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James Jamerson

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Professor J, Apr 24, 2019.

  1. I recently returned to bass playing after a long hiatus (15+ years), and I’m just now learning that this Motown player named James Jamerson is being widely recognized as one of the greatest electric bassists, and rightly so.

    The only thing is, back when I regrettably put my bass down at the start of the 21st century, I had never ever heard his name spoken before. So what did I miss over the past 15 or so years that everyone else has copped to? When did the bass community begin to finally recognize him and give him his due? Was it the 2002 documentary about the Funk Brothers?

    And here is where I start to feel deeply moved and incredibly happy to have returned to my instrument. I ask about Jamerson partially because, having returned to playing after so long, and having the opportunity to rediscover his work, I’m gaining some real insight into what first drew me to bass back when I was a 14 year old. As a kid, growing up in my house my mom always had oldies playing—Motown, doo wop, and early R&B. I never appreciated it back then. If you had asked me what music I liked, I would never have said Marvin Gaye or The Temptations, but as an 8 year old white boy in the 1980s, I could sing every lyric to My Girl and What’s Going On. Those songs provided the soundtrack to my childhood home life and are burned into my memory.

    So hearing everyone talking about this guy named James Jamerson, and going back to listen to all those great Motown hits again, I’m struck by how much of his bass playing has been in my ear my whole life. I’m convinced that his melodic and groovy lines were what made the bass my instrument, long before I knew who he was or what was special about him. As an 8 year old kid hanging out at home with my mom, I heard Jamerson singing to me. I feel incredibly grateful for the gift my mother gave me by exposing me to that music, and grateful to see that the bass world has taught me James Jamerson’s name.
  2. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    I think the Dr. Licks SITSM book from the late 80's jump started Jamerson's wider recognition. I know that's when I became peripherally aware of him even though I was always a Motown fan.

    Jamerson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, two years before the SITSM film came out.
    chuckNC, Altwiss, Leo Smith and 18 others like this.
  3. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    I didn't know who he was until I read an interview with Robert DeLeo. Now, I can't play an STP bass line without copping some vibes from Motown.
    dpaul, jmon, Clark Dark and 1 other person like this.
  4. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    Honestly there were many bassists that I liked but never knew who they were until I joined this site (going on 12+ years). I think subconsciously I appreciated them, but until recently, I never really studied them. It sounds like you're in the same boat, so good on ya!
  5. I’m glad to learn about this book! I see there’s a 2002 documentary with the same name, and a 2002 back issue of Bass Player Magazine with Jamerson on the cover and pieces about him and Bob Babbitt. That Dr. Licks book predates everything else by quite a bit.
  6. Is this interview available online somewhere? Or do you remember where you read it?
    chupacerveza and nixdad like this.
  7. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    IMO it is fair to say that Jamerson has received more appreciation in the *popular* media over the last decade or two due to documentaries and the like... but I believe he has always been "widely recognized as one of the greatest electric bassists" by electric bass players themselves.

    Obviously experiences vary, but when I first learned to play bass more than 15 years ago, I had an entire Mel Bay instruction book that was dedicated solely to Jamerson lines.
  8. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    He mentions Jamerson in most interviews about his style, but here’s one:

    Stone Temple Pilots’ Dean and Robert DeLeo | Premier Guitar

    Scroll past Dean’s answers, unless you’re interested.
    Professor J likes this.
  9. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
  10. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Agree. A couple years before that, Guitar Player's bass sections had started to give quite a bit of space to discussing Jamerson's impact. By the time Bass Player magazine hit publication, Jamerson was spoken of as reverentially as though he were on the Mt. Rushmore of bass.
  11. Alex Bass

    Alex Bass Roy Batty Dreams

    Apr 3, 2016
    Same here, I didnt know of Jamerson until I joined TB. TB members like alot of other bassist but I dont think you'll EVER hear a bad word spoken about Jamerson or Jaco on this site. When I started doing my own individual research I feel its Motown's fault no one ever really heard of him seeing as though they only showcased thier top talent not really the backing musicians. Heck its still ALOT of records Jamerson played on that hes still non-credited for!!!! But dont stop at Jamerson look into Ron Carter now THAT man is a master bassist, he played on 2,221 recordings NO ONE topped that, and thats only the ones he got credit for:bassist::bassist::bassist::bassist::drool::drool::drool::drool::drool:
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2019
  12. Five String

    Five String Supporting Member

    There are at least a few isolated bass tracks of Jamerson's on youtube. They're great learning tools but also neat to just listen to.
    Mpcorb, HardNHeavy, design and 3 others like this.
  13. I was at a NAMM show in the 80's, talking to legendary jazz drummer Jim Chapin, and he was telling me about the groove, and I said, "yeah, like the motown stuff?" and he said, "YES! James Jamerson was IN THE POCKET!" and I was like, "Who?"
    He gave me the lowdown. Nicest man I ever met in the music industry. Every time I saw him, which was many.
  14. Get that book standing in the shadow of motown, fantastic!
  15. Vulfpeck’s YouTube page has a couple of isolated Jamerson tracks animated to a little bouncy heartbeat-type graphic. They’re great for showing the rhythmic complexity of his lines. He makes intricate lines sound so effortless.
    retslock, design, nixdad and 2 others like this.
  16. Copperhead

    Copperhead Still creakin' around. Supporting Member

    Jul 29, 2018
    Jamerson was the Bassfather. I distinctly remember my attention being arrested when I heard Bernadette. Maybe 13 years old ? I hadn't even started playing.
    To this day I listen to Jamerson lines and just shake my head and smile.
    He had a feel second to none.
  17. I heard the name James Jamerson perhaps as early as the 1980s, but I really didn't know who he was until I saw Standing In The Shadows of Motown.

    That's when I realized all the songs he played on, and all the groups and solo artists he backed up.
    I think he is one of the few playing geniuses that have played the electric bass. Two others are, Stanley Clarke and Jack Casady.

    By calling someone a playing genius, I mean that what's in their head comes out of their fingers 100% of the time.

    There are hundreds of great players, but I think only about a dozen playing geniuses.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Mike ;)
    arts, nixdad, interp and 2 others like this.
  18. bass_case

    bass_case Maintain low tones. Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2013
    Miami, FL
    I’m not sure when the world became aware of JJ by name, but I remember that the those 60s Motown singles I heard on WLS in Chicago when I was a teenybopper were the first time I truly became aware of the bass as something to really listen to. Within a couple of years I was trying to play the bass line to “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells (not a JJ song, but you get the picture.)
    Rezdog, Stumbo, NigelD and 1 other person like this.
  19. Being born in Brazil, Motown wasn't a great part of the songs of my early years. I discovered JJ existence somewhere in the 90's when I bought a Bass Player Magazine (I think the first time I saw his name was in a Motown box set review, if memory serves me well). Some years later I bought Dr Licks' book (I think every bass player should have it).

    I have the DVD as well. Great movie!

    JJ is a genius. No doubt about it.
    barrenelly, nixdad, eJake and 2 others like this.
  20. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Mar 4, 2021

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