Bass-ic instinct New Stone may well get satisfaction


"TC It isn't the sort of job you're likely to find listed in the want ads. For one thing, they don't want just anybody sending in a resume; only applicants of the highest caliber will be seriously considered. Besides, they've gotten enough free publicity since the job opened that there hasn't been any real need to advertise.

But if there were an ad running somewhere, it would probably look like this:

"BASS PLAYER WANTED for established English rock band with recording contract. Good pay, reasonable hours, high visibility. Should be blues-influenced, with strong melodic instincts and ability to groove. Must be willing to travel."

What's the band? Why, the Rolling Stones, of course. And the sudden opening -- stemming from the recent retirement of 30-year veteran Bill Wyman -- is the band's first since guitarist Mick Taylor left the Stones at the end of 1974.

But unlike that departure, which was almost immediately followed by reports that Faces guitarist Ron Wood would be signing on with the Stones (which, in fact, he did), there is no buzz on who the new bassman will likely be. In fact, there aren't even any obvious contenders.

Strangely enough, though, that doesn't seem to bother die-hard Stones fans. Maybe it's because Wyman has always been something of a cipher onstage, standing expressionless in the background as Jagger, Richards and Wood strutted and mugged at stage's edge. Or perhaps it's that he was becoming an embarrassment -- not only was he, at 56, the oldest Stone, but he was also the randiest, with a lengthy (and painstakingly recorded) list of groupie conquests as well as an ex-wife younger than his son.

Still, I suspect the real reason Stones fans aren't upset by the band's bass-less state is that many of them secretly fantasize about auditioning themselves.

Admit it -- wouldn't you like a shot at becoming a Rolling Stone? For one thing, it's the closest thing to royalty the rock world has to offer. Moreover, once in, you'd be set for life, inasmuch as the Stones seem to make millions even if their albums don't sell big.

But the best thing about applying for this job is that you'd be meeting the band not as a fan, but as an (almost) equal. As Mick Jagger recently explained to Musician magazine, "You can't audition a bass player on his own, you have to audition him with a band."

And we all know which band that would be.

How would you know if you had a shot, though? What would it take to impress these guys?

Obviously, it would help if you already have a bass and know how to play it, but there's no need for fleet-fingered virtuosity. In fact, that sort of thing may actually work against you. As Jagger told the English magazine Q, "You don't want someone who's desperate to break out of this simple rock feel. 'Cause it's not a fusion band. . . . You don't want the bass player to be too showy."

OK, so you won't have to worry about competition from Jack Bruce or Stanley Clarke -- what else? Well, you may want to invest in some first-rate amplification.

That's how Wyman got the job. As he recounts in his book, "Stone Alone," Wyman turned up for his audition with a bass rig "about the size of a door, with my 18-inch speaker and amplifier that ran in. In those days, that was really big stuff."

Big stuff today is a little different, of course, but you may want to ditch your old Peavey amp and invest in a bi-amped system by Trace Elliott, SWR or Hartke Systems. With good cabinets and rack-mounted signal-processing gear, it should only set you back about as much as small Toyota.

Mainly, though, you've got to know the material. "Of course I know the material," you think. "I'm a Stones fan, aren't I?" Maybe so. But unless you listen carefully to your favorite singles, odds are that all you really know are the guitar lines.

Take "Satisfaction," for example. Everybody knows that one, with its familiar "duhnnt-dunn, da-da-dunn, da-dunn-dunn" hook. But were you aware that the bass line takes another course entirely? Listen closely, and you'll hear that the bass not only plays different notes from the guitar, but provides a separate set of accents. (Odds are that's one they'll expect you to know, too).

Likewise, the bass line in "Jumpin' Jack Flash" doesn't follow the signature guitar lick, but thumps along on the tonic, locked into the same groove as Charlie Watts' kick drum. And then there's "Brown Sugar," which not only gives all the good parts to the guitars, but expects the bass player to sit silently all the way to the first chorus.

This is no job for an egomaniac.

That's not to say that every bass part in the Stones' band book is bone simple. While there are few songs that call for the sort of fleet-fingered virtuosity John Entwistle brought to the Who, there are some surprisingly tricky bits sprinkled here and there (like the swooping octaves at the end of "Paint It Black").

Moreover, the job calls for a certain amount of stylistic flexibility, since you'll have to slip easily from the Motown-derived "Under My Thumb" to the octave-stepping disco groove of "Miss You" to the dub-style pulse of "Undercover of the Night." In fact, if recent recordings are any indication, the bass player is the one Stone most expected to keep up with the latest trends in time-keeping.

But the bottom line to this job won't be strictly musical -- it will have to do with how well you fit in with the rest of the band.

Frankly, this is where most of us are likely to come up short. Playing like the Stones is one thing, looking and feeling like them quite another. Think about it -- would you like being the only one in the band without a supermodel for a girlfriend? Do you really want to be the one guy onstage who doesn't convey that drop-dead cool every fan in the world associates with this band? Could you stand being the Stones' resident geek?

For that kind of money, of course you could. After all, it's only rock and roll.


Assuming you don't get the job and become the newest member of the Rolling Stones, who will? Here is a look at some of names being bandied about as possible replacements for Bill Wyman.

Duck Dunn

Credentials: Alumnus of Booker T. & the MGs, played sessions with Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, others.

Advantages: Right age, grew up on the right music (blues, gospel and country), is a master at simple, soulful bass lines.

Disadvantages: He's American, plays more soul than rock, not exactly good-looking.

John Entwistle

Credentials: Former Who bassist.

TTC Advantages: English, the right age, stands almost as still onstage as Wyman.

Disadvantages: His playing is way too busy for most Stones tunes.


Credentials: Bassist with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Advantages: Young, hot player, as at home with hip-hop and funk as with rock and roll.

Disadvantages: Already in a successful band, looks much younger and hipper than the other Stones.

Randy Jackson

Credentials: Former member of Journey, session player with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and others.

Advantages: Versatile player, immensely capable, works well with big stars.

Disadvantages: Virtually unknown outside the session scene, not skinny as the other Stones.

Ronnie Lane

Credentials: Former Faces bassist, occasional duet mate of Pete Townshend.

Advantages: Right age and background, played for years with ** Ron Wood, friendly with Charlie Watts and Keith Richards.

Disadvantage: Suffers from MS, although reportedly in remission.

Paul McCartney

Credentials: Ex-Beatle.

Advantages: Already famous, writes, can easily double on guitar.

Disadvantages: More famous than Jagger or Richards.

Chuck Rainey

Credentials: Session bassist for Aretha Franklin, countless others.

Advantages: Groove expert, with near-encyclopedic knowledge of rock and soul styles.

Disadvantages: Virtually unknown outside session world.

ey Spampinato

Credentials: Bassist with NRBQ.

Advantages: Strongly melodic player, similar taste in music, played with Richards in Chuck Berry tribute band, right height.

Disadvantages: Little reputation outside America, still devoted to NRBQ.

Doug Wimbish

Credentials: Former member of Sugar Hill house band and Tackhead, current member of Living Colour.

Advantages: Strong, versatile player, worked with Jagger on last two solo albums, younger and hipper than the other Stones.

Disadvantages: Younger and hipper than other Stones, about to begin tour with Living Colour.

Willie Weeks

Credentials: Session player with Gregg Allman and George Harrison.

Advantages: Good grounding in Southern rock and soul, mentioned by Jagger in several interviews.

Disadvantages: Jagger never mentions anybody he's seriously considering in interviews.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad