James Jamerson

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BrendonM
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James Jamerson

Post by BrendonM » Thu Jan 18, 2007 8:43 am

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James Jamerson (January 29, 1936 - August 2, 1983) was an American musician. He was the uncredited bassist on most of Motown Records' hits in the 1960s and early 1970s, and he has become regarded as one of the most influential electric bass players in modern music history. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Born - January 29, 1936, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Origin - Detroit, Michigan, USA
Died - August 2, 1983; Los Angeles, California, USA
Genre(s) - R&B, soul
Occupation(s)- Bass guitarist
Instrument(s) - Bass guitar
Years active - 1958–1983
Label(s) - Motown
Associated acts - The Funk Brothers
Notable instrument(s) - 1962 Fender Precision Bass

Biography
A native of Edisto Island (near Charleston), South Carolina, Jamerson moved with his mother to Detroit, Michigan in 1954. He learned to play the double bass at Northwestern High School, and he soon began playing in Detroit area blues and jazz clubs.

Motown years
Jamerson continued performing in Detroit clubs after graduating high school, and his increasingly solid reputation started providing him opportunities for sessions at various local recording studios. Starting in 1959 he found steady work at Berry Gordy's Hitsville U.S.A. studio, home of the Motown record label. There he became a member of a core of studio musicians who informally called themselves The Funk Brothers. This small, close-knit group of musicians performed on the vast majority of Motown recordings during most of the 1960s. Jamerson's earliest Motown sessions were performed on double bass, but in the early 1960s he switched to mostly playing electric bass.

Like Jamerson, most of the other Funk Brothers were jazz musicians who had been recruited by Gordy. For many years, they maintained a typical schedule of recording during the day at Motown's small basement "Studio A" (which they nicknamed "the Snakepit"), then playing gigs in the jazz clubs at night. They also occasionally toured the U.S. with Motown artists. However for most of their career, the members of the Funk Brothers went uncredited on Motown singles and albums, and their pay was considerably less than the artists or the label received. Eventually Jamerson was put on retainer with Motown for one thousand dollars a week, which afforded him and his ever-expanding family a comfortable lifestyle.

Jamerson's discography at Motown reads as a catalog of soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s. His work includes Motown hits such as, among hundreds of others, "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker & the All Stars, "For Once in My Life" 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, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and most of the album What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, "Reach Out I'll Be There" by The Four Tops, and "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes. He is reported to have played on some 95% of Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968. He eventually performed on nearly 30 No. 1 pop hits -- surpassing the record commonly attributed to The Beatles. On the R&B charts, nearly 70 of his performances went to the top.

Jamerson is noted for expanding the role of the bass in popular music, which until that time largely consisted of root notes, fifths and simple repetitive patterns. By contrast, many of Jamerson's bass lines for Motown were more melodic, more syncopated, and more improvisational than had been heard before. His bass playing was considered an integral part of "the Motown Sound". Bassists from John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin to Billy Sheehan haved claimed Jamerson as a primary influence.

Post-Motown career
Shortly after Motown moved their headquarters to Los Angeles, California in 1972, Jamerson moved there himself and found occasional studio work, but his relationship with Motown officially ended in 1973. He went on to perform on such 1970s hits as "Rock the Boat" (Hues Corporation), "Boogie Fever" (the Sylvers), and "You Don't Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)" (Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.).

Long troubled by alcoholism, Jamerson died of complications stemming from cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure and pneumonia on August 2, 1983 in Los Angeles. He was 45 years old. He left behind a wife, Annie, three sons, James Jr., Ivey, and Derek, and a daughter Doreen.

Recognition
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.

Jamerson is the subject of a 1989 book by Allan Slutsky (aka "Dr. Licks") titled Standing in the Shadows of Motown. The book includes a biography of Jamerson, a few dozen transcriptions of his bass lines, and two CDs in which other professional bassists (such as John Entwistle, Will Lee, Chuck Rainey, and Geddy Lee) speak about Jamerson and play those transcriptions. Jamerson's story is also featured in the subsequent 2002 film of the same title.

In 2000, Jamerson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, part of the first-ever group of "Sidemen" to be so honored. To date, he is the only sideman bassist to have been inducted.

In 2004, the Funk Brothers were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jamerson's equipment
Jamerson's double bass was a German upright acoustic bass that he bought as a teenager and later used on such Motown hits as "My Guy" by Mary Wells and "(Love is Like a) Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas.

The electric bass Jamerson played for most of his career was a stock 1962 Fender Precision Bass which was dubbed "The Funk Machine." Jamerson bought it after his first Precision (a gift from fellow bassist Horace "Chili" Ruth) was stolen. It had a three-tone sunburst finish, a tortoise-shell style pickguard, and chrome pickup and bridge covers. He typically set its volume and tone knobs on full. This bass was also stolen, just days before Jamerson's death in 1983. To date, it has not been found.

Jamerson used La Bella heavy-gauge (.052-.110) flatwound strings that he rarely changed. The strings were set relatively high above the fingerboard. The heavy gauge and high action undoubtedly made it more difficult to play, but Jamerson believed it improved the quality of the tone. He also tucked a piece of foam underneath the bridge cover to help prevent the strings from sustaining too long.

Jamerson played even his busiest basslines using only his right-hand index finger and using all upstrokes, a carryover from his style on the double bass. His index finger earned its own moniker, "The Hook."[1]

Jamerson's amplifier at club performances was an Ampeg B-15 and in concert halls was a blue Naugahyde Kustom with twin 15" speakers, typically with the bass turned full on and the treble turned halfway up. On most of his studio recordings, his bass was plugged directly into the mixing console.

References
* Talor, Harold Keith, The Motown Music Machine. Jadmeg Music Publishing, 2004
* Slutsky, Allan, Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1989
* Andr, Motown Bass Classics. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998
* Posner, Gerald, Motown : Music, Money, Sex, and Power. Random House, 2005
* Rubin, Dave, Motown Bass (Bass Signature Licks). Hal Leonard Corporation, 2000

External links
* Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee page
* Partial discography
* More about James Jamerson
* James Jamerson at Find-A-Grave
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Re: James Jamerson

Post by foal30 » Mon Dec 29, 2008 4:39 pm

nice acknowledgment to Jamerson by Stevie Wonder in the sleeve notes from his 1974 album "fulfillingness first finale"

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by basbende » Thu Apr 09, 2009 4:26 am

There is a nice dvd, also called "standing in the shadows of motown" which is about the Funk Brothers (the motown band feat. Jamerson) Very nice documentary + concert with Bob Babbit (his motown bass brother) Some good stories about Jamerson and you get a very clear idea of how it was to be in the motown scene

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by beagle » Thu Apr 09, 2009 8:43 am

I have a feeling I've seen that one on free to air TV. Was really great.
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Re: James Jamerson

Post by BluesBass » Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:43 am

Yeah, one of the music docos out there that I have enjoyed the most...

Incredible to think that no-one would have know who these guys were if if wasn't for Alan "Dr Licks" Slutsky wrote the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown to profile the life of Jamerson in 1987.
The film expanded on the theme of the book to cover The Funk Brothers group of musicians as a whole.

Anybody who tells you that they knew who the Funk Brothers were before 2002 is probably lying.

If you can get hold of it, check out the CD of the movie soundtrack to hear Jamerson's unaccompanied bassline from Bernadette.
Pure genius!

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by foal30 » Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:12 pm

you mean 1992 Sean?
if people who claim to have an interest in Popular Music were unaware of the Motown sessioners by 2002 then they are hardly knowledgeable or investigative.

I reckon I bought the book and accompanied Tapes in '92 and I'm hardly first cab of the rank when it comes to sourcing educational material. I'd also state the both Bass player and Guitar Player Magazines had "set the record straight" on the Funk Brothers by then.

but anyway, yes it's St James for a reason. :)

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by ryla » Thu Apr 16, 2009 11:01 pm

"Standing in the shadows of motown'" book and cassettes (now CD) one of the best learning curves for me - great reading tool as well - full marks for not doing the tab thing on that one.

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by beagle » Thu Apr 16, 2009 11:24 pm

Are you referring to the documentary or a music learning tool of the same title?
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Re: James Jamerson

Post by foal30 » Thu Jul 02, 2009 8:04 pm

the book (with tapes) came out in the early '90s
best education manual I ever bought.

CD version was say '96,97

be close to compulsory purchase for Bass Players I reckon. I still open it up and chuck a CD on to have a go... and that's been 15 years worth.

4 Tops..."Still Water (Love)" great vocal and arrangement with perfect Bass Guitar.

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by Crazykiwi » Thu Jul 02, 2009 10:45 pm

I have the DVD, it deserves to be required learning for any musician. The way in which the Funk Brothers interacted with one another musically and wove one pop hit after another was magical. They were a real team where everyone had a role and respected one another.

Such a class act.
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Re: James Jamerson

Post by foal30 » Sat Jul 04, 2009 9:32 pm

Bootise's pants in the DVD is a lesson in and of itself.

:D

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by kiwipom » Wed Oct 28, 2009 8:08 pm

James Jamerson - a legend - it's that simple

As was said above, he should be one of the first stepping stones for any bass player - a simple lesson in control and feel for the thumb happy and riff-mad wannabes, methinks?!

Johnny Walker ( BBC radio DJ ) interviewed Holland, Dozier and Holland on the Beeb a few years ago - these old guys with countless number 1s and dozens of top 10/top 20 hits were so modest and fascinating to listen to.

Asked how they had so much success they said something like.."we just started out with a few simple doo-wop toons and went from there I suppose..."

And after all these years they could still reel off the names of all of the session players for the Motown stable, saying words to the effect..."man...we didn't even go near the studio without James..."

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by bassnut14 » Sun Feb 28, 2010 3:05 pm

greatest bassist of all time!!!!!!!!

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Re: James Jamerson

Post by rickbass4001 » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:55 pm

The Funk Brothers played here in Motown a few years ago at the Jazz Fest and they packed the place! They did a wonderful tribute to Jamerson been following him and the Funk Brothers for many years. His son is also quite a bassist. The one line of his I love and abide by is "if you don't feel it don't play it"

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