10 Shards: 10 Great Female Bassists

Later this week, I will finally get a chance to see the Runaways movie. Despite it starring Dakota Fanning (to whom I am not a fan) and Kristen Stewart, I’m excited. One reason is because it’s directed by Floria Sigismundi, who is one of my favorite music video directors. The other is because it should be a good story. You’ve got the scandalous Cherie Currie on vocals. You’ve got Joan Jett on rhythm guitar. Lead guitar was Lita Ford. There was Sandy West on drums and then there’s the bassist…. that was a problem with the Runaways. In 5 years, the Runaways went through 5 bassists plus a stint where Joan Jett moved into that slot.

Being the bassist is sometimes a tough slot. Often bassists don’t get enough focus. Some people have the Rock Band game mentality- i,e. it’s like playing guitar just easier. That’s very far from true. And it doesn’t help that bass can often be lost in a bad mix. And things are a lot worse for a female bassist. There’s what I call the D’arcy Wretzky syndrome. D’Arcy was the bassist for the Smashing Pumpkins. She had the look but she lacked the skill. So much so that Billy Corgan used to record all the bass tracks on the Pumpkins recordings, stating he could get them right in far less takes. I think that left a bit of a stigma when it comes to the female bassist, that idea of all she has to do is look pretty and play a couple of notes.

There are female bassists out there who break that stereotype. Here are ten of my favorites:

1. Melissa Auf de Maur

After D’Arcy left the Smashing Pumpkins, she was replaced with a bassist that could truly hold her own- MAdM. She is without a doubt my favorite bassist, male or female. Whether it be with the Pumpkins, Hole or in her burgeoning solo career, her work has always been top notch. She has a dynamic energy that she puts into her playing that can be matched by few.

2. Lyn-Z

Mindless Self Indulgence’s music has been called Synth-Punk, Digital Hardcore, Industrial- jungle-rock-punk-techno, and a whole assortment of other things. However you label it, it would be nothing without Lyn-Z’s driving basslines. Plus she’s quite the performer. A big highlight of MSI shows is seeing Lyn-Z’s trademark back bend.

3. Kim Gordon

She may not be the most technically skilled bassist in the bunch but on Sonic Youth albums like Goo and Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star; she’s a big part. Classic songs like “Kool Thing” (my favorite Sonic Youth song, how could you not like a LL Cool J diss?) would be nothing without the kick she gives.

4. Meshell Ndegeocello

Once you get past trying to get a grip on the crazy name she chose for herself, you can see that she is the elite when it comes to female bass players. She has tremendous skill. She can play with the rockers like John Mellencamp. She is at home when she’s playing soul. She can do funk. She can do jazz. And she plays great no matter the style.

5. Nadja Peulen

Coal Chamber ranks among my favorite bands of all time. When they lost bassist Rayna Foss (another great female bassist), they were able to find a bassist more than capable of filling her shoes in Nadja Peulen. She also held her own at Roardunner United, playing on the stand out song “The End”. I’m anxiously awaiting to hear her as a part of Vera Mesmer

6. Johnette Napolitano

Listen to “Bloodletting: The Vampire Song” and I don’t need to say anything else. Not only does Johnette have that great deep gravelly voice but she wields her bass to match it. It doesn’t get lost under James Mankey’s sonic wonder and it’s far more than just playing the roots of the guitar along with the drums. She fills out the dark atmosphere of Concrete Blonde’s songs.  


Georgina 'Grog' Lisee

7. Grog

Die So Fluid is quickly growing into one of my favorite bands. They are the evolution of Concrete Blonde for me. The similarities are there, except Die So Fluid are British and where Concrete Blonde’s influences gave them a little Spanish flavor, DSF’s gave them a heavy metal punch. But both bands are led up by powerhouse women with amazing gritty voices and know their way around the bass.

8. Jenny Bigelow

One of the great things about being a part of Songfight is coming across great musicians like Jenny Bigelow. She performs under several names: Henrietta & the Hostage, Quimby, Nouveau Pauvre. No matter what the moniker, she knows how to make the basswork shine in her songs.

9. Patricia Day

What would a list of great bassists be without Patricia Day? The Horrorpops’ rockabilly/psychobilly style is built around Day’s playing. And she plays on custom built upright basses. The bass is the star of the show and you don’t often get that. And she’s got skills. She’s all about slap bass. Again, you don’t get this in your every day bassist.

10. Carol Kaye

You may not recognize the name but you have definitely heard her work. She played bass on “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker, “These Boots Were Made For Walking” by Nancy Sinatra, The Mission Impossible Theme, “River Deep- Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner, “I Second That Emotion” by the Temptations, “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley…. This list can go on and on and on. Carol Kaye is the bass player that paved the way for all the others on this list.


2 Responses to “10 Shards: 10 Great Female Bassists”

  1. I’d have Gail Ann Dorsey as my #1! 😉 I’d also include Greta Brinkman too because she is awesome.

  2. wow just stumbled across this blog Ur so right and thanks for giving reconition to those females out there tht rarely had any but without them were would the music be?

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