“Back in my day, nobody chose to be the bass player,” Geddy Lee says. “You were always a guitarist, and somebody said, ‘Well, we need a bass player,’ so they had a vote and you became the bass player.” With a laugh, the legendary Rush bassist adds, “That’s how I became a bass player: I was voted in. I think that was pretty common for the period, because everybody wanted to be Jimi Hendrix; everybody wanted to be Eric Clapton; everybody wanted to be Jimmy Page.”
Lee, who published an enormous tome on electric basses and those who play them back in 2018, is reflecting on the changing perception of his instrument, after responding to a request from Rolling Stone to name his 10 favorite bassists. He himself came in at number 24 on our newly published list of the 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time.
“I adapted to it very quickly and really loved it,” Lee says of the bass. “And I think that’s what happens with most of these great bass players. Now, of course, it’s cool to be a bass player, but it wasn’t always.”
The players that Lee chose for his list — from Sixties and Seventies rock gods like John Entwistle and John Paul Jones to Motown legend James Jamerson and jazz-rock virtuosos like Jaco Pastorius — all had a hand in making the bass that much cooler. They’re a diverse set of players, but Lee says that they all share a particular dual skill set.
“One common denominator for me was always the ability to play melodically, and to enhance the song on a subterranean level,” he says. “So I’ve always gravitated towards bass players that not only locked in with the rhythm section and helped moved the song, but also added some other level of musical interest that may not be as obvious. Usually, that comes out on secondary, tertiary and repeated listenings.”
Here is Geddy Lee’s unranked bassist top 10 — and, in his own words, his explanation for why he chose each one.
Read more: Rolling Stone