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Artist’s Choice: Junius Paul on Electric Bass Giants

The bassist picks some powerful and deep basslines for this playlist

Junius Paul
Junius Paul (photo: Andrea Falcone)

A vast amount of electric bassists and basslines have provided a great influence on my musical approach, making it very difficult for me to choose a few. Each bassist and bassline on this list possesses distinct individual qualities and also shares a number of similarities. Although crafted from different regions of the world and representative of different musical styles, these basslines share the qualities of powerfully deep and resonant tone mixed with thick melodic structure.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the songs in this Artist’s Choice:

Verdine White
“Shining Star”
Earth, Wind & Fire, That’s the Way of the World (Columbia, 1975)

Verdine White is a bass legend. The discipline that he shows with his basslines, I think, is quite amazing. When you listen to the parts of the line, he shows that you don’t have to necessarily play a lot of stuff outside. The bassline to “Shining Star” is not just some dope bass stuff that got put on there. He does put embellishments in there, but he creates these lines and they become part of the composition.

“It Really Doesn’t Matter to You”
The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder, 2011)

That particular song, how Thundercat composes the melody, the chord progression, you mix that in with the fact that he’s recording everything on the bass. At least to me, it doesn’t sound like all these overdubs. It sounds like he’s doing all of this at one time. There’s a certain pocket that’s always present. It’s really dope how he put the song together. It’s got this beautiful yet mysterious melody to it.

Stevie Wonder
“Golden Lady”
Innervisions (Tamla, 1973)

It’s not an electric bass song. It’s a Stevie-on-left-hand [of a synthesizer] song, if that would be allowed. You can hear the influence of James Jamerson, who is one of the great bass innovators. I’ve always said that Stevie Wonder is James Jamerson gone to outer space. “Golden Lady” is a great example of that. It’s an incredibly beautiful song and it doesn’t sound like left-hand bass. It sounds like a bass player. His understanding of bass is to be noted.

James Jamerson
“Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)” / “Save the Children”
Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On (Tamla, 1971)

That’s James Jamerson, one of my biggest musical influences. If you listen to “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)” and “Save the Children,” one goes straight into the other. Jamerson is playing this upward progression—it’s a floaty thing, but he gets so much into the mood of it. It’s not so much about a bunch of notes. He can keep things simple yet be such a huge presence through tone, note choice, and feel.

Jaco Pastorius
“Portrait of Tracy”
Jaco Pastorius (Epic, 1976)

“Portrait of Tracy” changed the game. That self-titled album is one of the best debut albums that I’ve ever heard. That’s solo Jaco and the clarity of every single thing that he does in that song … everything is clear. His use of harmonics mixed with sustained fretted notes is really something else. It’s a beautiful composition, and you can feel the emotion in the song.

Bernard Edwards
“Le Freak”
Chic, C’est Chic (Atlantic, 1978)

It’s my favorite disco bassline, and there was a lot of great bass playing in the disco era. You can’t overlook that when you talk about electric bass. The synchronicity with [guitarist] Nile Rodgers … you can feel the time they put in together. That’s very important. You have to be in sync with every entity of the unit that you’re playing with. He’s holding this theme, this couple of motifs, and everything’s building around it in the band. It shows how the bassline can operate from the ground up.

Willie Weeks
“Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)”
Donny Hathaway, Live (Atlantic, 1972)

Willie Weeks has had a huge influence on my playing and my sound. There’s just an amazing pocket on [“Voices Inside”]. In that particular song, the way he links with the drummer is amazing. Then, the bass solo toward the end, I feel, is one of the classic electric bass solos of all time. My brother put me onto the Donny Hathaway Live album. Listening to that bass solo as a young electric bassist trying to learn the instrument, it was huge for me to hear that.

Aston “Family Man” Barrett
“Slave Driver”
The Wailers, Catch a Fire (Tuff Gong/Island, 1973)

The thing I love about Aston “Family Man” Barrett is that his basslines are actual melodies themselves. I can separate the line from the song and play it by itself. It stands on its own. His brother, Carlton “Carlie” Barrett, was [the Wailers’] drummer, so there’s a family connection that fuels the musical connection. That’s evident in their chemistry.

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Junius Paul

Junius Paul is a bassist, composer, and bandleader based in Chicago. He has played acoustic and/or electric bass with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Makaya McCraven, Fred Anderson, Dee Alexander, Curtis Fuller, Oliver Lake, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Marquis Hill, KRS-One, and Donald Byrd, among others. His debut album as a leader, Ism, was released in November 2019 by International Anthem.