Top 13 best blues bassists
Courtesy Willie Dixon archive

“I’m all about that bass!” Meghan Trainor had a fun hit with her song about music’s rumbling low end, an important component of most popular music. Whether they’re playing a chunky rhythm, laying down a seductive groove or standing in the spotlight reeling off a solo, bass players do not always get the recognition they deserve. With that in mind, our four-part series focusing on blues musicians gives a shout-out here to some of our favorite bass players.

13. Larry Taylor
Were you at Woodstock? Taylor was, as a member of Canned Heat, where the band famously played their hit “Going up the Country,” currently featuring in a GEICO commercial. Nicknamed “The Mole,” Taylor also enjoyed stints in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Sugarcane Harris Band.

12. Bob Trenchard
A 50-year veteran of the music business, this bassman now runs blues label Catfood Records. Trenchard has worked with Johnny Rawls, Otis Clay, Barbara Carr, Dave Keller and a lengthy list of other luminaries. When the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards are handed out in 2019, Trenchard will be taking one home.

11. Charlie Wooton
This bass man extraordinaire also writes songs, produces records and teaches. Wooton was a member of the revered Royal Southern Brotherhood for four years and has also played with the likes of Sonny Landreth and the top names in Zydeco. Fans can best hear Wooton’s talents on works like his Charlie Wooton Project album.

10. Brad Hallen
Hallen has an impressive resume in blues circles and far beyond; he’s played bass with Johnny Winter, Duke Robillard and Roomful of Blues but he’s also been a hired gun for Ministry, Iggy Pop, Aimee Mann, Jane Wiedlin, Susan Tedeschi and many others. And good news for up-and-coming bass players; Hallen gives lessons.

9. Terry Dry
Dry plays bass with Mike Zito’s band and that keeps him pretty busy, but not too busy to step out with the other half of Zito’s rhythm section, drummer Matthew Robert Johnson, in a side project called Dry Johnson. The pair have a new album out called Long Live Them Blues Vol. 1 featuring guests Trudy Lynn, Annika Chambers, Steve Krase and their boss Zito.

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8. Johnny Castle
A veteran of more than 40-years in the business, Castle is currently pulling double duty; he’s the bass player for long-running Washington, D.C. band the Nighthawks as well as the front man in his own band the Thrillbillys. Castle has also worked extensively with Americana musician Bill Kirchen.

7. Greg Rzab
Currently, a member of John Mayall’s band, Rzab has also played bass in the Otis Rush band, the Buddy Guy band, and on tour with the Black Crowes and Gov’t Mule. Besides numerous Mayall albums, hear Rzab at work on Bernard Allison’s Keeping the Blues Alive and Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert Volume 4.

6. Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Different from many blues bassists in that he uses an upright bass, Mudcat has been a member of Sugar Ray & the Bluetones for 40-years. Over the course of those four decades, Ward has also recorded with Pinetop Perkins, Ronnie Earl, Walter Horton, Hubert Sumlin and many others.

5. David Hood
A member of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, commonly known as the Swampers, Hood has played on countless records for blues musicians and R&B stars like Little Milton, Etta James, Irma Thomas and Bobby “Blue” Bland as well as rock stars like Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Leon Russell and many others. Hood also runs a recording studio in Muscle Shoals.

4. Donald “Duck” Dunn
This late bass man is famed for his work as a member of Booker T. & the MGs and the Blues Brothers, but his incredible resume also includes work with Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Freddie King, Albert King, Tinsley Ellis, Roy Buchanan, Duane Allman and countless others.

3. Willie Dixon
Another player who favored the upright bass, this late blues man is credited with having written about 500 songs and being one of the players who shaped the sound that came to be known as the Chicago blues. Many rock fans came to know Dixon’s work through covers like Cream’s take on “Spoonful” and his influence on various Led Zeppelin songs.

2. Jack Bruce
Bruce is perhaps best known for his work with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in blues-rock outfit Cream but he had come up through Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc., the Graham Bond Organization and the band that a who’s who of stars were members of, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Bruce’s playing style influenced famed fellow bassists Sting and the much-revered Jaco Pastorius. Bruce passed away in 2014.

1. Charles Calmese
Calmese was a legendary bass player who came on the scene in Chicago in the ’70s where he played with the likes of James Cotton and Matt “Guitar” Murphy. Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, Ike & Tina Turner and Chuck Berry were some of the acts that Calmese played with, and bluesman gone pop Steve Miller hired him to play on his big albums Book of Dreams and Fly like an Eagle. Muddy Water’s Hard Again album is a good place to start an appreciation of Calmese’s legacy. Calmese died in a car wreck in 1988.