The late, great upright bass player Rob Wasserman worked with countless top names, including Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed and Ani DiFranco, during his incredible career. He won a Grammy with Bobby McFerrin, and his own Duets album of 1988 was nominated for three Grammys, too. Wasserman, a California native, began on the violin as a kid before hitting the bass in his teens. He attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, studying with composer John Adams and refining those amazing double bass skills. Working in rock, folk and jazz, his discography includes work, separately, with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. Wasserman died at the age of 64 in 2016.
Lou Reed, New York (1989)
Reed’s brilliant LP was something of a comeback after years of misfires, and Wasserman’s tasteful bass locks down the sound throughout. There’s the step-down swing line he provides, a traditional jazz run in ‘Beginning Of A Great Adventure’; the psychedelic and atmospheric jumpiness of ‘Dime Store Mystery’, on which simple repeated sixteenths of the root lend heft to Reed’s portentous lyrics; and, of course, there’s rock and roll in spades. ‘Sick Of You’ is a country-rock romp where Wasserman’s only indulgence is a few glissandos between the on-the-nose playing. Reed always needed a great band around him to really kick ass, and here he does.
RatDog, Evening Moods (2000)
Wasserman and Bob Weir’s band RatDog is well-loved by Deadheads, and the bassist is a big part of the reason why. ‘Welcome To The World’ is built around a simple, sustained root-note bass-line that develops to include some sweet glissandos up and down the neck. It sounds like early-90s Sting, a compliment in this case. ‘Bury Me Standing’, by contrast, is as funky a riff as muted, bottom-end heavy, slow attack jazz gets – like Jamiroquai on Quaaludes. And has there ever been a cooler jazz duo than ‘Two Djinn’ and ‘The Deep End’? Soulful stuff, and superior playing all round.
Rob Wasserman, Solo (1982)
Bebop, fusion, short songs: this is Wasserman announcing himself in a relatively low-key manner. Restrained or not, it’s a mighty showcase for his skills. ‘Freedom Bass Dance’, Hendrix-like, sees him simultaneously playing melody, rhythm and bass-line thanks to chords and fast hands; ‘Thirteen’ plays with ninths and percussive elements to add even more. Recorded direct to two-track tape without overdubs, it’s brave and beautiful. The bowed ‘Lima Twist’ is fantastically evocative, and the itchy ‘Punk Sizzle’ is exuberant and feels on the edge of veering out of control. It never does, of course – Wasserman’s got us hooked and boy, it feels amazing.
Various Artists, Note Of Hope: A Celebration Of Woody Guthrie (2011)
This fascinating setting of rediscovered words in Guthrie’s journals to music was also Wasserman’s chance to highlight collaborators past and present. Ani DiFranco, Lou Reed, Van Dyke Parks, Pete Seeger and Jackson Browne all brought their angles to the project. You can also hear a variety of the bassist’s instruments, from a Paesold/Hofner to his revered, 100-year-old German upright and the NS Design six-string upright electric that he designed with Ned Steinberger. That latter bass also features custom D’Addario roundwound strings. Check out the rap with Michael Franti for something truly wild.
Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu (2011)
David Bowie apparently felt this was Lou Reed’s magnum opus. The album was certainly a sideswipe by the 69-year-old Reed – sometimes impenetrable, often plain odd, and yet with genius never far away, Lulu reflected Reed himself. With Robert Trujillo in the bass guitar hot seat for much of the LP, Wasserman contributes double bass. For the first time in his career, he played a standard, vintage Fender Jazz with Reed live. His work on the last song, ‘Junior Dad’, is brilliant; a bowed, Cale-esque contribution that builds layer upon layer. He wasn’t even aware the song had made the LP until he heard it. It’s a tough listen, particularly when you think that within five years, Reed, Bowie and Wasserman would all be lost.