The guttural rumble and percolating potency of the bass guitar often goes unsung among the elements that render rock its hardest and metal its heaviest. That many of the greatest practitioners of four-string mastery and mayhem have been female only compounds the unfortunate aspects of any such oversights.
None of that matters now. For here, at hand, is a countdown of the ten mightiest bass players in hard rock and heavy metal who just happen to not be men. Adjust your hearing to the bottom of the soundscape and then look up in heart-pounding, blood-pumping adulation for the nether-note highs attained by these plugged-in and pumped-up goddesses of thunder.
Melissa auf der Maur – Auf der Maur, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins
“Followed the Waves” – Auf der Maur
Rampaging redheaded Canadian Melissa Auf der Maur first busted out her bass prowess in the early 1990s indie outfit Tinker. Melissa’s deft musical skills and undeniable rock star presence caught a gander from Courtney Love at the exact moment that Hole languished in need of a replacement bassist and that twain most definitely did meet.
Melissa supplied Hole with bona fide chops and style on par with the band’s kickass drummer Patty Schemel, forming one of the decade’s great alt-rock rhythm sections. Upon Hole’s implosion at the turn of the century, Melissa jumped ship to Smashing Pumpkins, taking over for original bassist D’arcy Wretzky for a couple of years.
From there, Melissa played in a female supergroup called the Chelsea and fronted Hand of Doom, a Black Sabbath cover band, before launching Auf der Maur—her self-named solo project—in 2004. Auf der Maur has released a number of records since then, many of them underrated, and that just means you’ve got something awesome to go discover now.
Debbie Googe – My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream
“Only Shallow” – My Bloody Valentine
Louder-than-life Irish racket-makers My Bloody Valentine pioneered rock’s “shoegaze” genre in the ’80s while en route to Loveless, their soul-rattling, skull-pummeling 1991 masterwork that sounds like seasickness feels—and that’s meant as a highest compliment to the musicians.
The “shoegaze” arises from its players standing still and looking down (gazing at their shoes, get it?) while whipping up sonic tsunamis of isolation, desperation, and anger turned inward. No record rains this bum trip down more brilliantly than Loveless.
Typically, all the credit goes to MBV mastermind Kevin Shields and co-lead vocalist Bilinda Butcher, and that does a disservice to the druggy, draggy bottom of the record’s glorious noise that’s laid out by bassist Debbie Googe. Without Googe, Loveless would take shape and grab hold as it does and, by extension, My Bloody Valentine would effectively be heartless.
Jackie Fox – The Runaways
“Queens of Noise” – Runaways
Jackie Fox rocked the bass in teenage punk-metal pioneers the Runaways alongside Cherie Currie on vocals, Joan Jett and Lita Ford on guitars, Sandy West on drums, and Kim Fowley, the Svengali of Sunset Boulevard, off to the side, frantically trying to manipulate and control these explosive young talents.
While she played with the Runaways on the group’s 1977 Queens of Noise LP and toured Japan with the group, Jackie Fox was actually a replacement bassist, taking over for four-stringer Michael “Micki” Steele, who went on to pop superstardom in the Bangles.
As with any number of punk groundbreakers, Jackie is more noticeable for her presence, creativity, and scorching style as a cultural rebel than as an intricately technical instrumentalist. When it comes to rock-and-roll, though, those things mean a lot.
Mlny Parsonnz – Royal Thunder
“Time Machine” – Royal Thunder
Royal Thunder has emerged to the front of the pack from a recent onslaught of fantastic (in every sense) female-fronted psychedelic stoner-metal bands, the roster of which includes Witch Mountain, Blood Ceremony, Christian Mistress, Jex Thoth, Jess and the Ancient Ones, and Lucifer.
One obvious aspect of what makes Royal Thunder stand out is the bewitching vocal skills of frontwoman Mlny Parsonnz. Less obvious, at least on the surface, is how she weaves spell after spell on the four deep-plummeting strings of her bass guitar.
While out promoting Royal Thunder’s towering new effort, Crooked Doors, Mlny has been giving interviews about escaping a cult and other oddball adventures, thereby building an even greater mystery around herself (not the smallest element of which is the crazy way she spells her name).
Lori Black aka Lorax – Melvins
“Boris” – Melvins
In the event someone, somewhere, didn’t think the Melvins were weird enough, please take note: Lori Black, aka Lorax, the bass player for the Melvins on Bullhead and Ozma, two of this trippy sludge circus’s trippiest and sludgiest outings, is the real-life daughter of archetypal child star Shirley Temple.
Lorax dated Melvins’ frontman and guitar guru Buzz Osborne at the time, and King Buzzo has stated that his involvement with the Shirley Temple family was by far the strangest episode in what stands as one of the very strangest lives in all of rock.
Most importantly, though, Lorax put her shoulder against the Melvin’s tar-boulder massiveness through her bass playing and lunged the group forward. The band fired her over drug issues just prior to recording their 1994 masterpiece Houdini but, without the work laid down by Lorax, the Melvins might well have never gotten there.
Jo Bench – Bolt Thrower
“Eternal War” – Bolt Thrower
Jo Bench plunked forth a blazing path for British death metal brawlers Bolt Thrower ever since joining the group all the way back in 1987. Amidst the hardcore punk intensity and epileptic metal riffing of the band, Jo Bench has quietly triumphed (there’s irony for you!) through nine official albums, a trio of EPs, and thousands upon thousands of live shows as one of the most-respected, longest-playing women in any world-class realm of extreme rock.
Jeanne Sagan – All That Remains, Acacia Strain
“This Probably Won’t End Well” – All That Remains
Massachusetts marauder Jeanne Saga first stormed the metal world by playing bass in 2003 for deathcore squad the Acacia Strain. Three years later, Jeanne hooked up full-time with melodic metalcore champs All That Remains, picking up her black cherry Spector Legend 4 Classic for the group after they split ways with bassist Matt Deis.
The addition of Sagan’s machine-gun bass figured profoundly in the creative and commercial breakthrough of the 2006 release, The Fall of Ideals. Jeanne has toured the world nearly nonstop with ATR and played on each of their subsequent albums; up to and including the just recently unleashed The Order of Things.
Kira Roessler – Black Flag
“Slip It In” – Black Flag
Black Flag bludgeoned the 1980s as the hardest-working band in all-ages-show business, creating a punk rock tour circuit that continues to pump new sounds through the country (and the world), issuing their own records on their own terms, and playing a relentless succession of shows that would shatter the minds and bodies of lesser beings.
Into this mad milieu, in 1984, Kira Roessler joined Black Flag and slammed right along with these hardest of hardcore boys on many of their heaviest releases, including Family Man, Slip It In, Loose Nut, and In My Head.
Kira, in fact, rode with Black Flag smack into the group’s ’86 implosion, after which she hooked up with ex-Minutemen four-stringer Mike Watt to form both the double-bass duo Dos. The pair was also married from 1987 to 1994 and, as proof that music trumps all, they still write, play, and record as Dos.
Jennifer Finch – L7 and Hole
“Shove” – L7
Jennifer Finch arose from a unique mid-’80s San Francisco punk outfit called either Sugar Baby Doll or Sugar Babylon (it varied) that also featured Hole headcase Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland frontwoman Kat Bjelland. Imagine those band arguments!
After that group exploded out in its obvious different directions, Finch found her way to grunge trailblazers L7, playing with the all-female punk-metal foursome from their self-titled 1988 debut album on up through their 1994 MTV and alt-rock radio breakthrough, Hungry for Stink. For a while there in the sweaty mosh-pit middle of the Lollapalooza decade, nobody was cooler.
Following the tragic drug death of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff in ’94, Finch helped out old bandmate Courtney Love by playing with the group at the height of their cultural prominence.
Since leaving L7 in 1996, Finch has focused on photography. Her wondrous ways with a bass has subsequently inspired entire generations of girls to pick up guitars and get rocking.
Sean Yseult – White Zombie
“More Human Than Human” – White Zombie
In 1985, multi-instrumentalist Sean Yseult’s art school boyfriend Rob “Dirt” Straker tapped her to play bass for his new musical undertaking, a skronky, filthy, noise-punk horror collective to be named after an ancient Bela Lugosi movie, White Zombie.
Over the next few years, White Zombie’s sound would evolve—and the frontman would change his moniker to Rob Zombie—into a groundbreaking amalgam of industrial rock, groove metal, and unique elements of electrifying brilliance that can only be attributed to the band itself.
Ranking high among White Zombie’s all-powerful mystery ingredients was the funky, futuristic bass-blasting of Sean Yseult. Whipping her waist-length blonde curls into tornadoes of motion, Sean’s bass shook booties and snapped necks as no one has before or since.
In 2010, Sean authored a smashing book about her musical heyday, I’m in the Band: Backstage Notes From the Chick in White Zombie. Give it to anyone you think might be mistakenly interested in that memoir by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Sometimes people need a nudge in the proper direction of true rock genius.