Paul McCartney’s role in The Beatles undoubtedly inspired a whole generation of children to begin their musical journey. The reality is that most of those kids were captivated by McCartney; the singer, the songwriter and the bandleader, not McCartney; the bassist. Let’s face it, for a long time, the bass guitar was not exactly the dream instrument for an aspiring rocker.
Though entirely essential, the bass has often been relegated to the back of the stage. Perhaps because steadiness is required to deliver the effective rhythm needed to be a good bass player and ensure the band can depend on you like a steam train, it means the bassists of the world usually stayed still while performing. Equally, thanks to its position within the band, the bass guitar also usually relied on simple and stable notes, meaning even the lines it produced came across a little dull. But, as Geddy Lee, Rush’s bassist and lead vocalist, noted, Paul McCartney changed all that.
The Canadian prog-rockers, Rush, have always been sure of their leading man. Lee has been a triumph over the decades and ensured that he put the bass front and centre during his songwriting and on-stage performances. It was a decision based on his own experiences: “Back in my day, nobody chose to be the bass player. You were always a guitarist, and somebody said, ‘Well, we need a bass player,’ so they had a vote, and you became the bass player. That’s how I became a bass player: I was voted in,” recalls Lee, negating any ideas of a love-at-first-sight story with his own instrument.
“I think that was pretty common for the period because everybody wanted to be Jimi Hendrix; everybody wanted to be Eric Clapton; everybody wanted to be Jimmy Page.” However, there was always one bassist who impressed him, the immovable talent of Paul McCartney.
Though the Beatle is often forgotten when assessing his talent as one of the greats of his instrument, Lee suggested his style had a huge influence not only on him but the music world as a whole: “[McCartney] gets overlooked as a bassist, but as a pop bassist goes, he’s such a melodic player. And you’re talking about a guy who wasn’t originally the bass player for the band. He adapted, of course, and he picked it up. I just find his story really interesting as a bass player. So he comes at the instrument from a much more melodic place, and you really hear that in a lot of Beatle music.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone as part of the same conversation, he suggests that this style affected his own performances: “One common denominator for me was always the ability to play melodically, and to enhance the song on a subterranean level.”
The singer and bassist continued, “So I’ve always gravitated towards bass players that not only locked in with the rhythm section and helped moved the song but also added some other level of musical interest that may not be as obvious. Usually, that comes out on secondary, tertiary and repeated listenings.”
Of course, many players have influenced Geddy Lee over the years. In fact, most of his influences likely come from across the different elements of a band, thanks to his unfettered adoration for music as a whole. But, there can be no doubt that the way McCartney played his instrument and how he approached songwriting had a profound and permanent effect on Geddy Lee.
Below, watch Geddy Lee join Les Claypool and Sean Lennon pay tribute to The Beatles with a cover of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.