The five best punk rock bassists of all time

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The five best punk rock bassists of all time

Words by Joe Hansen

Much like the original rock‘n’roll the genre evolved and drew from, the role of bass guitar in punk rock is a key component of both rhythm and melody.

While punk rock bassists have typically stuck to traditional background roles in bands, a select few have stood out far beyond the rest in terms of not only breaking new ground in the sound and style of their instrument, but progressing the development of the instrument within the punk rock sound.

Dee Dee Ramone (The Ramones)

Along with his bandmate Johnny, Dee Dee’s playing style of relentless eight-note downstrokes was crucial in the development of the archetypal sound of punk rock. Almost always sticking to the root bass notes of the song and providing much of the rhythmic drive, Dee Dee’s no-nonsense style was arguably the most influential in all of punk rock.

Mike Watt (Minutemen/FIREHOSE/The Stooges)

A master of versatility and groove, Mike Watt’s definitive playing in Minutemen was equal parts hardcore punk and funk. One of the first bands out of the LA punk scene to explore new sounds and stylistic choices previously unheard of in punk rock, Watt’s unique and powerful playing influenced many bass players in the scene to think outside the box and explore the full possibilities of the instrument. Now playing for the reformed Iggy and the Stooges, there was never any doubt that he would be the right player to bring justice to those songs as well.

Kira Roessler (Black Flag)

Joining the iconic Black Flag at their turning point of expanding from the straight-forward hardcore they were initially known for, to the experimental sludge and jazz-influenced style of later albums, Kira Roessler was a crucial member of the rhythm section at the time. Debuting in the studio with 1984’s now iconic Slip It In, Roessler’s often overlooked bass work in the more experimental side of the band left a lasting impact on punk rock and the emerging development at the time of post-hardcore.

Rob Wright (NoMeansNo)

One of the rare punk rock bands almost fully driven by bass guitar, the sound of Rob Wright in post-hardcore freaks NoMeansNo is one of the most unique and powerful in the genre. Almost as if Dee Dee Ramone had a background in free-form jazz, the expressive and punchy bass playing of Rob Wright continues to be heavily overlooked.

Karl Alvarez (Descendents/ALL)

While the Descendents’ previous two bassists, Tony Lombardo and Doug Carrion, are both excellent, it was the arrival of Alvarez in 1987 that solidified the band’s lineup that remains to this day. Fitting the band like a glove with his driving rhythmic fingerpicking and fast arpeggios and scale runs, Alvarez continues to play equally well in both pop-punk and the band’s more experimental math rock side.