A Bassist’s importance in a band is on occasions overlooked by music enthusiasts in favour of lead guitarists and drummers. I don’t know, I guess it’s in our DNA to appreciate a good guitar solo over the lower tones of a bass guitar. But anyone who knows anything about music will tell you, that the most important structure to a song, is always the rhythmic and harmonic foundations provided by the bass. Sometimes the bass is really obvious that its deep pulsating or throbbing sound truly makes a song. At other times the bass can be so subtle that it is almost lost teasing us with an array of atmospheric sounds.
That said, I am not here to give you a music lesson. I would just like to share with you my appreciation of some of the best bass players out there. A list of foremost bassists of all time put together by me would be long and extensive. Among them you would find some truly great luminaries of rock n roll, alternative and indie rock, like Michael Peter Balzary aka Flea from the Red Hot Chilly Peppers, whose innovative bass electronic and funk hooks, made me a fan for life. Standing arguably head and shoulders above most in the bass business is also the legendary John Entwistle from The Who. He almost singlehandedly brought the bass to the forefront of rock & roll songs from the mid sixties. My Generation in particular comes to mind as one of the great bass solo songs of all time. Furthermore, how can we not mention the unsung session bassist Carol Kaye, whose prolific work (with perhaps 10,000 recorded sessions) endeared her to everyone who met her. She performed on numerous records for artists such as the Beach Boys, the Righteous Brothers and Joe Cocker. Of course, I cannot keep rattling of name after name here, so how about I briefly talk about six of my favourite bassists of all time from here on end.
First up in this series was Paul McCartney, who successfully cut his teeth playing bass in arguably one of the greatest rock band of all time The Beatles. I briefly paid homage to five of my favourite McCartney bass riffs. Today, I would like to focus in short on a very talented woman who originally hailed from Montreal, Canada.
Melissa Auf der Maur
Melissa Auf der Maur shares a happy existence nowadays with her husband and young daughter, residing in the small town of Hudson, New York. Although she doesn’t ferociously strum those bass strings so much anymore, juggling motherhood, her love for art and acting keeps her busy enough. But there was a time when Melissa, for want of a better word, was a badass bassist for two of the nineties biggest rock bands, Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, before launching into a successful solo career.
It wasn’t always like that though, in the beginning Auf der Maur had her sights set on becoming a photographer, and playing guitar was little more than a hobby during her college days. But after seeing a Smashing Pumpkins show in 1991, and having to apologies to Billy Corgan on behalf of her friend for throwing a bottle at the stage, she was won over by the ferocious excitement Pumpkin’s punk rock. In short, she abandoned her college class and concentrated on playing bass in the hope of living out her dream as a rock star.
Rock n’ roll fairy tales seldomly come true, but it was a few years later, after finally getting together a band of her own, that she wrote Corgan a letter, asking if her band could open up for the Pumpkins in Montreal. Sure enough, it happened and in the process Auf der Maur’s bass playing caught the attention of Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan, who eventually recommended Aur Der Maur to Courtney Love’s band, as Hole’s replacement bass player after Kristen Pfaff’s fatal drug overdose.
For five incredible years Auf der Maur was part of one of the most successful female fronted rock bands (excluding lead guitarist Eric Erlandson). Beginning in 1994, she was thrust into a troubled world of grief, drug abuse and stadium rock. Through it all, Melissa held her own, playing her pulsating bass the world over. In fact, it probably fair to say her incredible bass lines helped carry Hole’s music forward. Notably, she was also a breath of fresh air in what could have been a truly toxic environment. Erlandson once described her as a shining light, while drummer Patty Schemel described Melissa as her rock or anchor.
Melissa would share writing credits on five of the twelve song’s of Hole’s melodic 1998 masterpiece Celebrity Skin before leaving Hole in 1999. She then toured with the Smashing Pumpkins for a year between 1999 and 2000, and after that, she took a brief break that included taking charge of lead vocal duties for a Black Sabbath cover band, before eventually venturing out on her own.
I love everything about Melissa as a solo artist, even more than her days towing the line as a bassist for Love and Corgan. Sure her bass lines rumble and roll especially on Celebrity Skin, but it is as an artist standing out front on her own where her distorted bass shines the most. But not only that, and if you already haven’t discovered, Melissa is also an amazing vocal talent. Her two albums Auf der Maur (2004) and Out of Our Minds (2010) are alternative rock treats worth listening to. Even as I write, I have Isis Speaks pulsating through my stereo speakers as a fine example of the amazing command Auf der Maur has of her bass. She is even more impressive on stage where her fondness for improvisation makes her one of the most unique bass-fronted singer songwriters around. That said, I hope one day she eventually returns from ‘semi-retirement’ to thrill us with her bass lines all over again.
Photo credits: The header image of Melissa Auf der Maur is by flickr user Kmeron and it is used under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license. The second image of Melissa Auf der Maur is by flickr user Frenk Tatranky and it is used under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. I am not the uploader of the youtube clip embedded here.