by it.
Speaking of singing and playing at the same time, Esperanza Spalding is the absolute master of this skill. She is an incredible player who approaches the instrument as a singer first (YouTube link), who incidentally happens to be playing bass in the background.
Carol Kaye has probably inspired more bass players than any other player in music history, and many of them might not even know it (YouTube link). The wrecking crew is easily the most legendary group of musicians ever put together, so naturally their bass player makes my list.
Francesca Alinovi is one of very few modern players to use a brush pad, first used by Howard Watts in Hank Williams band. Drums weren’t allowed on the Opry, and this was kind of a workaround. Francesca knows more about American roots music than most Americans and has had a huge influence on my playing—with and without the brush pad (YouTube link).
My favorite album of all time is Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth. It dropped at a very key moment in my life. I was in middle school, had recently started playing bass, and was stuck on a lot of band trips where I didn’t have very many friends. Kim Gordon was my first bass hero. She’s fucking bad ass (YouTube link) and I still want to be just like her when I grow up.
You may have noticed that these bass players are all women. It’s no coincedence that today is International Women’s Day. In a patriarchal society, it is important that you seek out women in your field to inspire, lead and mentor you. This list was not hard to make because a young woman I knew a long time ago told me to do it. Trans women bass players, I’m looking for you!