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James Jameron's Funk Machine - Wrong Year

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Steve Boisen, Nov 12, 2015.

  1. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    I am concerned that any chances of recovering the Funk Machine, James Jamerson's legendary bass that was stolen shortly before his death in 1983, may be thwarted by a bit of misinformation that is still very prevalent: the idea that this instrument was a 1962 Fender Precision Bass. Allan Slutsky said it was a '62 in his book and this has become the accepted canon even though photographic evidence shows that Jamerson's third P-bass, the one that he was photographed with during the latter part of his Motown career, was a 1964 or '65 model with a transition logo and pearl dots. Is there anyway to get this information out there, or is the '62 story too widespread for anyone to revise their thinking on this matter?

    - Steve
    seang15, Michael4bass, design and 4 others like this.
  2. Interestingly, I recently arrived at the same theory. I think the bass we call the "Funk Machine" is almost certainly a 1965 or 1966 model which James purchased sometime in 1966. A few days ago, I sent the following email to Chris Jisi at Bass Player Magazine in hopes of getting some further confirmation from James Jr. My email is as follows:

    Dear Chris,

    I've been a long time reader of Bass Player, and I've always enjoyed your articles. I'm glad to see you have taken over as editor!

    Ever since the 1990 article "Interview with a Ghost," I've been a big Jamerson fan. Like most bass players in the early 1990s, I sat down with the transcriptions from Standing in the Shadows and it changed my playing forever.

    Next to Jamerson's music, I have also been obsessed with the Funk Machine. I was fortunate to buy a 63 P Bass back when they were fairly affordable. While it isn't the Funk Machine, I like to think it gives a little bit of the Jamerson sound, especially with twenty year old LaBellas.

    Anyway, to get to the point of this note, I now believe the commonly accepted belief that the Funk Machine was a 1962 Precision is incorrect. Rather, I think it was likely a 65 or 66 model.

    The notion that the Funk Machine was a 1962 seems to come in large part from Allen Slutsky's description in Standing in the Shadows. He seems to have relied on Dan Forte's 1979 Guitar Player interview with Jamerson, in which he said, "I've had two Precisions stolen from me, but my present one I bought new in '63." However, in your 2009 "Secrets from the Vault" interview with James, Jr., you said the following: "Jamerson favored Fender Precision Basses, having a few stolen until in 1966 he found “The Funk Machine,” a stock sunburst ’62 P-Bass with high action, foam under the bridge cover, and LaBella flatwounds." The 1966 date was very interesting to me, because that would suggest Jamerson bought the bass used if it was in fact a 62 or 63. This is contrary to his GP interview, where he said he bought it new.

    This revelation made me look at the pictures of the bass very closely. One of the most famous picture of Jamerson and his bass is the color studio picture on the last page of Standing in the Shadows. This bass is unquestionably an early 60s model. However, this is not the same bass as in the pictures from the 1979 GP interview, as the bass in the studio picture has a chip in the pickguard that is not seen in the bass in the 1979 picture.

    As you know, Jamerson owned three Precisions during his life 1) the 57 Black Beauty Precision, 2) an early 60s sunburst and 3) the bass known as the Funk Machine. Both the 57 and the sunburst were stolen, while the Funk Machine remained with him until near the end of his life in 1983 when it too was stolen. The studio picture almost certainly shows the early 60s sunburst, while the 1979 pictures show the Funk Machine.

    Upon enlarging the pictures from the 1979 article, it seems clear to me the bass in that picture is a 1965 or 1966 model. Most significantly, the bass has the transition style decal used by Fender between 1964 - 1967, rather than the spaghetti style decal used prior to 64. Another clue is the closeup picture of the neck of the bass on page 96 of Standing in the Shadows, which clearly shows the neck has the pearloid dots Fender began using in 1965, rather than the clay dots used prior to 65. In addition, I looked at the color pictures of the bass from the live Marvin Gaye performance on YouTube. Jamerson's bass has the more vivid style of sunburst used by Fender beginning in 1964.

    Putting all this together, I suggest James, Jr was correct in stating his father bought the Funk Machine in 1966, but he was wrong in saying it was a 62 model. Similarly, Jamerson was correct in saying he bought the bass new, but he likely bought it new in 1966, rather than 1963.

    Of course, none of this is really earth shattering, but it might explain why no one has found the Funk Machine -- everyone is looking for a 62 model and ignoring the 65 - 66 models. It also indicates some of the greatest bass lines of all time were played on a supposedly inferior CBS early instrument!

    Anyway, I thought I'd run my theory by you. I know you are very busy, but if you have any thoughts, I'd enjoy hearing from you. Also, if you could share my thoughts with James, Jr., I would love to know his opinion.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  3. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    Excellent research JB74! We've obviously reached similar conclusions, although I put the date as 1964-65 as I had forgotten about that article in Bass Player. The photo that you call the color studio picture was actually taken in a nightclub, although the date is unclear. I'd like to know if you receive a response to your e-mail.

    - Steve
  4. This is the picture, from page 96 of Standing in the Shadows, finally convinced me the Funk Machine is a 65 or 66. You can clearly see the swirl in the pearloid dots at the twelfth fret. By contrast, clay dots, as used prior to 65 , would have a dull matte finish.

    Mvilmany, liverbird, Root 5 and 10 others like this.
  5. You are right, Steve, I should call the color picture the nightclub picture. I'm becoming very interested the the early 60s sunburst in that picture, as James may have played that one for longer than we previously thought. This picture, from a Jackie Wilson concert in 1961, shows James with a rosewood neck Precision. We know the Black Beauty was stolen around 1961, so James likely played the early 60s sunburst between 1961 - 1966, a very important part of his career. The finish on that bass is very distinctive, with a large red blob in the sunburst, as well as the chip in the pickguard. While the search for the Funk Machine is important, it would be wonderful to find the early 60s sunburst as well. Here's the 1961 Jackie Wilson picture:

    TylerChandler likes this.
  6. matty1039


    Oct 26, 2015
    New Orleans
    Great research guys.
    zr1bill likes this.
  7. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    I've also though the same thing. This early 60's Precision may have appeared on a substantial amount of his work.

    The other issue is the exact location of the "FUNK" carving. By "heel of the neck" do they mean the butt of the neck where the truss rod nut is, or the area where the back of the neck flattens out before it meets the body? I find it unlikely that Jamerson removed the neck and carved the work "FUNK" where no one could see it.

    - Steve
    Rayjay likes this.
  8. mndean


    Mar 20, 2009
    It's at least plausible as by that time he'd had equipment stolen from him. People marked items for identification all the time, especially previous victims of theft. I used to be able to buy a lot of camera gear cheap because of these markings since it heavily damaged their resale value.
    Rayjay and TMARK like this.
  9. There's an interesting quote from Bob Babbitt suggesting the Funk Machine was actually stolen in Detroit and James purchased a fourth P Bass shortly before he moved to L.A. Bob said:

    "Bob Babbitt:
    In Detroit some time before his LA move James Bass was stolen...At that time it was said to be the "Funk Machine" Fender....I know he started playing a new Bass in Detroit at that time...
    Although there are stories that the Bass was stolen in LA it may have been another Bass that he had after the Funk Machine....As far as someone saying they bought one of Jamerson's Bass's I'm not so sure about that..I was told by several people that they knew people who claimed to have bought one of my Bass's, but I never sold or gave away any one of them...After the movie came out there was someone in California who claimed that he had Jamerson's "Funk Machine" but could not or did not want to prove it...Bob"

    If this is true, the pictures from the 1979 Guitar Player article could be the "L.A. Bass" rather than the Funk Machine. However, I have some doubts about the accuracy of Bob's recollection. In the 1979 interview, James states he only owned three Precisions. At the very least, the bass in the 1979 pictures looks the same as the one James is playing in the Marvin Gaye video, which was likely made several years prior to James' 1973 move to L.A.

    Rattman and Steve Boisen like this.
  10. Tbone76


    Aug 24, 2013
    Upstate, NY
    Subbed. Great thread!
  11. FranF

    FranF Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2004
    Northeastern PA
    Yep. For years I've known the bass was a '64 or later. This discussion comes up over at my JJ Facebook page a lot too. ;-) Everyone fought me initially. Glad the tide is turning!
  12. nixdad


    Aug 15, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    Steve -
    Good catch here. Many people have actually noticed the differences in the basses and inconsistencies for many years. When SITSOM was released back in 1988, after reviewing the pictures in the book the first person who mentioned this to me was Chris Grocott from Chris's Vintage Guitar in North Hollywood.

    The differences have also been mentioned in the other Funk Machine threads which mention Paul Crutcher, who is leading the current efforts to try to locate the bass.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2015
  13. TMARK


    Jan 10, 2012
    Richmond VA
    I love this. Great research. The best of TB.
    mindwell, Matthew_84 and Steve Boisen like this.
  14. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    That live footage is from the "Save the Children" concert which took place on September 27, 1972.

    - Steve
  15. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    i had no idea it wasn't really a '62.


    now i know...
  16. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    Who would do such a thing? ;-)

    - Steve
    FranF likes this.
  17. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    Oceana (Pacifica) CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    Another aspect to consider is if it is an early or late '66. Early should have "banjo" frets - later medium jumbo. From the blk & wht closeup in post #4 - they look to be the later.
    jazz Bass 74 likes this.
  18. FranF

    FranF Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2004
    Northeastern PA
    Large frets. Good point....
  19. FranF

    FranF Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2004
    Northeastern PA
    Shuggy73, Steve Boisen and bluejack like this.

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