Beyond the Bass Clef:
The Life and Art of Bass Playing
by Tony Levin
In the beginning there was a bass. It was a Fender, probably a Precision,
but it could have been a Jazz - nobody knows. Anyway, it was very old
... definitely pre-C.B.S.
And God looked down upon it and saw that it was good. He saw that it
was very good in fact, and couldn't be improved on at all (though men
would later try.) And so He let it be and He created a man to play the
And lo the man looked upon the bass, which was a beautiful 'sunburst'
red, and he loved it. He played upon the open E string and the note
rang through the earth and reverberated throughout the firmaments (thus
reverb came to be.) And it was good. And God heard that it was good
and He smiled at his handiwork.
Then in the course of time, the man came to slap upon the bass. And
lo it was funky.
And God heard this funkiness and He said, "Go man, go."
And it was good.
And more time passed, and, having little else to do, the man came to
practice upon the bass. And lo, the man came to have upon him a great
set of chops. And he did play faster and faster until the notes rippled
like a breeze through the heavens
And God heard this sound which sounded something like the wind, which
He had created earlier. It also sounded something like the movement
of furniture, which He hadn't even created yet, and He was not so pleased.
And He spoke to the man, saying "Don't do that!"
Now the man heard the voice of God, but he was so excited about his
new ability that he slapped upon the bass a blizzard of funky notes.
And the heavens shook with the sound, and the Angels ran about in confusion.
(Some of the Angels started to dance, but that's another story.)
And God heard this - how could He miss it - and lo He became Bugged.
And He spoke to the man, and He said, "Listen man, if I wanted
Jimi Hendrix I would have created the guitar. Stick to the bass parts."
And the man heard the voice of God, and he knew not to mess with it.
But now he had upon him a passion for playing fast and high. The man
took the frets off of the bass which God had created. And the man did
slide his fingers upon the fretless fingerboard and play melodies high
upon the neck. And, in his excitement, the man did forget the commandment
of the Lord, and he played a frenzy of high melodies and blindingly
fast licks. And the heavens rocked with the assault and the earth shook,
rattled and rolled.
Now God's wrath was great. And His voice was thunder as He spoke to
And He said, "O.K. for you, pal. You have not heeded My word.
Lo, I shall create a soprano saxophone and it shall play higher than
you can even think of."
"And from out of the chaos I shall bring forth the drums. And
they shall play so many notes thine head shall ache, and I shall make
you to always stand next to the drummer."
"You think you're loud? I shall create a stack of Marshall guitar
amps to make thine ears bleed. And I shall send down upon the earth
other instruments, and lo, they shall all be able to play higher and
faster than the bass."
"And for all the days of man, your curse shall be this; that all
the other musicians shall look to you, the bass player, for the low
notes. And if you play too high or fast all the other musicians shall
say "Wow" but really they shall hate it. And they shall tell
you you're ready for your solo career, and find other bass players for
their bands. And for all your days if you want to play your fancy licks
you shall have to sneak them in like a thief in the night."
"And if you finally do get to play a solo, everyone shall leave
the bandstand and go to the bar for a drink."
And it was so.