Tony “The Fretless Monster” Franklin might possibly be the best bass player you never heard of, unless of course you are an adherent to the bass, and its envelope-pushing capabilities when in the hands of someone like Franklin. Sure, there are great bass players in rock music, and Franklin is one of them, but he’s more, very much more. Franklin rose to prominence in the 1980s as the bassist with The Firm, the supergroup that grew out of the ashes of the mighty Led Zeppelin, with Jimmy Page leading on guitar, Paul Rodgers on vocals, Franklin on bass and Chris Slade on drums.
Like Page’s early beginnings, Franklin has done his share of session work, appearing as a four-string gunslinger on over 150 albums for such artists as Kate Bush, Roy Harper, Glenn Hughes, David Gilmour, Quiet Riot and of course Jimmy Page. Franklin is currently touring with Blues-Rock phenom Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
—Intro by Ivor Levene; Franklin's list compiled by Ivor Levene
Queen, A Night At The Opera
“Bohemian Rhapsody” ruled the U.K. charts in late 1975, but it never occurred to me that there was an album it came from. Months later, a close school friend played A Night At The Opera. I was transfixed. At 13 years old, I’d never heard anything like it. Symphonic in it’s scope, musically diverse — from hard rock to vaudeville: operatic, adventurous and playful.
ABBA, Greatest Hits
My Dad owned the album, and at 13, I played the album repeatedly. I still love ABBA. I consider them masters of pop music songwriting, production and performance. Even at that age, I was aware of how skillfully they created musical hooks and passages that filled every second with meaningful melodies, sounds and rhythms.
Be-Bop Deluxe, Futurama
I was introduced to Be-Bop Deluxe by a school friend in 1976. The band’s music was a like a stream of consciousness, dreamlike and ethereal, with poetic lyrics and unusual musical landscapes that conformed to no stereotypes. Though Be-Bop Deluxe did not receive the public accolades and success they deserved, this album was a great influence upon me.
Jaco Pastorius, Jaco Pastorius (solo album)
This album was released in 1976 but I didn’t hear it until 1979. I’d been playing fretted bass for five years. Jaco’s harmonics, his tone, his groove and his compositions spawned a complete paradigm shift in my musical journey. I had to have a fretless bass. Fretless bass has become my signature instrument, and this was the album that ignited the spark.
Weather Report, Heavy Weather
This album was a continuation of my discovery of Jaco Pastorius. It showed a different aspect of Jaco — in a full band context, often playing other people’s compositions. To me, Heavy Weather seemed closer to rock music than the pure jazz and funk of Jaco’s solo album. Jaco’s playing seemed more thoughtful, straight-ahead and emotional.
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book
This album has appeared at various times in my life, each time presenting me with different inspiration. This might qualify as my sole desert island disc. It covers many aspects of music that are dear to me, pure inspiration, phenomenal songwriting, great performances, daring creativity, passionate vulnerable love songs and a funk and groove like no other.
Roy Harper, Work Of Heart
I wasn’t sure if I should include this album on my list, as I played on it. But there’s no denying its influence and impact upon me. I consider Roy a poet first, who is able to craft his words into emotional meaningful musical works, supported by masterful acoustic guitar. His use of alternative open tunings opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me.
Stevie Wonder, Songs In The Key Of Life
Songs carries on where Talking Book left off. Stevie is at the height of his creativity and confidence, willing to take musical chances, while crafting some of the biggest hits of the era (“Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” “Isn’t She Lovely”). Steeped in spirituality, this album has a subliminal timeless quality, which touches me on a very deep level.
Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti
In spite of working extensively with Jimmy Page, my appreciation of Led Zeppelin didn’t fully blossom until after working with him. Zeppelin’s catalog as a whole has been a major influence, it’s zenith being Physical Graffiti. Here they seemed to be completely at ease with themselves as a band, with nothing to prove, willing to stretch, experiment and have fun.
Various Artists, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown
In 2008, I became aware of the powerful and emotional movie Standing In The Shadows Of Motown. Featuring the legendary “Funk Brothers,” the band that played on almost every Motown song from 1959 to 1972. It finally shone the spotlight on the little known heroes and innovators of this groundbreaking era in Motown’s history.