Bobby Owsinki had a good post this morning on the isolated bass track from Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. It’s short, take a listen:
First, I had no idea that it was played on an 8-string bass (four sets of two strings, an octave apart). Once I heard it in isolation I realized that it’s an important part of that rather unique bass sound John Paul Jones got on the record. The other thing that jumped out at me is how percussive his playing is. Obviously he’s playing with a pick and you hear nearly as many chunky ghost-notes as fretted ones. It’s almost like how a funk guitarist would play the part.
Technically, the part isn’t a particular challening one. Frankly, this is the kind of thing that many guitarists would look down upon as “boring”. Sure, Stu Hamm or Billy Sheehan it ain’t, but that groove is undeniable. A lot of bass players (let along guitarists) would struggle to lay it down like that.
If you’re a subscriber to the free newsletter, I recently wrote about feeling that solid quarter-note groove using “Whole Lotta Love” as an example. Listen to that part again and get that foot tapping on each beat. If you have a bass, try playing it yourself. I’ll bet John Paul Jones was thinking steady quarter notes when he played it. Sure, he had the benefit of playing next to the mighty John Bonham when tracking this, but he still needed that solid internal meter. Bobby Owsinski points out a little pushing and pulling of the tempo, which is most likely the result JPJ tracking Bonham. Bonham was a master of pushing and pulling tempo here and there. A metronome, he was not.
The key here is that the bass and the drums are dancing together to make that solid groove. “Whole Lotta Love” is the monumental song it is because the whole band is locked in, not just for Jimmy Page’s foundational riff. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better starting place for a solid hard-rock groove.
JPJ is a hell of a musician and a very groovy bass-player. His Motown-inspired played doesn’t get nearly the recognition that it deserves for making Zeppelin what it was.