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Let's talk JAMES JAMERSON

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by de la mocha, Dec 2, 2005.


  1. de la mocha

    de la mocha

    Aug 20, 2005
    NEW JERSEY
    A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Jamerson moved with his mother to Detroit in 1954.

    Jamerson learned to play the upright bass at Northwestern High School. After graduation he began to play and develop a reputation in Detroit area clubs. Opportunities to play in studio sessions began to open up to him. At the tiny Hitsville USA Studio A at 2648 West Grand (down the stairs in a room they called the Snakepit) he became a member of an elite core of studio musicians who called themselves the Funk Brothers.

    Jamerson's discography at Motown reads as a catalog of soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s, including, among hundreds of others, "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker & the All Stars, "For Once in My Life" and "I Was Made to Love Her" by Stevie Wonder, "Going to a Go-Go" by The Miracles, "My Girl" by The Temptations, "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas, "Ain't That Peculiar", "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and the "What's Going On" album by Marvin Gaye, virtually all of the hits by The Four Tops (including "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Bernadette", "Standing in the Shadows of Love", and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)") and many hits by The Supremes (including "Reflections", "Baby Love", "Back in My Arms Again", "Come See About Me", "You Keep Me Hangin' On", and "You Can't Hurry Love").

    Jamerson's musical contribution, no less than that of any individual, defined the instrumental signature of the Motown Sound, making it the major success that it was; his innovation was the syncopated bass that could virtually catapult a song into a number one hit. The songwriting-production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland attested to the fact that James Jamerson played on almost every one of their productions and they never allowed others to produce songs that they had written. It would be hard to overstate the significance of Jamerson's role in and contribution to the Motown Sound and the music of the era.

    Post-Motown, Jamerson played on many hits in the 1970s, including "Rock the Boat" (Hues Corporation), "Boogie Fever" (the Sylvers) and "Theme from S.W.A.T." (Rhythm Heritage). He performed on nearly 30 No. 1 pop hits -- surpassing in a sense the record commonly attributed to The Beatles. On the R&B charts, nearly 70 of his performances went to the top.

    Jamerson and The Funk Brothers typically reported for work at 10 am and laid down the instrumental track for a song; the vocal tracks would be added later. It was a formula for making hit after hit, and in the music business, the studios, writers, and vocalists would get all the credit and the money. Jamerson and the other studio musicians would be paid $10 each per song.

    James Jamerson (as is the case with the other Funk Brothers) received little formal recognition for his lifetime contributions. In fact, it wasn't until 1971, when he was acknowledged as "the incomparable James Jamerson" on the sleeve of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, that his name even showed up on a major Motown release.

    Long troubled by alcoholism, Jamerson died in 1983 of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California. Since his death, however, he has become a true musical legend.

    Jamerson is the subject of the 1989 biography Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and his story is featured in the subsequent 2002 film of the same title.

    In 2000, Jamerson was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "Sidemen" category.

    While James Jamerson began his musical life playing upright bass, it was his groundbreaking work on the electric bass guitar that made him a legend. That's not to say Jamerson stopped playing upright; he often played a German upright acoustic bass he bought as a teenager and used on a few songs (most notably on "Heat Wave",) but the electric bass Jamerson played on most of the other Motown songs was a stock 1962 Fender Precision bass dubbed "The Funk Machine." Jamerson bought it after his first Precision (a gift,) was stolen c. 1961. The second Precision's bass and treble controls were turned up full, and Jamerson used a set of LaBella heavy-gauge flatwound strings -- by all accounts, he never changed the strings. Additionally, the "action" (the string height above the fingerboard) was set very high to mimic his upright bass. It required tremendous hand strength to play, but the added tension improved the quality of the tone. Amazingly, Jamerson played even his busiest basslines using only his right-hand index finger, which earned its own moniker, "The Hook."

    The Funk Machine was stolen just before Jamerson's death. To date, it has not been recovered.

    Jamerson's amplifier at club performances was an Ampeg B-15 and in concert halls was a blue Naugahyde Kustom with twin 15" speakers, with the bass turned full on and the treble turned halfway up. In studio recordings, the bass was nearly always plugged into the board.


    Even though that was a brief bio I pasted on line, I think his mark not just in music, but in the bass community is excellent. I'm pretty much inspired by his contribution to music through playing the bass.
     
  2. Baryonyx

    Baryonyx Banned

    Jul 11, 2005
    Marathon Man
    Great man.
     
  3. mike sancho

    mike sancho SANCH

    Feb 10, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Very Cool.
    James was the MAN!!!!!!!
     
  4. de la mocha

    de la mocha

    Aug 20, 2005
    NEW JERSEY
    I was suprised at the fact he only played with one finger and that he never changed his strings. His set up was very high too.... :eek:
     
  5. Lonnybass

    Lonnybass Supporting Member

    Jul 19, 2000
    Minneapolis by way of Chicago
    Endorsing Artist: Pedulla Basses
    I'd always had a healthy respect of Jamerson...and then I saw Standing in the Shadows of Motown. I went home from the theatre with more music and tone ideas in my head than I knew what to do with. Made me restring my old P-bass , throw some foam under the bridge, and thumppppppp away! :)

    Lonnybass
     
  6. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    :cool:
    Maybe the greatest electric bass player, from 1966-1974.
    He was the man.
     
  7. I recently have been revisiting his work. I hope someone gets me Hitsville USA for Christmas.

    My mom was a Motown fan, so I used to play her records to hear Jamerson when I was starting out. I got the Standing in the Shadows of Motown book shortly after. Now that I've been playing for 17 years, I can actually play some of his stuff.

    There are bass players who can play melodic lines. There are bass players with vast harmonic knowledge that can outline any chord progression. There are bass players who can play rhythmically sophisticated lines with lots of syncopation. But James put it all together in a way that was unheard of in the 60's, and quite frankly, few have done since.
     
  8. Any of you guys getting the "Complete Motown Singles" series that Hip-o is putting out? It's a treasue trove of Jamerson !

    When all is said and done, he ranks high in my book - maybe at the top. Great sound - great groove - great taste...what more can you ask for ?

    If you really want to get that sound you have to go for the flatwounds, the high action and the bridge mute AND you have to experiment a lot to find the right combinaton