Brotherhood of the Funky Pants
From Stanley Clarke to Larry Graham to Chris Squire to Glenn Hughes to Flea to Me’Shell NdegeOcello – I love them all. And it seems that many of the famous bass players know each other. On Tony Franklin’s web site, there are pictures of him with Bootsey Collins, Verdine White, and Stanley Clarke. On Glenn Hughes’ site, there are pictures of him with Dug Pinnick of King’s X, the late John Entwistle, Duff McKagan, Michael Anthony, as well as a picture of Glenn with Tony. Could there really be a Bass Players Club?
So what would this club of four-string strummers and the people who loved them be called? When I was in Las Vegas a few years ago, I saw a tee emblazoned with the logo for an imaginary Metalheads Union. It got me to thinking…
“INTERNATIONAL AMALGAMATED FUNK MASTERS OF AMERICA
Bringing You the Funk for 50 Years
Brotherhood of the Funky Pants
From Motown to Midlands to Your Town”
Let me explain. Even though bassists come from all over the world, it seems like the best of them end up in the United States. And fifty years seemed like a reasonable amount of time. I know that upright basses have been around for centuries and the first electric basses probably were developed in the forties and fifties. In the book Funk, writer Rickey Vincent lists the beginning of funk at the early sixties, the pre-dynastic era when gospel, rhythm and blues, blues/rock and jazz were starting to influence each other. Around the same time, European musicians, especially British ones, were discovering the sounds of African American music. The Funk Brothers were getting together at Motown. And maybe not all bassists play funk, but all bassists can get funky if the need arises. How can one play those thick strings without wanting to slap them every now and then? Just like all drummers can play a stripper riff, all bassists can find the funk when they want to get down. Isn’t that part of the fun of playing a bass?
Okay, now about the funky pants. It seems like bass players have always liked to wear strange looking pants. Look at pictures of Glenn Hughes, back in Trapeze and Deep Purple days and even now. Look at pictures of Larry Graham with Sly and with Graham Central Station. Check out videos of The Firm and Blue Murder to witness Tony Franklin’s predilection for unusual trousers. Flea wore them, when he wasn’t just wearing a sock. So did original Living Colour bassist Muzz Skillings and even Sting. And can we even talk funky pants without mentioning Bootsey Collins, the bassists of Parliament/Funkadelic, and Verdine White in the heyday of Earth, Wind and Fire? If you have ever seen The Song Remains the Same, you know that Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones was no stranger to funky pants either.
There appeared to be a few breeding grounds for hot bass players. Many of the best American musicians came from the Midwest. Motown featured some of the best African American bassists of all time. Dug Pinnick and Verdine White came from Chicago. The Ohio Players came from Ohio. Some of the best hard rock bassists of the seventies and eighties came from the middle counties of England. Glenn Hughes came from Staffordshire, Tony Franklin came from Derbyshire, Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath and Ian Hill of Judas Priest are from Birmingham, and Rick Savage of Def Leppard came from Sheffield.
Okay, I know this isn’t an exact science. Maybe your favorite bass player doesn’t fit into any of the above categories or maybe you feel that some of the players I mentioned don’t fit as neatly into categories as I think they do. But so what? It makes me happy to think of a Bass Players Union. I would like to think there is a secret handshake, maybe even a secret decoder ring. I mean, there has to be something, doesn’t there? Guitarists have six strings, drummers have a battery of drums around them, keyboardists have eighty-eight keys, but bass players make it all happen with four strings and a vision.
So all hail the Brotherhood of the Funky Pants, those players who with four strings and sometimes no frets, create music that will live forever, that will resound in our minds and rebound in our nether regions as long there is music, ears to hear it, and flesh to feel it.