Top 10 Greatest 90’s Alternative Rock Bassists

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Ever wonder just who are the top 10 greatest alt-rock bassists to have ever walked the earth? Well, I have good news – today is the day you find out! And the info below has been compiled from my 24th book overall, entitled The 100 Greatest Rock Bassists, which you can find ordering info for by clicking here (in addition to the countdown in the book, you will find several exclusive interviews I conducted that will be of interest to fans of alternative rock n’ roll – Les Claypool, Mike Watt, Glen Matlock, Cris Kirkwood, Doug Wimbish, etc). Lastly, a friendly clarification – this is NOT the final “top 10” in the book, but rather, solely the alt-rockers grouped together. So, now that we have that out of the way…on your mark, get set, go!

10. Adam Clayton (U2)

With Bono’s vocals and the Edge’s distinctive guitar stylings absorbing most of the spotlight in U2, Adam Clayton’s simple-yet-effective basslines still managed to help drive things along. Case in point, such early classics as “I Will Follow” and “Gloria.” And as heard in such tunes as “Exit” and “Lemon,” Mr. Clayton could also certainly hold his own when the bass was required to stand up, front and center.

9. Tim Commerford (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Prophets of Rage)

The main reason why RATM has stood the test of time was how utterly brilliant the instrumentalists in the band were – including their awesomely tattooed bassist, Tim Commerford. While there is no denying that he frequents the funk, it appears as though Tim’s main bass role model was Rush’s Geddy Lee – as evidenced by his penchant for playing Fender Jazz models and a Moving Pictures-esque tone at times.

8. Justin Chancellor (Tool)

When it came time for Tool to replace their original bassist, Paul D’Amour, they could not have picked a better feller than Justin Chancellor. Chancellor’s style can be described as alternating between repetitive and rubbery (and even a bit percussive at times) – a fine example of “the repetitive” being “Schism,” and “the rubbery” being the title track off their sophomore full-length, Ænema.

7. Norwood Fisher (Fishbone)

Fisher’s bass playing was obviously influenced by such ‘70s funk giants as Bootsy Collins and Verdine White. But by injecting his playing with the adrenaline surge of punk rock, Fisher’s playing on such classic Fishbone releases as 1988’s Truth and Soul is absolutely awe-inspiring – especially on the it-needs-to-be-heard-to-be-believed bass solo in the middle of “Bonin’ in the Boneyard.”

6. Muzz Skillings (Living Colour)

When you’re the bassist in a band with musicians who are impressively at the top of their game as Living Colour, it would be understandable to have difficulty holding your own. But LC’s original bassist, Muzz Skillings, had no complications at all – offering up first-rate funky and groove-heavy bass parts throughout their two most popular (and possibly, best) albums, 1988’s Vivid and 1990’s Time’s Up.

5. Doug Wimbish (Living Colour)

Doug Wimbish had some mighty big shoes to fill when he was asked to replace Muzz Skillings in Living Colour. But with a résumé that already included serving as part of the rhythm section on classic recordings for Sugarhill Records – including supplying the awesome bassline on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster & Melle Mel – as well as the experimental funk act Tackhead, LC couldn’t have picked a better chap.

4. Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club)

Not very many funky bassists came out of the original CBGB’s scene in NYC circa the mid to late ‘70s (which was known primarily for punk rock). But the Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth was certainly a notable exception.



3. Mike Watt (The Minutemen, fIREHOSE, the Stooges)

While it is tempting to neatly say “the first bassist to merge punk and funk together was Flea,” this just isn’t the case, dear readers. A chap by the name of Mike Watt just may have been the first – as heard in his work with the Minutemen during the early/mid ‘80s, and later, as a member of fIREHOSE and as a solo artist (while a stint with Iggy & the Stooges erased the “funk” part of the equation).

2. Flea

A valid argument could be made that it was not until the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea (real name – Michael Balzary) burst onto the scene in the mid-late ‘80s that the slap bass technique was finally fully accepted within rock music. Up to this point, slapping and popping was assigned almost exclusively to funk and dance styles. But with the group’s commercial breakthrough (namely 1989’s Mother’s Milk and 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik), “punk funk” was introduced to the world, and did an absolutely swell job of merging both aforementioned styles together.

1. Les Claypool

While the majority of other hard rock bands that injected funk into their sound at the time had probably only recently discovered the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and were suddenly trying to wedge Flea-style slapping/popping into their metal riffage), Primus’ singer/bassist Les Claypool did not focus on the technical aspect of it. Rather, rhythmic basslines were his main focus.

To order a copy of The 100 Greatest Rock Bassists, click here for paperback, here for Kindle, or here for the Nook version.

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Bio: After having his articles posted from other outlets on Alternative Nation (and before that, Grunge Report) for years - heck, he was even interviewed by GR back in 2009! - Greg Prato finally began contributing articles to the site in 2014. He has written for various sites/mags over the years (Rolling Stone, All Music Guide, etc.), and is the author of quite a few books. And as evidenced by such titles as Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, and Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets, he also has a deep fondness for alternative rock n' roll music. You can check out info on all of Greg's books here, see what he's up to on his Twitter page here.
  • kuba

    Mike Watt & Justin Chancellor !!!!

  • Kay B

    Justin Chancellor should have been higher. Les is amazing though. I saw him many years ago at an outdoor venue and the cement beneath my feet shook. He is so talented even Metallica rejected him because he was too good for the band.

  • Stone Gossardish

    As I scrolled down I thought “you’ve got Jeff Ament in the top 5, which sounds about right but he shouldn’t be number 1 just becuase of all the amazing songs he wrote.” Then I had to chuckle when I saw he wasn’t even on the list. That’s a good one.

    • Michael Dolce

      You know, he doesnt get enough credit.. however i don’t think he’s top 10. Noveselic from Nirvana is more distinctive and could be added here

      • Stone Gossardish

        I would agree. Krist is a guy that’s likely inside of a top 10 though his career wasn’t maybe as long as some of the others.

      • Trovoid

        His bassline in Lounge Act has always been impressive.

  • Trovoid

    In that old clip of RHCP you can see how much cocaine they used to do! Flea is good but I’m glad Les got the top spot. He is on another level.

  • Trovoid

    In that old clip of RHCP you can see how much cocaine they used to do! Flea is good but I’m glad Les got the top spot. He is on another level. And yeah Jeff Ament should be on this list and Justin Chancellor and Tim Commerford should be higher. Also where the hell is Robert Deleo???