A bass analysis of Green Day's seminal Dookie album (Warner, 1994)

The original punk scene threw up some unique players back in the day, as more or less any bloke in the pub over 40 will tell you – Paul Simenon, Glen Matlock and Jean-Jacques Burnel among them. Even poor, doomed Sid Vicious brought a certain macabre glamour to the music, plugged-in or otherwise. But in today’s equivalents of the punk scene – the pop-punk, emo and hardcore movements – the best that can be said of most of the bass players is that they hold down a line pretty tightly.

Not so of Mike Dirnt, bassist with arguably the first and biggest pop-punk act, Green Day. After extensive in-depth research (ie we looked at Wikipedia), we learn that he was born Mike Pritchard and got his stage name from his habit of playing air bass with a pick and muttering ‘dirnt, dirnt, dirnt’. Once up and running in the renowned power trio, he found a superb, scooped tone that cut clearly through guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong’s riffs. A reasonable, if unlikely, comparison point for that big-bottomed, razor-edged sound is that of Duff McKagan of Guns N’Roses, also a player of punk stock, whose band was imploding round about the time that Green Day took off.

Mike also threw in fills to die for across the instrument’s whole range, while always retaining a super-tight control of his playing that meant that it never interfered with the songs. Octave runs, upper-register pull-offs, slides, cheeky scales: the man pulled off the disturbingly mature feat of sounding like a pro and serving the music while also running about the fretboard like a madman. It was hardly a punk approach as we knew it back in the 70s, but it was part and parcel of the new punk style, and for anyone who plays in a hard-driving band it’s a welcome evolution.

Hear Mike at his best on Green Day’s breakthrough album Dookie, although the fellow was on maddeningly excellent form on American Idiot a decade later too. Nowadays he delivers the goods via a huge-selling signature Precision which you really should play. He also owns a café called Rudy’s Can’t Fail Diner in California, named after a Clash song, so it’s worked out well for him. Hats off.

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