Watch Some of the Most Powerful Bass Guitar Solos Ever: Geddy Lee, Flea, Bootsy Collins, John Deacon & More

At her site Ari’s Bass Blog, bass play­er and teacher Ari­ane Cap shoots down many of the argu­ments against solo bass music—that is, music played sole­ly on bass gui­tar. To the objec­tion that “bass­es have a job to do in a band con­text,” she writes, “what this ‘job’ is can vary great­ly!” To anoth­er com­plaint, she responds, “even when imi­tat­ing gui­tar tech­niques on the bass, it is still bass play­ing.” Her defens­es of solo bass (and her fine instruc­tions on how to play it well) work equal­ly for the bass solo, when the often least-noticed mem­ber of the band steps out and takes the lead for a few moments.

The idea that bass play­ers are all wall­flow­ers or invis­i­ble, less-tal­ent­ed mem­bers of the band is, of course, a bad rock and roll stereo­type. Nat­u­ral­ly, the best bass soloists in rock are some of the play­ers who have drawn the most atten­tion to the instru­ment and shown how crit­i­cal it is.

But not all great bass play­ers are great soloists. The solo requires a par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion of pow­er and agili­ty. The bass soloist is some­thing of a musi­cal ath­lete.

A gui­tar solo can coast, so to speak, on tone, on per­fect­ly-cho­sen notes played with just the right vibra­to and sus­tain. A bass solo is anoth­er mon­ster. Whether plucked, picked, or slapped, bass solos usu­al­ly involve a lot of notes attacked very hard and very fast, up and down the neck—a feat any­one who’s held a bass gui­tar will know requires a lot of dex­ter­i­ty and strength.

Mar­vel as you watch the shoul­ders, arms, and fin­gers on left and right hands of these play­ers move with uncan­ny pre­ci­sion, in clips from some of the all-time bass solo greats here. At the top, John Entwistle wins top prize for suc­cinct­ness. His bored expres­sion may seem to give away the pre-record­ed TV game, but even live onstage he nev­er seemed to raise an eye­brow when pulling off licks like these.

Below him, Ged­dy Lee stretch­es out, and makes your arms tired from watch­ing him move all over the fret­board, build­ing from one fig­ure to anoth­er before a final explo­sive shred. Fur­ther up, Stu­art Hamm, onstage with Joe Satri­ani in 1988, gives a solo bass per­for­mance at the Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val, mov­ing effort­less­ly from Beethoven’s “Moon­light Sonata” to a series of gor­geous arpeg­gios to some genre-hop­ping the­atrics the crowd devours.

Though he made his bones as one of the fastest bass soloists on the block, Fleas’s solo bass per­for­mance uses delay and echo effects to slow things down sig­nif­i­cant­ly and expand the pos­si­bil­i­ties of solo bass, bring­ing it into the tonal realm of the gui­tar while still demon­strat­ing the tremen­dous phys­i­cal­i­ty bass play­ing requires. Just above, see Boot­sy Collins pull off a sim­i­lar feat in a full band con­text, prov­ing that bass solos can be made of slow, soul­ful melod­i­cism and heavy, fuzzed-out licks.

Collin’s tour-de-force per­for­mance is hard to top, but for con­trast, and to reem­pha­size the ver­sa­til­i­ty of the bass as a solo instru­ment, whether play­ing all alone or tak­ing a brief turn in the spot­light, see Queen’s John Dea­con pull out a flaw­less, short and seri­ous­ly sweet bass solo live on “Liar,” just above, looped for ten min­utes straight so you can mem­o­rize every note.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of the Bass: New Video Gives Us 500 Years of Music His­to­ry in 8 Min­utes

What Makes Flea Such an Amaz­ing Bass Play­er? A Video Essay Breaks Down His Style

Who Are the Best Drum Soloists in Rock? See Leg­endary Per­for­mances by John Bon­ham, Kei­th Moon, Neil Peart, Ter­ry Bozzio & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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