Monday, January 28, 2008

A Celebration Of Funk Brother #1


I would like to take a moment today to reflect on James Jamerson, and offer a minor homage to him on his birthday.

Years ago, I worked with a former Motown artist who brought me to a deeper appreciation of the Hook's role within the Sound of Young America than I had formerly possessed as a crazy young rock-a-roller...Revelations abounded in sound, not least of which was that I owed a great deal of my approach to yet another originator.
As with Jaco, there is electric bass before James, and electric bass after.

But unlike Jaco (who forged his eventually unique style upon the influences of earlier masters of the electric instrument such as Bernard Odum and Jerry Jemmott), James blazed a bright trail alone, wedding a fearless improvisational sensibility rooted in the purest Jazz to seamless dance grooves that never stepped on the vocals, but enhanced them beyond measure.

James never truly got his due in his lifetime, like so many of his fellow Funk Brothers...A tragic and all-too-common situation for the innovators of music.
When he died in L.A. in 1983, few inside the music community and even fewer outside it knew that a giant had passed from us.

Fortunately, through the tireless efforts of Allen Slutsky and many others, we can now see past the obvious celebrity into the all-star team that was the Motown session musician roster, and thus many more people every day can learn of this great legacy in music.

Here is an exquisite example of how his basslines worked with the vocals of the Temptations.

Here is a splendidly executed version of one of his most exemplary lines, Darling Dear by the Jackson 5.

And there you are...Happy birthday, James. Couldn't have done it without you.

Crossposted @ SteveAudio


M.Yu said...

Smooth, Cool and Hip!


MaxMarginal said...

Respect! Jamerson was the greatest. My bass player friends tell me that that dead-string sound which became the R+B norm as a result of Jamerson, was mostly a result of him not buying new strings EVER, because he had something else to spend his money on. The kind of thing that sounds like it may be myth (though his habit was anything but), but it could be one of those cool example's of how huge musical trends start for the strangest of reasons.

darkblack said...

Thank you, M.
Hello, Max. Your bass-playing acquaintance is correct - James only changed his flatwound LaBella strings when they broke, as his motto was 'Dirt keeps the funk', emphasising the low end and getting rid of string noise and overtones.. Joe Osborn, another famous L.A. session bassist (Carpenters, America), had a similar approach.

Some other contributing factors were James' high string action and bridge foam mute...The sort of overtones and harmonics that we take for granted in modern bass (created by roundwound strings and hi-fi amplification) were unheard of by some (John Entwistle definitely excluded), and unwanted by others in that era.

Sadly, James was an alcoholic who neither sought nor received treatment before it was too late.

Thanks for stopping by.

Unknown said...

Bless you DB...for showcasing this artist as well as his history.