June 2 – Michael Had Runaway Success With Bangles

If George was the “Quiet Beatle”, today we wish a happy birthday to the “quiet” one of a band which idolized the Beatles. Happy 66th, Michael Steele! And no, we’re not meaning the one-time lieutenant governor of Maryland.

Steele is best-known as the talented bassist from The Bangles, although we guess her parents knew her best as Susan Thomas, the name she was born with. At age 20 she changed it to the surprisingly masculine-sounding name, although sometimes she’s gone by “Micki” instead. “I guess it’s not as normal as ‘Pam’” she told an interviewer in 2007. “I changed my name in 1976, for personal reasons.” She hasn’t really elaborated on what those reasons were though she did once joke that she thought having a sex change would be the only way to get into a real rock band. Although she’s had her success with doing that and helping along two of the best-loved bands lacking in Y-chromosones.

The southern California girl learned bass as a teen, being a fan of “melodic” type bassists like Paul McCartney, Carol Kaye and later on XTC’s Colin Moulding. At age 20 she joined the Runaways, a band that gave Joan Jett her musical start and was later immortalized in film. She was their bassist, and lead vocalist on most of their songs they recorded for a demo. She left before they got signed and made their first record though. Various reasons have been mentioned, including the rest of the girls thinking that she – at 20 – was too old, her not liking their choice of material, but probably most tellingly, her refusing the sexual advances of their manager.

Through the late-’70s and early-’80s, she played in several local bar bands before getting her big break, joining the Bangles when their first bassist suddenly quit. She joined before they put out their first record. Although ever in the shadow of the Peterson sisters and especially Susanna Hoffs in the group, on their breakthrough album, A Different Light, she sang their cover version of Big Star’s “September Gurls” – a song she recommended – and “Following,” a song she wrote that Rolling Stone considered the album’s “standout song.” Her role increased on the 1988 smash Everything, writing three songs on it and even trying her hand at some guitar as well as her bass.

However, things were far from good for her, or the band at the time so it’s little surprise they broke up. “We didn’t talk enough,” she told The Guardian in 2003, so tensions built up between the four women. None of the four liked the lack of control CBS Records gave them over their recordings. As well, she wasn’t built to be a touring artist. The newspaper described her as “shy” and “awkward” during the interview, in which she said that her decision to leave the band would have probably happened even if the other three carried on. “We went to Japan for the last time and I started crying on the plane and I couldn’t stop…I didn’t realize until years later that I’d had a mini-breakdown. The pressure was so intense that it had to stop, otherwise I was going to come down with some horrible disease.” Indeed, the group had called it quits before the ’90s arrived, ceding the field of “all female rock/pop group” to the harmonic but less musically-adept Wilson Phillips. By the end of the decade, Susanna, Debbie and Vickie were re-forming the Bangles though, and with hesitation, Michael joined them, with the caveat she didn’t want them to be some “Dick Clark oldies band.” They weren’t, and recorded some new music which unfortunately went largely unnoticed, but they were popular again as a touring act. She quit again though in 2003, because of her troubles with the routine of touring. Hoffs diplomatically put it “Michael has since graduated from being a Bangle,” adding that “I’m such a fan of everything she does. She’s really an amazing singer, writer, player and an incredibly creative person.” We believe her but its unfortunate we don’t have more of a chance to judge that – Steele apparently recorded a solo album in the ’90s, but it remains unreleased.

Steele remains a private person but apparently is doing well and living out of the limelight in California. Puts being a star in a “different light.”

February 13 – Peter’s Bass Gave Music Its Hook

One of new wave’s senior bass players is now a senior – Peter Hook! Happy 65th to the great bassist who gave the distinctive sound to New Order (as well as its predecessor Joy Division). His fancy and prominent bass have really separated those bands (as well as Monaco , Freebass and his new one, Peter Hook and the Light) from most similar new wave bands and made him NME‘s 23rd best bassist ever. they conclude that he’s “integral to his band’s sounds” and that he’s “outspoken but on stage he lets his fretwork do the talking in a most staggering way.” Indeed, not only did he add the bass which made their music stand out from the crowd, he also co-wrote almost all their hits including “Shellshock”, “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle.” When not playing bass, he could be writing – he’s authored three biographies ,including one called How Not To Run a Club (involving the band’s infamous and money-losing Hacienda Club)- or teaching. He began a university course on Music Industry Management at the University of Central Lancashire. 

Hook has three children, and one of his sons, Jack, seems to be carrying on the family tradition. He’s played bass for the Smashing Pumpkins on tour in recent years.

Oddly, it’s the day for birthdays it would seem, if you’re a musician named Peter. Also celebrating today are Peter Gabriel, hitting 71, and Peter Tork of the Monkees was born this day 79 years ago but passed away in 2019.

December 17 – REM-arkably Versatile Mike

Happy birthday to one of the more talented and more down-to-earth stars of the Alternative Rock world. Mike Mills was born on this day in 1958 in California. Luckily for the music world, as was the case with bandmate Peter Buck, his parents moved the family to Georgia when Mike was young and he met drummer Bill Berry in Macon, formed a group and then met Michael Stipe and Peter Buck when they went to Athens for university. The rest, as they say, is history.

Mills was likely the most-talented musician in R.E.M., playing bass for them but also capable of handling drums, keyboards of all variety and even guitars to assist their main six-stringer, Peter Buck at times to. While he added the distinctive counter-melodies to Michael Stipe on a number of their hits, he also sang lead on a few of their memorable tunes, including covers of “Love Is All Around” and “Yellow River” and two great ones from Out of Time: “Texarkana” and “Near Wild Heaven.” As to their success, he told the Guardian a few years back that “it’s a balancing act. You want to be grateful and graceful (but) not let it go to your heads. That was one of the reasons we never moved to New York City. Staying in Athens helped us keep our feet on the ground.”

Never one to let dust settle under his feet, when not with R.E.M. (and since then) he’s worked with artists like Warren Zevon, Robbie Robertson and the Indigo Girls and recently has been touring with a violinist, Robert McDuffie and a classical ensemble, plus members of the Drive-by Truckers in a mix of classical and rock .Noteworthy enough is it that the Wall Street Journal reviewed it, calling it “strong on melody but weak on classical fluency.” When not making music, Mike’s likely watching sports – he is a fantasy football star and has written articles about his beloved Atlanta Braves for publications including Rolling Stone.

November 22 – New York New Wave Head Gal Turns 70

One of the coolest ladies in rock was born near San Diego this day back in 1950, so happy birthday to Tina Weymouth!

Weymouth is one of the best bassists around, without needing to add in adjectives like “female”, and is best known for her work with Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club. Rolling Stone for example, once rated her among the 30 best bassists of all-time, and added she was “a critical part of the Talking Heads songwriting team, even if she didn’t always get credited, and she brought an effortless cool” to the stage and their sound.

Her personal life seems a success as well, being married to fellow Talking Head Chris Frantz since 1977. The pair have been a “pair” since their days at college in Rhode Island (where Frantz met David Byrne) and founded the Tom Tom Club together, which she says was based on equal parts of Kraftwerk and the B-52s. She says they are still in love and “my man never bores me.” Don’t look for a big Talking Heads reunion anytime soon though. Getting them together to perform at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2002 was work enough. David Byrne is famously autistic and equally famous in not getting along well with his bandmates. She says of Byrne, “he doesn’t relate emotionally to things,” while her hubby says Byrne “demeaned (and) humiliated her” when they worked together. Let’s hope no one does that to her today on her 70th.

September 1 – Foxton Jam-med With Greats

A guy too oft written off as a junior member of a great band becomes a senior today! Happy 65th birthday, Bruce Foxton. Foxton has worn quite a few hats in his time but is best known as the stellar bassist for The Jam.

Foxton was born in Surrey, England in a working class neighborhood. Although he had some talent in “football” (soccer to us) and likely wanted to be a soccer star like most other British boys of the ’60s, he also loved music and that’s where the path led him. He met Rick Buckler, Steve Brookes and Paul Weller in school ; in 1972 they formed The Jam. Brookes soon quit, and Foxton, originally a guitarist switched over to the bass. And did so quite well. In time, the NME in Britain ranked him as the seventh -best bassist of all-time, saying his “vibrant, innovative fretwork gave the Jam the zest that made them the Mod champs.”

Many considered them punk, but the band really drew their inspiration more from ’60s rock and the “mod” movement and particularly liked the Who and the Kinks. Whether punk, classic rock, punk or retro-revivalists, The Jam of course were for a little while, perhaps the hottest act in the UK, scoring 18 top 40 singles there in only five years at the end of the ’70s and early-’80s. while Paul Weller got most of the attention and was the main songwriter for the band, Foxton added a few songs like their ’78 hit “The Modern World.” During his run with the band, he also spotted some local talent in the Vapors and helped them get a record deal, and topped it off with having his dad become their manager!

After Weller broke up the band rather arbitrarily, Foxton put out a solo album which generated one UK hit single (“Freak”) in 1983, then he soon after joined Stiff Little Fingers and spent some 15 years with them. More recently, he’s toured with Buckler in a band called From the Jam, playing mostly Jam songs, and has even seemingly made peace with Paul Weller. He joined Paul on stage in 2010 to perform three Jam songs including “Eton Rifles” during a solo Weller concert and since then both have worked as session musicians on each other’s albums. Can a Jam reunion jam be far away? Let’s hope they might.

June 12 – Brit Bands Did Well Bettin’ On Wetton

Remembering a very busy and talented bassist. John Wetton would have turned 71 today.

Wetton was one of Britain’s most respected and most in-demand bass players through the ’70s and ’80s, working with King Crimson on their final three albums (in their original incarnation), with Roxy Music in the mid-’70s and then solo projects from both Bryan Ferry and Eno of that band. He’d later record several albums with Phil Manzanera, Roxy’s guitarist and put out six solo studio records. Commercially, however, Wetton’s pinnacle was with Asia in the ’80s. He was the frontman for the super-group, being the chief writer, bassist and singer on most of their radio hits.

John grew up surrounded by music, but mostly classical…which he enjoyed. His brother was a serious classical organist and singer and young John began to play bass parts to help his brother practice at home. Alas, Wetton passed away in 2017 from cancer. Carl Palmer, his bandmate in Asia, said on John’s death, “as a musician he was both brave and innovative, with a voice that took the music of Asia to the top of the charts…I will miss his talent, his sense of humor and his infectious smile.”

May 19 – Flowers’ A Bloomin’ Good Bassist

Yesterday we looked at David Bowie and one of our readers pointed out that he always had fine musicians backing him. Today we look at one of those greats who’ve toiled away in the shadows for years. Happy birthday, Herbie Flowers! Flowers is a young 82 today. You might not know Herbie’s name,,, but if you listen to any classic rock or oldies radio, you’d recognize some of his work.

Herbie, or Brian as his parents called him, was born in Middlesex, England and grew up loving jazz and Dixieland music. He played tuba quite well and even led a military band while serving in the British Air Force in the ’50s. Around that time he also learned the instrument he’s now synynomous with – the bass. Although his first love is jazz, he made a name for himself playing bass on records for some of the UK’s finest rock stars and bands in the ’60s and ’70s. None more singly famous and distinctive than Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”

In the ’60s, he became one of London’s leading session musicians and a friend of well-known producers Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti. Perhaps because his orientation was jazz, he had a bit of a distinctive style which made them seek him out for work on their famous client’s records, including Elton John for Dudgeon (Madman Across the Water, among others) and David Bowie for Visconti. Among his many credits for Bowie was the iconic “Space Oddity.” Doubtless his association with Bowie led Reed to seek him out for what would be his biggest hit and around the same time Herbie did the echoing bass on David Essex’s hit “Rock On.” He fit in work for Nilsson (the great Nilsson Schmilsson album), Cat Stevens, Olivia Newton John, Bryan Ferry and eventually three out of the four Beatles. Herbie shows up on George Harrison’s Somewhere in England and Gone Troppo, Paul’s Give My Regards To Broad Street and Ringo’s Stop And Smell the Roses. And, perhaps not surprisingly given his work with glam rock hero David Bowie, when T-Rex needed a new bassist in the mid-’70s, they brought Flowers on board. He was the last bassist for the band before Marc Bolan died in 1977. However, for all that, it seems like Herbie’s proudest of his work with instrumental jazz-based band Sky that he founded around the end of the ’70s.

Of late, he’s taught bass at a British college at times. Amazingly, he still plays the same bass he used for all those sessions in the ’60s and ’70s, a Hawkes and Sons model. “I just love the sound of the bass. It’s my first love,” he told Music Radar. He might not have been especially rich or famous, but he seems like he’s quite happy with his life and work, and why not?

Complaints? He mentioned just one. “I wish there were more female bass players. Those I know are much better than the blokes, going back to Carol Kaye.” There you have it ladies… if you’re looking for something to keep busy with during Corona virus quarantine, pick up a four string and make Herbie happy!

April 24 – Wonder If He Uses Marshall Amps For That Bass?

John Lennon found that comparing oneself to Jesus isn’t a good way to win fans in the U.S. Well, apparently comparing one’s band to Eddie Vedder isn’t either. Today’s birthday boy, Brian Marshall found that out a couple of decades back. We wish Brian a happy 47th birthday. While he’s not a household name, one of his bands is – Creed. He’s been their bassist for most of the time they’ve been around.

Although he was born in Mississippi, Marshall grew up mainly in northern Florida. His dad was a drummer, and while young Brian liked banging away on them, dad didn’t care for that too much so he bought the lad a bass, which he quickly took to. John Paul Jones, Geddy Lee and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris were primary influences on his early playing. When it comes to music, he says he looks for songs with “a good firm melody and as a bass player, I tend to play off what a vocalist would do.”

He was in several bands during his high school and college years, including one called Baby Fish Mouth. When Baby Fish Mouth wasn’t sweeping the nation, he decided to form a band with some of his friends including Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti. Originally named Naked Toddler for a few days, he suggested the name “Creed” and that seemed to change the band’s trajectory upwards. They quickly signed to a label called Wind Up, a small New York division of CBS Records at the time. According to the stories, he and Stapp actually signed the contract in blood. OK.

They quickly found success with their debut album, My Own Prison and jumped into the musical stratosphere with their sophomore release, Human Clay. That album scored them an American #1 single in “Arms Wide Open” (which was also their only top 10 hit in Canada and Australia as well), and with mainly positive lyrics and a few nods to their fairly religious upbringings, it won airplay and appeal on Christian stations as well as hard rock ones. The result was an album which sold 11X platinum in the U.S.

However, around that time Marshall was quoted as saying that they (or Scott Stapp actually) wrote better songs than Pearl Jam, a band they were already being compared to, often derisively – with the suggestion that they were mere Pearl Jam wannabes. There was an uproar over that, and Marshall quickly found himself fired, although in reality those close to the band suggest that Stapp didn’t like Marshall’s heavy drinking at the time, which would become ironic given all the famously bad behavior Stapp would soon demonstrate due to substance abuse.

Anyway, after one more album, Creed fell apart for years and Brian joined up with the guitarist and drummer, got a new singer and formed another hard rock outfit called Alter Bridge. They’ve put out six studio albums to date, with their 2004 debut One Day Remains being the most successful, going gold in the U.S. on the strength of two top 10 hits on rock charts,“Open your Eyes” and “Find the Real.” Meanwhile, Creed reformed in 2009 and welcomed him back, currently he’s a member of both although neither is very active.

While you won’t find him on a stage much anymore, he might be the guy you need if you’re looking to buy a house in the Florida panhandle. He’s a successful real estate agent there and has a university degree in design as well. He says “I still continue to record and tour as a member of both bands, (but) there are other passions in my life such as real estate… spending time with my family and traveling.”

Sharing birthday cake honors with Marshall today are a couple more skilled bassists – Captain Sensible, the oddball solo singer and member of The Damned who’s 66 and David J. of Love + Rockets and Bauhaus, who turns 63.

March 13 – Adam ‘Bass’ically The Odd Man Out In U2

Happy 60th birthday to the bit of a misfit in U2- Adam Clayton.

The bassist is the only one of the quartet not born in Ireland (he was born across the channel in England but moved to Eire when aged 5, at which time he met Dave Evans, aka The Edge.) As well, his religious beliefs aren’t known to be as strong as those of the other lads, which is perhaps why he’s led a bit more of the “rock and roll lifestyle”, having an arrest for marijuana, a well-documented love of heavy drinking in their early days and even dating a supermodel (Naomi Campbell) in the ’90s. Although they’ve long since split (he married a Brazilian in 2013 and has a child with her) she says “I only have positive things to say about him.”

He’s settled down some lately but never stopped giving the band the solid bass core dating back to the days decades back when Bono recalls “he had the only amplifier so we never argued with him”. Even though he had the amp and bass but no knowledge of the instrument! He’s entirely self-taught, modeling himself after J.J. Burnel of The Stranglers. He recalls “I remember hearing the bass on ‘Hangin’ Around’, and immediately knew it was going to be the instrument for me.” The only exception to the rule is the song “40”, a frequent show-closer, in which he and The Edge traded instruments, Adam thus playing guitar. With The Edge hitting the six decade plateau next year, maybe they’ll trade instruments again and do a tune called “60”?

January 3 – Zeppelin’s Quiet Copilot

One of the most talented and hardest-working musicians of the rock era was born. Happy 74th birthday John Paul Jones, long may you rock!

Although best known as the bass player for Led Zeppelin, Jones can play guitar, mandolin, violin, ukelele, autoharp, piano (which he learned to play at age six by his dad’s side. Dad was a concert pianist and big band member) and more or less anything else put in front of him! By the time he was 16 he was touring with The Shadows, at the time one of Britain’s top acts and in the mid-’60s he worked for Decca Records as a session musician, adding bits to records by the Who’s Who of the day’s music- Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, the Yardbirds…where he met Jimmy Page, making him an obvious invitee when Page and Robert Plant were starting their own band.Page recalls “he had quite brilliant ideas and I jumped at the chance to get him.”

In Zeppelin, Jones excelled at keeping to the shadows, both on the records and on stage. While the others had reputations for being the quintessential hard-partying rock stars, Jones rarely attracted attention. “I used to change my appearance all the time just to make sure I wasn’t as recognizable. I can’t see the point of travelling around the world and not seeing anything,” he said. People at Atlantic Records suggested he was the “wisest guy” in the band, “Why? He never got caught in embarrassing situations.” Likewise, while he’s not in the front and center of the band’s sound and is credited to far fewer songs than Plant and Page, it was very much Jones and his little flourishes – arranging string sections, adding oddball instruments and so on – which made them stand out, and made them different than say, Black Sabbath as he’s quick to point out.

Since Zep, Jones has kept busy enough, being in Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl with whom he also guested on the Foo Fighters In Your Honor , which Grohl considered an honor. “The second greatest thing to happen to me,” the avowed Zeppelin fan noted. As well, Jones has kept busy producing records for, or adding and arranging string sections for records by the likes of Lenny Kravitz, R.E.M. and The Mission, whose very Zeppelin-like Children album he produced.