Paul McCartney’s Bass Playing

Paul McCartney is well-known as a multi-instrumentalist – proficient on drums, skilled on guitar and keyboard and virtuoso on bass.  After yesterday’s post about how I used to read, I stumbled across an analysis of his bass playing over the years which is quite good.

Here’s the end of the article where a few well-known bassists talk about McCartney’s influence on their own playing…


Whether on his Rickenbacker, his Wal 5 string or whatever, he remains one of the top bass players in the world. For a guy who could rest on his laurels as one of the prime innovators of rock bass playing, that is a solid testament to him as a musician.


STING: It’s hard to seperate McCartney’s influence on my bass playing from his influence on everything else-singing, songwriting, even becoming a musician in the first place. As a child, I would play my Beatles albums at 45 RPM so I could hear the bass better. he’s the Guvnor.

WILL LEE: Growing up in Texas in the early ’60s I was so obsessed with the Beatles’ music that I didn’t feel like a fan, I felt like I was in the Beatles! About the same time I switched from drums to bass I became aware of who gave the band its charm and personality, from visual tunes like “Penny Lane” to the group’s repartee wtih the press. It was the same fellow who was ableto take a poor-quality instrument like the Hofner bass and create magic on it. I especially dug Paul’s funky, Motown-influenced side, evident in the bass line from Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” or even in the syncopated part from “A Day In The Life.”

Paul’s influence on bassists has been so wide-spread over numerous generations that ther’s no denying he’s in everybody’s playing at this point. We’re all descendants. He played simple and solid when it was called for. But because he had so many different flavors to add to a song, he was able to take the instrument far beyond a supportive role. Paul taught the bass howto sing.

STANLEY CLARKE: Paul definitely had an influence on my bass playing, not so much technically, but more with his philosophy of melodic bass liens-especially as I hit my teens and the Beatles’ records became more adventurous. On tracks like “Come Together,” the bass line WAS the song. I’ve always liked that. The only other person I knew of who was doing that was James Jamerson. That was one of the reasons I was inspired to write “School Days”: so I could just play the bass lines and people would hear a whole song.

I had the honor of being contacted by Paul through George Martin to play on Tug of War, and I also appeared on Pipes of Peace [both on Capitol]. Paul was very nice. He asked me to show him how to slap. During Pipes we got a groove going in a studio jam, and it ended up making on the album as “Hey Hey.” He graciously gave me a co-writing credit, and it’s still a thrill to see my name next to his above the music in the song book.

BILLY SHEEHAN: The reason I got involved with music in the first place was because I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I watched all the girls going crazy, and I figured this was thebest business in the world to be in. Later on, when I got more deeply into music, Sgt. Pepper was a break-through record for me. I must have listened to it several hundred times. What intrigued me was how totally musical every aspect of it was -especially Paul’s melodic, fluid bass lines. When my band Talas was starting in the mid ’70s [the Beatles’ tribute show] Beatlemania was big, and we used to play entire gigs of just Beatles tunes. I’ve learned so much from Paul about playing, writing, and playing and singing at the same time that I should probably start sending him checks!

Most bassists get into the flashy players, but I think the reason Paul is often overlooked is that what he was doing wasn’t really obvious. It was so brilliantly woven into the context of the songs. One of my favorites is the bass line from “Rain.” I still use it to test the low end of an amp. That Paul happens to play bass is a great boon to all of us, because he made us realize that there are no limitations to being a bass player.

(from Bass Player magazine: Volume 6, Number 5 July August 1995)

And if that whole “World Famous Rock Star” thing doesn’t work out, he can probably get work teaching high school band…

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