A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Adam Clayton and how his bass playing, despite often being deemed simplistic, is actually essential in creating U2’s sound. While I was out on the road this weekend I was diving deep into the music of Jimi Hendrix, whom I have always loved, but haven’t listened to with this kind of focus for a couple of years.
Anyone that doubts Billy Cox, Jimi Hendrix’s bass player from Band of Gypsys on, only needs to listen to First Rays of the New Rising Sun. There are some serious deep pocket grooves and some sixteenth note work that is especially challenging if you understand the bass. He was much more of a traditional bass player than Noel Redding, whom I also love for different reasons. Billy Cox had a thicker sound and a deeper pocket. He filled up a great deal of space while Noel Redding played with a more frantic style that worked great for the early part of Hendrix’s career.
Anyway, I have been listening to Machine Gun lately from the Band of Gypsys album. In many people’s opinion this is one of if not the high point in Hendrix’s career. Hendrix was able to capture the imagery of the Vietnam War through the sound of his guitar.
Overall, the bass line is pretty simple compared to some of Cox’s other bass lines. Although he occasionally branches out and jams, at around 7:25 minute mark for instance, but for the most part he lays down relatively simple deep pocket bass lines that hold the song together. The most memorable one is the descending bass line that he starts the song with and employs throughout many of the songs twelve plus minutes.
First of all the bass line is very memorable. If you listen to the song the part that will most likely stick in your head is this hook line that he plays on bass. Also, even though he is playing somewhat simply he is playing with great tone and feel.
However, I again want to state that this main part of the bass line, and the bass line for most of the song, is pretty simple. I am pretty sure it is something I could have played early on in my career. But just because it is not extremely technically challenging does not mean it is not brilliant and functional. Again, it is very memorable. But what is most important about it is that it provides the glue and the foundation of the song. Because of this foundation that Billy Cox creates it allows Hendrix the freedom to play transcendentally. Hendrix doesn’t have to worry about holding the song together. Cox does this and because of that Hendrix is free to let his imagination run rampant.
I stated in that post on Adam Clayton that someone has to stay home and block. Someone has to hold a song together. It is often the bass, but it can be any instrument. Having someone in a band that is willing to subdue their ego is so important. It doesn’t mean that they subdue their creativity, just that they are not concerned with having a staring role at all times. Unless is it is AC\DC, Crazy Horse, or punk music, I’m not a fan of the simple root note style of bass playing. I do want to hear some creativity. I want to hear someone do something unique. One should never confuse simplicity with lack of ability or lack of creativity. Also one should always realize that when someone is onstage getting their moment to shine, it is often because someone else in the band is laying down a foundation that can be built upon.