At number four, the unknown variable and the third of the four Johns to appear on the list—John Doe of X, a Los Angeles-based punk band that garnered outstanding critical claim but never broke through at a national level to sustain the success they so duly earned. Born John Nommensen Duchac, as their bassist, Doe took the art of bass playing to whole another level of melodic aggressiveness. Fast and furious, his bass lines could quickly go from zero to a hundred in four measures, yet keep the melody of the song in check while the tribal beats of drummer D.J. Bonebrake mixed with the flashiness of guitar guru and former Gene Vincent guitarist Billy Zoom. Always a cut above their punk contemporaries, Doe never lost sight that X was simply a hard rock band and considered punk by the caustic lyrics of Exene Cervenka that read more like poetry than doggerel. A personal and major influence on my bass playing, Doe introduced us aspiring punk bassists to a world where traditional and non-traditional song structures could co-exist in the same song. As X continues to go in and out of hiatuses, always a maverick, Doe blazes new trails as a singer/songwriter of country and folk music and as a popular film and television actor.
Whether it is the intense speed of “One More Time” or the infectious pace of “Steppin’ Out,” Graham Maby is a bass player’s bassist and third on my list. He has played for Joe Jackson since his first album and has since appeared on almost every album and tour. Joe Jackson, in describing his first workings with Graham, once stated, "we played a couple of jam sessions, but I didn't realize how good he was until we actually played in a band together. I had a bad drummer, but when Graham played the drummer sounded good. That's when I realized how much a bass player could add to a band.” Whether he is playing a sleek bass line or a tricky one, it is always a good one, so why take lessons when you can save the money by learning a Graham Maby bass riff. He just doesn't make mistakes, and he's a monstrous player. Maby's precise timing and fluid attack keep things moving along gracefully, and he knows exactly what to bring to a song.
During his time as a session player, John Paul Jones, the last John to make the list at number two, often crossed paths with fellow session veteran, guitaristJimmy Page.
Jones's decision to leave session work and join a group was due to his desire to express his artistic creativity; hence, the birth of Led Zeppelin. Despite the spotlight invariably being placed on the more flamboyant members of Led Zeppelin, it was Jones's temperament, musicianship, and experience that were crucial elements and added to the success of the band. While all members of Led Zeppelin had a reputation for off-stage excess (a label Robert Plant later claimed was somewhat exaggerated), Jones was widely seen as the 'quiet one' of the group. His professionalism ensured that any excesses experienced on the road never hindered his performance. For his part, Jones has claimed that he had just as much fun on the road as his band mates but was more discreet about it—and this is why he should honored and emulated by all bass players. As their bassist, he was responsible for the classic bass lines of the group, notably those in “What Is and What Should Never Be” from Led Zeppelin II and the power crunch and shifting time signatures, such as those found in “Black Dog” from Led Zeppelin IV. Jones shared an appreciation for funk and soul rhythmic grooves with rhythm section-mate and drummerJohn Bonham, which strengthened and enhanced their musical affinity and dexterity such as those found in “The Crunge” from Houses Of The Holy. He is definitely the grandfather of rock bass and inspiration to all, young and old.
Okay, there is a reason why I titled this piece, Thors Of The Thunderstick. Any reputable bassist in a game of word association will immediately respond with “Mike Watt” whenever the word “thunderstick” is murmured. Unfortunately, Watt has not had much mainstream success or visibility despite the profound impact he has had as a key figure in the development of American alternative rock. Where his music was based on the speed, brevity and intensity of punk, he always included elements of jazz, folk, and funk into his bass lines, sculpting unique and challenging song structures. His years as bassist for both The Minutemen and fIREHOSE may have catapulted him to the top of my list as the best bassist, but that and twenty-five cents still won’t get him a cup of coffee. Even with the Red Hot Chili Peppers dedicating their hugely successful Blood Sugar Sex Magik recording to Watt, that dedication did nothing to skyrocket his career or the impact his bass playing has had on punk and art rock as its bass guru. Throughout his career he has been known for his inventive, melodic playing and his bass lines are often quite distinctive, but only to those who play the bass for its main function—to bridge the gap between the drums and the guitars—I am sure if you asked the bassist from Fall Out Boy what the first thing that pops in his mind when he hears the word “thunderstick” he will refer to the Gary Larson Far Side cartoon where two bears are inspecting a gun they found in the forest and one bear calls it a thunderstick and the other bear duly corrects him by stating that it is Winchester Model 70 rifle.