Improve your bass playing by learning from the best. Part of learning to play bass should include listening to and watching other great bassists. Try to incorporate their techniques, skills, styles, and sounds in to your own playing. In this Learn from the Best series we highlight James Jamerson – undeniably one of the greatest bass players of all time.
James Jamerson Career Highlights
During the 1960’s and 1970’s Jamerson was a member of the “The Funk Brothers” – a group of studio musicians who worked for Barry Gordy to record the vast majority of songs on the Motown Label. Simply put, Jamerson was the bassist who created the Motown sound!
He played bass on 30 songs that became number 1 hits on the pop charts – a record for the amount of number 1 hits produced for any recording artist! Among many others, these songs include…
- Stevie Wonder – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”
- Martha and the Vandellas – “Dancing In The Street”
- Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
- The Four Tops – “Bernadette”
- The Supremes – “Baby Love”
- Smokey Robinson – “The Tears of a Clown”
- The Jackson 5 – “Darling Dear”
- Diana Ross and The Supremes – “Love Child”
- The Hues Corporation – “Rock the Boat”
- And many others!
He also played bass on on nearly 70 number one hits on the R&B charts.
During his post-Motown days during the 1970’s and 1980’s Jamerson continued to produce hits such as:
- “Neither One of Us” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
- “Boogie Down” (Eddie Kendricks, 1974),
- “Boogie Fever” (The Sylvers, 1976),
- “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” (Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., 1976),
James Jamerson – Skills, Methods, Techniques and Innovations
- James Jamerson was a master at being able to play the right amount of notes at precisely the right time – which is precisely what being a great bass player is all about.
- Known as an originator of playing “ghost notes” – notes played softly as rhythmic stepping stones between more pronounced tones/beats. Today this is a staple for any bassists striving for a funky sound.
- Used a finger rake technique called “Dropping the Biscuit” to play notes across a scale or chord for smooth, rhythmic transitions between beats.
Impactful Quote from James Jamerson
“I’d hear the melody line from the lyrics and I’d build the bass line around that. I always tried to support the melody. I had to. I’d make it repetitious, but also add things to it. It was repetitious, but had to be funky and have emotion.”
James Jamerson Isolated Bass Line – I Heard It Through the Grapevin
Jeremy Kay covers how to get that James Jamerson “Motown bass sound”.
Andrew Ford details the “Dropping the Biscuit” technique:
Learn from the Best – James Jamerson