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Centering the electric bass in popular music history

Table of contents

Introduction: Music History from the Bottom Up
Part I: Origin Stories
Interlude I: The Forebears
CHAPTER ONE: The Modern Instrument: Leo Fender and the Early Years of the Fender Precision Bass
Interlude II: Everett Hull and the Amplified Peg
CHAPTER TWO: The Novelty Instrument: Monk Montgomery’s Jazz Innovations
Part II: The Road to Legitimacy
Interlude III: Deep in the Heart of Texas
CHAPTER THREE: The Practical Instrument: Rock ‘n’ Roll Live and In-Studio
Interlude IV: Born in Chicago
CHAPTER FOUR: The Picked Instrument: Reinventing the Sound of the Electric Bass
CHAPTER FIVE: The Amateur Instrument: The Teenage Garage Band Revolution
Interlude V: The Electric Bass in England
Part III: New Sounds, New Roles
CHAPTER SIX: The Studio Instrument: Session Musicians and Stylistic Innovations
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Default Instrument: British Bassists and Mid-Sixties Rock
Interlude VI: Ain’t it Funky Now
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Lead Instrument: San Francisco and Psychedelia
Conclusion: The Electric Bass and the Adjacent Possible


The Bastard Instrument chronicles the history of the electric bass and the musicians who played it, from the instrument’s invention through its widespread acceptance at the end of the 1960s. Although their contributions have often gone unsung, electric bassists helped shape the sound of a wide range of genres, including jazz, rhythm & blues, rock, country, soul, funk, and more. Their innovations are preserved in performances from artists as diverse as Lionel Hampton, Liberace, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, the Supremes, the Beatles, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Jefferson Airplane, and Sly and the Family Stone, all of whom are discussed in this volume. At long last, The Bastard Instrument gives these early electric bassists credit for the significance of their accomplishments and demonstrates how they fundamentally altered the trajectory of popular music.

Brian F. Wright is Assistant Professor of Music History at the University of North Texas as well as a bass player. His work has been featured in Vintage Guitar and Bass Player magazines and at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Bastard Instrument is a major work that provides a needed corrective to popular music scholarship on this most essential—but too often overlooked—instrument. Wright's work recovers so many stories of electric bassists who have rarely, if ever, been granted recognition in existing histories of popular music. This is not a ‘great man’ version of electric bass history, but one that also utilizes ‘bottom up’ storytelling, enabled by Wright’s tireless research strategies.”

- Steve Waksman, author of Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience

The Bastard Instrument provides an exceptionally well-researched chronicle of the way that the history of rock (and popular music more generally) is inseparable from the history of the practices, techniques, and tools deployed by a particular, understudied group of musicians. Wright moves effortlessly over the manuscript’s span from the worlds of jazz and country music to those of funk and psychedelic rock, presenting the results of his research in clear, accessible prose.”

- Travis A. Jackson, author of Blowin' the Blues Away: Performance and Meaning on the New York Jazz Scene

“Solid detective work chronicling the early days of the electric bass, written by someone who knows what he is talking about. A must read for all bass players!”

- Stuart Hamm, bassist

“This book is in-depth, informative, and surprising.”

- Ed Friedland, bassist and former writer for Bass Player magazine

The Bastard Instrument is a fascinating history of the bass guitar and how its sound became indispensable to popular music in all forms. Especially relevant to me is its inclusion of women players and the important role we played in the instrument’s history.”

- Kathy Valentine, musician and bassist for the Go-Go’s

“I have been a bassist for the past 65 years, and this book gave me new insight into the joy of my life. Informative and thought provoking, it is a must for those wishing to broaden their knowledge of bass history.”

- Leland Sklar, bassist for James Taylor and Phil Collins

"In bass player and music scholar Wright’s. . . ingenious twist on contemporary pop musicology, he deftly explains the influence of a new propulsive low end and the technological advances that made it possible."

- Library Journal

"[A]n enthusiastic portrait of the instrument that gave Motown, rock ’n’ roll, and funk their distinctive sounds."

- Publishers Weekly

Read: Review in Library Journal | April 1, 2024
Read: Review in Publishers Weekly | April 2024