Punk Rock Bassists You Should Know and Probably Do

By Stevil, November 27th, 2016

Paul Weller (left), Rick Buckler (ground), and Bruce Foxton (air) of The Jam.

Keith Morris once said that bass [guitar] is the party instrument, suggesting that bass was perhaps the most important instrument in a rock 'n roll band.

I don't know if I completely agree with Keith (who can honestly say they trust a man who hides baldness with dreadlocks?), but I will say that bands trying to half-ass music by tuning down, or using an octave pedal, to cut-out bass completely, STANK! I can't say that word with the life and color that Dave Niehaus did, but feel free to insert your memory of his voice over top of mine (as if anyone knows the sound of my voice).

You 't can't cheat in rock 'n roll. There are no shortcuts. This isn't the first time I've said this. Many guitar players believe that they're bass players as well, simply because they can pick a string. Truth is, many failed, or demoted, guitar players turn to bass as an attempt to save face, or stay active. Some times they cut it, many times they don't. But most of the punk rock bassists listed below are the real-deal. They are true bassists and are worthy of your respect. It's no fault of their own that they weren't born with the same talents and skills that have proven more attractive to the opposite (or same) sex. So to be clear, this isn't a singles list, that's merely a coincidence.

With that said, in no particular order:

  1. Mike Watt. Best known for stealing Kira from the dreams of virtually all punk rock males aged 12-64 in the mid-80's that weren't obsessed with Debbie Harry, he also fared well playing in Minutemen and Firehose, eventually even stepping in for the Stooges.
  2.  Steve Youth. One of the most underrated bassists in music--period. While the speed and flurry with melodic hooks are flowing steady from Bobby, Troy, and Kevin, Steve's the guy going all over the place, demanding that everyone listening follows along and recognizes them for their creative brilliance, as much as they do for their power and energy.
  3. Karl Alvarez. You know who the Descendents are, and you probably know all about ALL. But did you know Karl's name, or the fact that he wrote many of their greatest songs? He double-handedly made flatwound strings cool again. He also beat cancer just as fiercely as his yellow-callused fingertips beat on Ernie Ball's. Few could have filled the shoes of Tony Lombardo so well, and Karl did just that, as he inherited Tony's shoes after Descendents locked him out of the van and sped off from a gas station in the middle of nowhere. All of Tony's clothes and personal belongings were inherited by a worthy successor.
  4. Ed Urlik. Much like Karl, and coincidentally, toured with Karl (think Monsters of Food), Ed made his bands a lot of fun to check out live, as well as on record. He was 1/3rd of Chemical People, all of whom later joined Dave Smalley to form Down By Law and put out one of the most important punk record I've ever heard, which was their first album (self-titled).
  5. Darryl Jenifer. I'm trying to keep this incredibly short list diverse, and Darryl is arguably the most diverse of them all. This particular goliath has not only blessed us with meaningful music in three truly different playing styles from within the same band, but he's among the best story-tellers out there as well.
  6. Michael Balzary. Skipping the all too easy pun, Flea, much like Ron Burgundy, was/is the balls (I lied), and many bassists exist today because of him. Everyone should at least own "Mother's Milk". Nothing more really needs to be said.
  7. Bruce Foxton. One of the most important and influential bassists, Bruce was one of the pioneers that has defied the test of time, somehow appearing exactly the same as he did in 1977 and sounding every bit as energetic and thoughtful. For the record, he looked 55 in 1977.
  8. Mike Dean. Corrosion of Conformity was one of the most brutal hardcore acts around, and Mike was at the forefront of it all. His bass lines never get lost, regardless of speed and aggression, and they'll replay over and over in your head 'til you collapse from exhaustion, which was his intention with each recording. 
  9. Chuck Dukowski. Black Flag's original bassist, Chuck helped convey a whole new concept upon Southern California--and the nation. Who couldn't relate with "My War" and didn't feel the adrenaline to rebel against every form of oppression--and depression--after hearing that one? Well, thank Chuck for masterminding that masterpiece, and many others.
  10. Steve Soto. From Agent Orange, to Adolescents, Steve is one of the truly great musicians and song writers to have graced our genre. In fact, he's so well loved and respected, that Fidel Castro himself personally took a knee and begged him to come play in Cuba--which he did--and it led to a huge improvement in relations between the U.S. and the isolated, island nation. Thank Steve for doing what countless U.N. ambassadors had failed to do for 50+ years.  
Seriously, I could have easily spit out another 20 remarkable names, all of which are easily identifiable, as their work protrudes out of each song and into your cardiovascular system upon listening. That's what makes everyone listed here, and not listed here, so great: their bass lines weren't just background noise, or guitar-enhancers. They drove some of the greatest music we've ever heard both live, and on record, and it always stuck out like a blonde-headed American of German, Belgian, and Swedish Heritage--and a handsome one I might add (runnin' with Burgundy-inspired one-liners here)--living in Brazil.

That's some big-time sticking-outage. 


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