"The absolute terror of seeing Jimi Hendrix in the Woodstock movie when I was around 12 or 13 is what inspired me," former White Lion and current Megadeth bassist James LoMenzo tells Guitar World.
"I saw him play and thought, 'Oh, my God, that makes no sense to me. But I didn't go running away and screaming into the night; instead, probably by happenstance, I picked up the bass guitar, which bridged my love for rhythm, and arpeggiating and dictating the way music flows through a song."
Of course, considering that LoMenzo has played with the likes of Vito Bratta, Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, Slash, and most recently, Dave Mustaine, he's got used to the shock and awe of rock music.
Still, despite his immense accomplishments both in the studio and on stage, the most interesting aspect of LoMenzo's increasingly gargantuan resume is that it's continuously expanding, despite the veteran four-stringer's set-in-stone approach.
"Since I started on my journey of trying to really understand the bass guitar, from day one, my approach hasn't changed at all," LoMenzo reveals. "I call myself a journeyman bass player in that I still feel like I'm learning how to do this. I've never been satisfied playing one genre of music, and I'm into everything from metal to classical."
He continues, "I even love the old James Bond soundtracks from the '60s where suddenly, you'd hear the booming sound of the low end from the upright bases they would use. I loved how the different sounds came together, which intrigued me to find different sounds and voicings."
Steadfast in his approach while simultaneously forever open to learning and soaking in all that his life in rock 'n' roll has granted him, James LoMenzo is the definition of a pro's pro.
To that end, when asked what the pivotal moment for him was in finding that singular voice that has left him one of the world's most bankable players, LoMenzo says, "The big thing for me was when I started to realize that you could have a different kind of a voice on the bass guitar that not everybody else would necessarily use or even be interested in. That's what started me trying to find a voice, you know, on the instrument. It's simple, but I still try and do that to this day."
During a brief break from Megadeth's ongoing activities, James LoMenzo dialled in with Guitar World to discuss a record-breaking 15 bassists who shaped his sound.
1. John Entwistle
"I can't say enough about what a massive influence John Entwistle has had on me. As far as my choices for what kinds of basses I play, the kind of tonality I would use, and the type of aggression I would employ throughout a rock song, John is everything.
"To me, he's like the whole package of what first excited me to pick up the bass when I was growing up. So, he has to be at the top of the list for that reason alone. There's never really been a player like him before or after, which definitely counts for something."
2. Paul McCartney
"Without Paul McCartney, I think a big swathe of modern music wouldn't even exist. His approach to the bass is so melodic that it's almost orchestral. Paul had a way of adding just the right number of movements into a pop song to really raise it up, which is something I learned to play along to as a kid.
"I remember playing along to those old basslines, and emulating them, which is probably something a lot of kids my age did. Paul's songwriting was incredible, but he really did have an awfully big influence on many bass players, too. You'll see that throughout this list."
3. Stanley Clarke
"Stanley Clarke was a guy who caused my head to turn when he came onto the scene. There was something about his style, even though he kinda hung out within the jazz-fusion idiom, that was just so aggressive. He had a way of playing that kinda felt like Paul McCartney, but he could do it with rapid-fire speed with his thumbs and fingers that sometimes seemed to defy physics.
"To this day, he's one of my favorite guys to watch and listen to play. He also influenced my choices in neck-through basses and electronics. The stuff he used gave him a really clear voice, and that immediately interested me."
4. Chris Squire
"I could probably name 20 more guys, but one that sticks out is Chris Squire. As a young bass player, I was always listening to progressive rock music but didn't realize just how much a lot of it influenced me. And then, and at some point, I started to realize that listening to all these players on the radio doing all these hit songs really inspired me tonally and viscerally. Chris was a unique bass player with a sound that suddenly opened my eyes to a whole other level of things that I could do with this four-stringed instrument."
5. Tim Bogart
"From Chris Squire, I probably went and discovered Tim Bogart. There was an old friend of mine who, when I was playing the clubs, used to play a lot of Tim Bogart's old Cactus stuff. He'd also play the Beck, Bogart & Appice stuff, which was incredible. I heard Tim Bogart, who had this crazy sound that would come warbling out, and I had to take a step back to get my head on straight.
"I didn't fully understand it at the time, and I definitely couldn't understand it as a traditional bass guitar, but it was easily another thing that really got me started early on."
6. Chuck Rainey
"I loved a lot of different music growing up, and some of that was the old Motown stuff. Again, I would listen to this stuff – which was considered pop music – on the radio, and it really affected me.
"The thing was, though, with the Motown stuff, you never really knew who was playing on the tracks, just that it sounded cool. But later, once I started to find out who these guys were, one that influenced me a lot was a guy named Chuck Rainey, who played with Aretha Franklin, and so many others.
"Once I really started honing in on his stuff, I couldn't believe how active of a contributing musician he was within the context of her music. His bass playing really carried its own little space within her music and helped propel it forward."
7. Dee Murray
"Another guy who is in keeping with the same theme as Chuck is Dee Murray, who played bass for Elton John. Dee was somebody who caught my ear immediately because he had this interesting style that was almost like Paul McCartney. He used to find very melodic ways that would tie sections together even though they sounded very simple.
"But then, when you give him a second listen, you unpack all of these complex bridge notes and passing tones that really made Elton's songs more incredible to the point that they almost drove the music. He had an incredible way of standing out amongst Elton's piano tones and really propelled the song forward when he played. I loved that."
8. Tony Franklin
"Tony Franklin really caught my ear in the '80s and early-'90s when he was playing with Blue Murder. I was just so floored by his playing, which you can hear a great example of in the song Riot. Listen to that song, and you'll get it. That's all I need to say.
"I mean… for a fretless player, he just kind of dug in, which isn't easy to do. And I've always felt that the best music is when the frets seem to go away, you know? But Tony actually made that real and does so for a living! So, he's one of my favorites and was a huge influence on me."
9. Jaco Pastorius
"This guy was just so talented… he's like the dream I'll never reach [laughs]. Jaco was somebody that was just so musically deep that, in my mind, I just have to keep fighting to try and get good like he was every day.
"But the truth is that his level of skill is almost unapproachable. He was the kind of guy who blazed a complete trail for himself and shone a light for the rest of us to aspire to."
10. Geezer Butler
"I love Geezer Butler, but the weird thing is that I was more visually introduced to Geezer than I was sonically. I was introduced to him when I saw the '74 California Jam thing on TV. I remember his hands being off the strings and then dropping down onto them like piano hammers, which left me thinking, 'Boy… if you're gonna play bass with your fingers, that's the way to do it!' He made a statement, almost like a drummer, which was very memorable for me. Geezer Butler is just an amazing player."
11. Mark King
"Mark King had a very controlled way of playing with his thumb, which really propelled a lot of that Level 42 stuff he was a part of. The way he played bass really showed that a bass guitar can be used as an identifiable rhythmic instrument, which is what I liked most about him. So, he was a huge influence on me in the '80s. I remember listening to him quite a lot and really absorbing all of it when I'd be traveling."
12. Carol Kaye
"Carol Kaye is on a ton of records. She was on soundtracks, the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, and so many more. Her bass playing is part of the fabric of '60s pop music. And that's because her style was just so assimilative. I'd have the radio on, and no matter what came on, she was always there.
"So, as a young bass player, I couldn't help but soak it in. To this day, if I come up with a bassline, I often joke to myself, 'I obviously stole that from her because it's been sitting out there for all those years.'"
13. Billy Sheehan
"Billy Sheehan is a guy that literally turned the bass guitar upside down and made it into a rock machine. He created a voice and style that's entirely his own. His dexterity, power, and speed, and the way he makes things sound just so fucking big; it's incredible. His tone is massive, and he can carry a song alone; it's just the most amazing thing.
"I remember going to see him in clubs with my younger brother before I was even in White Lion, and my brother used to say, 'Hey, that bass player reminds me a lot of you,' and I think my brother had me on too high of a pedestal [laughs]. I'd be watching Billy, and my jaw would just hit the floor because I was mesmerized and confused by all these wonderful things he was doing. Billy showed us that the bass can be taken to the same space that the guitar occupies, and he does that better than anybody."
14. Larry Graham
"Sly and the Family Stone is another one that's just such a monster player and so influential. That guy would be up there thumping and slapping, which gave Sly and the Family Stone a real sense of massive propulsion.
"Larry made all those hits jump as he was slapping away at the bass. He was just someone that was so musical, so aggressive, and incredibly amazing on his instrument."
15. Tal Wilkenfeld
"As far as someone who is maybe a little bit more contemporary, Tal Wilkenfeld is a bass player that I've admired for some time. In my mind, she is the entire package. Tal Wilkenfeld is a player that can not only literally play anything, but on top of that, she just plays it all so well. She’s definitely someone who I admire, and I really respect the way she goes about her instrument."