Monday, September 6

James Jamerson, My favorite Bass Player

The story of James Jamerson is a sad one, a studio musician whose contributions laid the foundation of many of motowns greatest hits, a man who is singularly responsible for more booty shaking than quite possibly any one who ever lived. I'll go as far to suggest that every single visitor to this place, has at one time or another been moved, to get off of their ass and dance, to the rhythm of this man's bass guitar.

I was just listening to the finest bassline in the history of rock and roll, or rhythm and groove. Jamerson's work on Stevie Wonder's "I was made to love her" ranks in this Bass player's mind as a masterpiece. It is the swing, syncopation, and a manipulation of time in music; that I can only describe, as a brilliantly executed hesitation dribble, that earn him a place in the pantheon of musical genius. It was this mastery of time, nothing short of monumental, that got many of you laid. You ever feel the irresistable urge to rise to the occasion during Martha and the Vandella's "Heat Wave", that was Jamerson shakin' those hips of yours. "I heard it through the grape vine," "love child," For once in my life," "the Tracks of my tears" and "You keep me hangin on" are among the 30 number one records he performed on.

In 2000 Jamerson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some excerpts from the Detroit Free Press
This much we know about the late bassist James Jamerson: He had hands like bear claws. He adored his kids. And he dramatically, forever, altered the sound of contemporary music.
Mysterious as his persona might have been, there was nothing vague about Jamerson's playing. As bassist for the fabled Funk Brothers, he was the bedrock of the Motown sound. When you dance to "Heat Wave," your hips aren't moving because of Martha or her Vandellas. They're being seduced into motion by Jamerson and his fat, vibrant grooves underneath.
"You have to remember the state of the electric bass at that time -- it had only been around since the early '50s," says Slutsky. "People didn't know what to do with it. Nobody blew you away. Then Jamerson comes along. He was the first virtuoso of the electric bass, the first to give the instrument a voice."

In musical terms, what Jamerson introduced was syncopation. In layman's terms, just call it funk.


Tales of Jamerson in the studio are legendary. He'd concoct his parts in mere seconds, they say, then fool around as the band rehearsed, stomping his foot in odd meters or humming an alternate melody to throw off the players.

"You'd come in with a skeleton for the rhythm section, but you didn't try to contain him," says Paul Riser, a longtime Motown arranger. "He'd always come up with something better than any arranger could dream of."

He was, by any definition, a genius.

"Jamerson terrified bassists all over the world," says Slutsky. "Still does."

I am one of them. While I have not spent as much time as possible, I still can't pull off what he does with the scariest song of them all, "I was made to love her" His son James Jamerson Jr, has a wonderful tribute site here. I would continue to write about this phenominal talent, but I want to listen to him funk it up, and my browser crashed and wiped out this post the last time I was blogging and listening to the .mp3. Take a look at the picture above one time before you leave, and remember the face of the man that got little credit for his achievements while alive, but has had a profound impact on the music you enjoy.

Just for the purpose of accuracy, my Heat Wave reference was written before I saw the one in the excerpt. my opinion, his is better. but the compare and contrast is interesting.