In this article, I’m going to do my best to tackle a long-standing issue of who did what in the Floyd–who played bass? This has long been a point of debate within the fan community: although Roger Waters was officially the bassist of Pink Floyd, it’s now known that a fairly significant portion of the bass work was actually done by guitarist David Gilmour. How much of it was David is frequently debated, especially due to a claim in the 1980s that suggested he played more bass than Roger. I’m going to solve the mystery the best I can shortly, but first, a short word about the two bassists of Pink Floyd…
Roger Waters, whether fairly or not, is often cited for his limited musicianship. His role as the bass player of Pink Floyd came about in the early versions of the band (Screaming Abdabs, The Tea Set, Sigma 6, etc.), where he was originally a guitarist. An acoustic guitarist by nature, he ended up on bass when fellow student Clive Metcalf left a vacancy in the fledgling R&B group. Roger apparently saw this as a demotion of sorts, claiming that he’s at least glad he didn’t end up on drums. In the Syd era, Roger was more or less still learning how to play his instrument; he could never tune it by ear, and before he aquired a strobotuner in the 1970s, he would entrust Rick Wright to tune his bass for him (by sticking the headstock over the keyboards). Roger’s bass style is fairly basic, but often full of “Roger-isms” as I call them, including playing octaves (Careful With The Axe Eugene, Goodbye Cruel World), and little melodic phrases thrown in for good measure. He almost always played with a pick on his Pink Floyd output (giving a very distinctive attack), although he’s since been playing fingerstyle about 30% of the time.
David Gilmour’s very natural and fluid talent for the electric guitar has been known to carry over to the bass, and speaking purely technically, David is the stronger bassist between him and Roger. David once claimed that most (i.e. over 50%) of the bass on the Pink Floyd albums is in fact himself and not Roger, and that Roger won a number of bass playing polls because of David’s playing. While David indeed played a significant amount of four-string, including some very notable basslines (One Of These Days, Pigs and Hey You), I personally think the idea that he played more of the bass than Roger is exaggerated. After all, the bass was Roger’s job. David usually ended up on bass because he wrote the part in question (Pigs), because Roger was doing a guitar part instead (Sheep), or because the song called for a fretless bass (Hey You), which was a problem instrument for Roger. It was usually, however, more likely the case that at any given time, David might have had the facilities to get the job done quicker and more reliably in the time alloted. David’s playing is usually a bit more subtle, although he has a way of emulating Roger’s style (i.e. Sheep again, which Roger wrote the bassline to, and originally planned to play himself.)
Here is a list of who played what bass parts on each album (I can’t vouch for 100% correctness on this; this list is a mix of I know for fact and what I’m just pretty sure of. Wikipedia has been a weird mix of being really helpful and not helpful at all.)
Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Roger played all the bass parts on this album. Syd never covered for Roger on bass like David did.
A Saucerful Of Secrets
Roger likely was still playing all the bass parts on this album.
Presumably still all Roger
Live: All Roger
Studio: The Narrow Way 1-3 is the only composition on the studio album with any bass guitar. As per the criteria of everybody’s compostion, Gilmour played all the instruments on this song, and therefore bass.
Atom Heart Mother
-Atom Heart Mother: Roger
-If: Presumably David, since Roger plays acoustic. This song was only played once live (on John Peel’s show), and with Roger on acoustic and David on lead, Rick Wright played both Hammond organ and bass guitar. This is the only time Rick ever played bass.
-Summer ’68: Roger
-Fat Old Sun: David (fretless bass)
-Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast: Roger (parts of it could be David)
-One Of These Days: two basses, being played by David and Roger, on either side of the stereo channel. David’s comes in first in one channel (with fresh strings) and Roger comes in second on the other channel (with dead bass strings, which a roadie failed to replace). The tremoloed bass in the middle section is David.
-A Pillow Of Winds: must be David (fretless)
-San Tropez: Roger
-Seamus: David (pretty sure)
-Echoes: Roger (Wikipedia claims there’s a fretless part by David. I don’t think this is true.)
Obscured By Clouds
Pretty sure it’s mostly Roger since this album was written and recorded very rapidly, but I think Childhood’s End has two basses; David playing the main bassline, and Roger playing the muted bass part (similar to the ticking sound you hear on Time.) Wot’s…Uh The Deal may also be a Gilmour bassline.
Dark Side of the Moon
Roger played all his own bass parts on Dark Side
Wish You Were Here
-Shine On You Crazy Diamond 1-5: Roger
-Welcome to the Machine: No bass guitar, but Roger provided the VSC3 bass drone
-Have A Cigar: Roger
-Wish You Were Here: convinced that it’s David (Roger’s bass playing on the live ’77 version sounds completely different.)
-Shine On You Crazy Diamond 6-9: the beginning of part six starts with two basses. David comes in first, and Roger does the phased bass part. The rest of the bass is all Roger.
-Pigs on the Wing 1: no bass
-Pigs (Three Different Ones): David (wrote the bass part)
-Sheep: David (Roger knew the part full well, but had a rhythm guitar part he wanted to do, so David picked up the bass)
-Pigs on the Wing 2: no bass
Animals Live 1977
Before the Animals tour, Roger always played all of the bass guitar in Pink Floyd concerts (save for the one performance of If that I mentioned earlier, where Rick played bass). But with the addition of second guitarist Snowy White in the touring band for the Animals tour, Roger was presented with an opporitunity to play some rhythm guitar himself on a more regular basis, and leave his bass duties into White’s trustworthy hands. The tour consisted of Animals in its entirety for the first set (albeit out of the original order) and Wish You Were Here in its entirety for set two (in order this time,) with Money and/or Us and Them as encores. Most songs still had Roger on bass; the following songs didn’t:
-Sheep: Snowy on bass (Roger played a strat)
-Pigs on the Wing pt. 1: no bass (Roger played acoustic)
-Pigs on the Wing pt. 2: it’s speculated that David played bass, since Roger’s on acoustic and Snowy’s playing lead. But I’ve never seen photographic proof. If someone out there can solidly either confirm or debunk this theory, I’ll be much obliged.
-Pigs (Three Different Ones): Snowy on bass (Roger played a strat)
-Welcome to the Machine: Snowy on bass (Roger on acoustic)
Thank you Vernon Fitch and Richard Mahon for the following information from their awesome book Comfortably Numb-A History of The Wall.
-In the Flesh?: Roger
-The Thin Ice: Roger
-Another Brick in the Wall 1: Roger
-The Happiest Days of our Lives: Roger
-Another Brick in the Wall 2: Roger
-Goodbye Blue Sky: David
-Empty Spaces: Roger
-Young Lust: David
-One Of My Turns: Roger
-Don’t Leave Me Now: David
-Another Brick in the Wall 3: Roger
-Goodbye Cruel World: Roger
-Hey You: David (fretless; perhaps the most famous Pink Floyd bass part that’s actually Gilmour)
-Is There Anybody Out There?: Roger
-Nobody Home: David
-Bring the Boys Back Home: no bass
-Comfortably Numb: both David and Roger recorded bass parts apparently. I think it’s David for most of the song, then during the outro solo the bass sounds distinctly like Roger.
-The Show Must Go On: David (the only song on The Wall to not feature Roger at all)
-In the Flesh: Roger
-Run Like Hell: David
-Waiting For The Worms: David
-Stop: no bass
-The Trial: David
-Outside the Wall: no bass
The Wall Live 1980-81
For the Wall shows, the nature of Roger’s role as a theatrical frontman was to the extent where a significant portion of the show required him to be relieved of his bass guitar duties, usually so he could just sing with a wireless mic in hand. Ultimately, a second instrumentalist was designated to double each member of Pink Floyd, both for musical and theatrical reasons, so the show could begin with these four musicians wearing masks of their respective Pink Floyd member, fooling the audience into thinking they were viewing Pink Floyd, before pulling back the curtain to reveal the real band. These musicians would be known as the surrogate band (or the shadow band), and on bass representing Roger Waters was Andy Bown. A multi-instrumentalist whose regular gig was as keyboardist in Status Quo, Andy would play bass on every song that had bass, either by doubling Roger’s bass, or in most cases, by playing instead of Roger.
These are the songs where Roger DID play bass:
-The Thin Ice
-Another Brick in the Wall pt. 1
-The Happiest Days of our Lives
-Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2
-Goodbye Blue Sky
-Don’t Leave Me Now (may have picked up his bass halfway through, according to Phil Taylor’s guitar switching notes)
-The Last Few Bricks
-In the Flesh
-Run Like Hell
Roger typically just sang on all other songs. He played acoustic guitar on Mother and clarinet on Outside the Wall. He also played the flaming gong at the US shows on Waiting For the Worms (the band got rid of the gong by the time they got to London.)
The Final Cut
Since David’s role in Pink Floyd had been severely marginalized by this point, and Roger was effectively calling all the shots musically, it’s assumed that David had nothing to do with any of the bass playing on TFC.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason
If the album credits are to be believed, Tony Levin played all the bass on this album, as well as the Chapman Stick on One Slip. Some sources suggest that David played some bass, but don’t suggest where. I think the bass on AMLOR sounds King Crimsony enough that it’s probably all Tony.
The Division Bell
Guy Pratt is known to have played most of the bass on this album. David played bass on High Hopes, and possibly a couple of others but I’m not sure. There’s photos of early sessions showing Bob Ezrin on bass, but he’s not credited as a bassist, so he might have just played for some of the early jams when Guy wasn’t there.