Are Bassists More Creative?

I get this question a lot.

More Creative

Usually, drunk college girls in skimpy tops ask this question. I think that they’re really trying to ask a different question, but I think this is the most polite packaging for the question that they’re really trying to ask.

Well, I’ll play along. Let’s analyze the question at face value: Are bassists more creative? Well, it depends on the kind of music you’re playing. It also depends on the personnel involved.

It’s really kind of like one of those categorical questions that really don’t mean much of anything because it really is situational. It really all boils down to: compared to what?

I mean, guitarists can be quite creative. Drummers, especially, can really think outside the box and just blow up whatever standard music the group is playing and take it to a whole other level. I can see, however, why people ask if bassists are more creative because we tend to look more relaxed.

Of all the members of the band, we’re the ones who tend to look like we’re doing the least work. But let me tell you, it may seem like I’m relaxed when I’m just plucking a few strings in what would seem like a leisurely way, but there’s a lot of thinking going on because, whether we like it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not, the bassist actually carries the tune. You set the pace, you set the tone, and most importantly, you set the parameters of the song.

Because if everybody’s just going crazy and just banging on top of each other, it’s going to be chaos. It might seem like an amazing artistic release, there might be some sort of emotional and psychological catharsis going on, but to the ears of the people you are trying to play to, it’s going to come off as garbage. To add insult to injury, people are going to be upset because they had to pay for this stuff. Do you see where I’m coming from?

So the bassist, believe it or not, is the one who is really trying to keep everything together. And accordingly, his creativity can only go so far within those constraints.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment. This doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with some sort of Zen Buddhist realization and transcend the normal notes of your bass to truly take the composition to a whole other level.

What I’m saying, however, given the practical considerations of being essentially the musical babysitter of the group, you really only have so much space to work with. And that, in and of itself, can be an opportunity for creativity.

What if I told you that classical blues music only involves a few strings? That’s all. But if you’ve ever listened to John Lee Hooker, it’s like you’re just blown away. RL Burnside? The same thing. It really all boils down to rendition.

So the answer here, the short answer at least, is yes, we are more creative because we are babysitting the group and trying to make sure that the music doesn’t fall apart. And that’s where our creativity is. It’s not always easy to perceive, but it’s there. It has to be there. And the fact that the final product is smooth and everybody had a good time, well, you can thank the bassist for that.