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Fifteen Great Bass VI Tracks

 

With the 2012-2013 introductions of brand-new Bass VI models by both Fender and Squier after a lengthy absence (Fender’s original Bass VI debuted in 1961 and was discontinued in 1975), here’s a look at some of the players who’ve used the instrument over the decades and some of the tracks they used it on. You might be surprised by some of the names. And you might be even more surprised by how much material there is with a Bass VI on it. There’s a real wealth of it, and that’s not even including all the film and television music featuring the instrument.

We’ll start at the beginning—the early 1960s—and work our way to the present. Each song is a great example of the deeply distinctive sound of an instrument that has now made a welcome return. Get ready for the deep six …


“Main Title Theme (from The Man With the Golden Arm)” (Jet Harris, 1962)

Former Shadows bassist Terence “Jet” Harris used a Bass VI on his first two solo singles, 1962’s “Besame Mucho” and “Main Title Theme (from The Man With the Golden Arm).” The latter, in all its twangy low-end glory, is heard here as Harris wields his Bass VI on European TV:

 

“Now’s the Time” (Hollies, 1963)

Original Hollies bassist Eric Haydock often favored a Bass VI. He’s seen here playing an early three-switch model (post-1962 models had four switches) in 1963 U.K. film It’s All Over Town as the Hollies perform “Now’s the Time”:

 

“I Feel Free” (Cream, 1966)

Probably the most visible Bass VI player of the instrument’s original era, Jack Bruce played one during a brief mid-’60s stint with Manfred Mann before forming Cream in 1966. He used a Bass VI—which soon received a psychedelic paint job—on much of the band’s 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream. Bruce slings his not-yet-custom-painted Bass VI here (again, a three-switch model) as the Cream perform “I Feel Free” on German TV’s Beat Club in February 1967:

 

“Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell, 1968)

Sources conflict over whether Campbell used a Bass VI to record the Jimmy Webb-penned hits “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” (1968 and 1969, respectively), but he certainly used one for at least one televised performance of the former—here he is on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, Bass VI authoritatively in hand:

 

“Hey Jude” (Beatles, 1968)

George Harrison and John Lennon sometimes picked up a Bass VI whenever Paul McCartney was busy at the piano late in the 1960s, as Harrison did for the David Frost-hosted filmed performance of “Hey Jude” seen here. Lennon played it during filmed performances of  “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road,” and is also credited with playing a Bass VI on “Helter Skelter,” “Back In the U.S.S.R.” and “Rocky Raccoon” from The Beatles, and on “Dig It” from Let It Be. Harrison is further credited with playing it on “Birthday” and “Honey Pie” from The Beatles, and on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Carry That Weight” from Abbey Road.

 

“The Tale of Taliesin” (Soft Machine, 1976)

As bassist for acclaimed U.K. progressive rock/jazz fusion outfit Soft Machine, Roy Babbington played a Bass VI throughout his 1973-1976 tenure with the band. As he does here, in a televised performance of “The Tale of Taliesin” shortly before he departed the band:

 

“Back in the Saddle” (Aerosmith, 1976)

Joe Perry reportedly wrote and recorded the molten main riff of swaggering 1976 Aerosmith Rocks scorcher “Back in the Saddle” with a Bass VI, and do note at this point that with this pillaging testosterone-drenched performance, we have indeed come a long way from Jet Harris in 1962. There doesn’t appear to be any footage of Perry playing the song onstage with a the instrument, but dig this isolated track from the studio version, and tell us that ain’t a Bass VI that Perry’s brandishing to bring the Wild West to its knees:

 

“Little Sister” (Ry Cooder, 1979)

One of the more unusual uses of a Bass VI here. Ry Cooder included a calypso-tinged cover of the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman-penned 1961 Elvis Presley hit “Little Sister” on 1979 album Bop Till You Drop, and he later noted in an interview that he recorded the song using a Bass VI with a capo fixed “way up the neck” (so don’t go by the picture here). Hear for yourself:

 

“Quisquoise” (Cocteau Twins, 1985)

It’s quite possible that here we have not one but two Bass VIs weaving the kind of rapturous sonic tapestry that was pretty much business as usual for the Cocteau Twins at the height of their great powers for, well, weaving rapturous sonic tapestries. Bassist Simon Raymonde said “Quisquoise,” from 1985 EP Aikea-Guinea, is a track that he and guitarist Robin Guthrie “wrote together standing up with a Bass VI each dueling” (and it sounds like title track “Aikea-Guinea” features a Bass VI, too). Guthrie once noted in an interview that he had “two Olympic White ’62 Fender VIs—two of the first 30 made, so I’m really happy about that,” and that “There have been several songs in the past where Simon and I would play [them] simultaneously, and playing those in harmony is a really nice effect.” They’d certainly know about effects. Here’s “Quisquoise”:

 

“Keep on Walking” (Klaus Flouride, 1988)

Dead Kennedys bassist Geoffrey “Klaus Flouride” Lyall sometimes wields a Bass VI, as evidenced here on 1988 solo track “Keep on Walking.” It’s quite blue. The Bass VI, that is—it’s blue:

 

“Pictures of You” (the Cure, 1990)

If Jet Harris is the past master of the Bass VI, Robert Smith is surely the modern master. Perhaps no band has put the instrument to more prevalent contemporary use than the Cure, starting in earnest with third album Faith (1981)—the first album on which Smith used it—and concurrent lengthy instrumental piece “Carnage Visors.” His Bass VI work appears sporadically on mid-’80s albums such as The Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and figures prominently on Disintegration (1989), Wish (1992), Wild Mood Swings (1996), Bloodflowers (2000) and 4:13 Dream (2008). Periodically in-and-out guitarist Porl Thompson occasionally played a Bass VI, and Perry Bamonte played one extensively during his stint with the Cure from 1990 to 2005. Get a good picture of Smith’s Bass VI work in this live version of “Pictures of You”:

 

“Ripple” (the Church, 1992)

Longtime Church bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey has been a longtime Bass VI fan ever since he first saw one (and bought it) in Sydney, Australia, in 1984. He used it to record acclaimed 1992 Church album Priest=Aura, and has often played one onstage, as seen in this performance of a track from that album, “Ripple,” in Sydney in 2011:

 

“Slave to the Wage” (Placebo, 2000)

Placebo’s Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal have both used Bass VIs for stage and studio work, particularly on albums Placebo (1996), Without You I’m Nothing (1998) and Black Market Music (2000). Molko used his on tracks including “Scared of Girls,” “Narcoleptic” and, as seen here, “Slave to the Wage.” Olsdal used his on track such as “You Don’t Care About Us,” “Pure Morning,” “The Crawl,” “Burger Queen” and “36 Degrees.”

 

“Godless” (Dandy Warhols, 2000)

Dandy Warhols guitarist Peter Holmstrom has been known to put a 1962 Bass VI to extremely cool use, as in this way-groovy live performance of “Godless” on Australian TV’s Live at the Chapel:

 

“Dark Light” (John Frusciante, 2009)

For tenth solo album The Empyrean, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante busted out his Bass VI for tracks “Dark/Light” and “Central.” Trippy. Here’s the former:

 

 

 

 

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