Thursday, June 02, 2005

Slappin' yer bass

History of the Slap Bass
It once was an inventive and fresh sounding style of playing bass in the 70's, then became a fad, and now is, for the most part, annoying.

The 'slap style' for the bass was originally a term used to refer to the technique used on upright basses where the string is plucked so hard it bounces off the finger board, making a distinctive sound [more.] But, for the purposes here, lets stick with the electric bass guitar.

On bass guitar it usually refers to a technique that consists of hitting a bass guitar's strings with the thumb of the strumming hand near the base of the guitar's neck, often combined with plucking the strings with the index or middle finger of the same hand.
Graham Central Station
Bassist Larry Graham is generally acknowledged as being the one who invented slapping and popping on the bass guitar in the late 1960s and early 1970s while playing bass guitar in the band Sly and the Family Stone [Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),"] and later with his Graham Central Station ("Hair,") although some say that several bass players invented the technique at the same time. Either way it was Graham who popularized the percussive groove which typified the progressive funk sound of the 1970s.

Bootsy Collins
Funk bass players like Bootsy Collins (Parliament and Bootsy's Rubber Band;) Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson and backing Michael Jackson;) and Robert Wilson (Gap Band) all utilized the technique furthering the funk sound. Meanwhile, Jazz bassists Stanley Clarke (solo artist, Return To Forever, Chick Corea) and Marcus Miller (solo artist, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross) were also adding slap into their fusion sound, blurring the genre lines.

Mark King
A jazz bassist in England, Mark King, utilized the slapping technique and eventually transformed his fusion pop band Level 42 into pop music hitmaker, while influencing a slew of white bass players to learn to slap.
My teacher had me listen to a lot of Level 42. That’s actually how I started doing double-handed slaps, because it sounded so cool when Mark King did it.
—P-Nut (311, "Nutsymptom")
Red Hot Chili Peppers
As college/alternative music started to swell in the late 80's, with it came a few more slap-bass pioneers. Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Higher Ground") and John Norwood Fisher (Fishbone, "Bonin' in the Boneyard") incorporated slap bass into their punk/funk/ska sounds, spawning kids listening to rock to want to slap the bass. Kim Gordon, bass player from Sonic Youth, once complained that she was worried that Flea was ruining alternative music by encouraging kids to slap bass. It seemed to have an effect, as he mostly stopped doing it after the comment ('91.)

Red Hot Chili Peppers
One who picked up the torch about that time was Les Claypool, who's inventive frenetic double-hand style and oddball sense of humor with Primus ("Tommy the Cat") has carved out a wing in the bass hall of fame (if they ever build one.) Influenced heavily by both Stanley Clarke (bought his Carl Thompson piccolo bass because Clarke played one) and progressive metal (went to school with Kirk Hammett of Metallica,) Claypool's various projects (Primus, Sausage, Les Claypool & the Holy Mackerel, The Frog Brigade, and Oysterhead) have a dedicated following of wacky fans who know the songs inside and out.

Another odd fusion was occuring at this time as well, New Grass. But, can you slap bass in Bluegrass? Why not, thought Bela Fleck when he brought on young Victor Wooten to play bass in his project Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Their live shows aren't complete without a Wooten signature bass solo, complete with a slap-n-pop workout ("Improv/Amazing Grace".)

The slap-bass has mostly died out as a fad, but there are many still doing it, including Stuart Hamm ("Outbound",) who takes it to another level. Will it come back? Everything seems to eventually... perhaps with another funk revival.

Tracklisting for playlist


drake leLane said...

History of the Slap Bass

* "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" - Sly & The Family Stone
* "Hair" - Graham Central Station
* "Silly Putty" - Stanley Clarke
* "The Pinocchio Theory" - Bootsy Collins
* "Ain't We Funkin' Now" - The Brothers Johnson
* "Open Up Your Mind (Wide) - (single version)" - The Gap Band
* "Get On The Floor" - Michael Jackson
* "Run For A Cover" - David Sanborn
* "Love Games" - Level 42
* "Hot Hot Summer Day" - The Sugarhill Gang
* "Bonin' In The Boneyard" - Fishbone
* "Higher Ground" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
* "Tommy The Cat" - Primus
* "Nutsymptom" - 311
* "Improv/Amazing Grace" - Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
* "Outbound" - Stuart Hamm

drake leLane said...

Forefathers of the early upright 'slap' style were folks like Pops Foster, Wellman Braud, Bill Johnson and Milt Hinton.

Anonymous said...

re: will slap come back?
looks like it never went away!

check this lot out!

Tony Delgado said...

If you really want to hear some early thumpin,check out Robert Wilson on the DJ Rodgers track "Say You Love Me Again"..He was ahead of his time..upstroking long before anyone,then go listen to "Shake" by the G.A.P. Band for the finger/scat pentatonic blues funk.Robert Wilson deserves his due credit.BTW he is featured on two tracks on my CD..He's still crazy funky