It is impossible to do a series on bassist/vocalists without including this man: Burke Shelley. The man behind the Welsh Power Trio Budgie, he was a huge personal influence on me becoming a professional bassist/vocalist myself.
I would stand in the cavernous King’s Hall, Derby as a 15 year old, enraptured by the light and shade of their music, Burke’s bass playing on his trusty old sunburst precision and his stratospheric vocals. (It would be several years before I saw Geddy Lee and proclaimed him to be a Budgie clone!)
With Budgie, you get a guitar, a bass, and drums, no frills, just straight ahead musicianship. Within the space that a three-piece naturally gifts you, Burke’s bass was turned way up loud – a complete third of the whole, not a shy retiring underpinning to the song. Seeing him play this way, and sing his heart out, helped me understand the bass, what it was meant to do.
Tracks like Breaking all the House Rules, with its tremendous pumping bassline and great vocal were all I needed to become well and truly hooked. Over the years they’ve been a tremendous influence on countless bands, with Soundgarden, Iron Maiden and Metallica covering their songs.
Three years ago, I attended a Budgie gig in the UK, and spent some time with the band backstage after the show, finally able to tell Burke how he’d influenced me (should that be inFLEWenced?) after 32 years.
I looked at his bass, leaning against the wall.
“Is that the same one?” I asked.
“Yep” he said “wanna play?”
I was a kid again, the battered precison in my hands. It was like the closing of a circle. Burke’s still going strong – currently touring Australia with Dio’s Craig Goldy as guest guitarist.
Long may he reign!
Recommended listening: Who Do You Want for Your Lover? – wonderful funky bass, great vocal
Breaking All the House Rules - rip-roaring rawk ‘n’ roll!
Breadfan – Now a metal classic
Parents – An astonishing vocal from Burke, sometimes sounding like fellow Cardiff-born Shirley Bassey, I kid you not!
A Big thank you to Newms for inviting me to post my series on bassist/vocalists. I’m going for a roughly chronological theme here..by “roughly” I mean that if I get to the mid-80′s and suddenly think of a guy from ’72, i’ll just stick it in. Who else to start with but the Daddy:
When it comes to the bass guitar, there are two people whose importance cannot be overstated: Leo Fender, who pretty much got everything right with his first attempt when he invented the Precision Bass, and Paul McCartney, who elevated it to an art form, and almost single-handedly saw to it that it was recognised as a serious instrument in its own right.
McCartney wasn’t satisfied with simply underpinning the song, he wove wonderful countermelodies between the chords, demanding the listener’s ear. Take the bassline to “With a little help from my Friends” – taken alone, it is a wonderful melody, never resting on the root notes, but moving around with a great fluidity. But what also elevated McCartney into a very select group was the fact that he was a lead vocalist, and probably the first of his kind that doubled on bass. Traditionally, its a lot easier to strum along on rhythm, or intersperse your vocal with lead breaks, than to play lines that cut directly across what you’re singing. McCartney did this to perfection, unwittingly laying the blueprint for the role of the bassist/vocalist in the glut of power trios that would follow in the Beatles’ wake. This series aims to highlight the bassists who’ve taken on the mantle of singer – interestingly, in almost every case – to great success.
Suggested McCartney basslines to listen to: With a little help from my Friends; Penny Lane; Come together. Suggested McCartney vocals: Got to get you into my life; I’m Down