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Remembering "The best bass player ever"
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Published Thursday, August 02, 2012 @ 2:24 AM EDT
Aug 02 2012

James Lee Jamerson (January 29, 1936 - August 2, 1983) was the uncredited bassist on most of Motown Records' hits in the 1960s and early 1970s. He is now regarded, along with fellow Motown bassist and Pittsburgh native Bob Babbitt, as one of the most influential bass players in modern music history. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Starting in 1959, Jameson 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. The small, close-knit group performed on most Motown recordings during the 1960s. Jamerson's earliest Motown sessions were performed on double bass, but in the early 1960s he switched to a Fender Precision electric bass

Jamerson, like 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 garage "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. For most of their career, the members of the Funk Brothers went uncredited on Motown singles and albums, and their share of record sales was considerably less than the artists or the label received. Eventually, Motown placed Jamerson on a $1,000 per week retainer.

Jamerson's discography at Motown is a catalog of the major soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s, including "Shotgun" by Junior Walker & the All Stars; "For Once in My Life", "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; "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and later by Marvin Gaye; "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "Bernadette" by the Four Tops; and "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes. According to fellow Funk Brothers in the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Gaye was desperate to have Jamerson play on "What's Going On", and went to several bars to find the bassist. When he did, he brought Jamerson to the studio, who then played the classic line while lying flat on his back, a feat prospective Motown bassists had to duplicate if they wanted to join the Funk Brothers.

Some sources claim Jamerson played on roughly 95 per cent of Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968. He eventually performed on nearly 30 number one pop hits— surpassing the record commonly attributed to The Beatles. On the R&B charts, nearly 70 of his performances went to the top. (via Wikipedia).

This YouTube video consists of just the vocal and bass track of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The complex bass line was improvised by Jamerson during the recording session, and is one of the best examples of the bass countermelodies that helped to give Motown its distinctive sound. The recording isn't the best, but it reveals Jamerson's talent and personality.

From the mid to late 60s, Jamerson split recording duties with native Pittsburgher Bob Babbit, who died on July 16 of this year.


Categories: Bob Babbitt, James Jamerson, Marvin Gaye, Motown, Music, Tammi Terrell, YouTube


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Bob Babbitt (1937-2012): The Motown legend from Pittsburgh
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Published Tuesday, July 17, 2012 @ 12:30 AM EDT
Jul 17 2012


Bob Babbitt
(1937-2012)

Bob Babbitt, the bass guitarist who provided the driving, iconic bass lines for "Cool Jerk," "Band of Gold," "The Tears of a Clown," and scores of other hits, died yesterday of brain cancer. He was 74.

Born Robert Kreinar in Pittsburgh on November 26, 1937, Babbitt was a member of Motown's house band, The Funk Brothers, from 1966 to 1972. He alternated with the legendary James Jamerson on most of the label's hits.

Babbitt's legendary performances include "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols; "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder; "War" by Edwin Starr; "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles; "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues" by Marvin Gaye; "Band of Gold" by Freda Payne; "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" and "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" by The Temptations.

One of the most sought-after session musicians in the industry, Babbitt played on hundreds of recordings for scores of stars. His distinctive stylings helped to make many of those songs classic hits. A small sample includes "Little Town Flirt" by Del Shannon; "I Got a Name" by Jim Croce; "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight & the Pips; "Scorpio" by Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band; and "(The) Rubberband Man" by The Spinners. His bass line in "Scorpio" was the standard by which bass players were judged in the 70s; those who couldn't duplicate Babbitt's performance didn't get the gig.

Babbitt is featured in the 2002 film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," which documented the Funk Brothers' previously unheralded contribution to the label's success. He also performed on Phil Collins' 2010 Motown tribute album, "Going Back." In March, 2011 he appeared onstage in an episode of American Idol, backing up Jacob Lusk's performance of "You're All I Need To Get By" for the show's "Motown Week."

A full biography of Babbitt is available on his web site.

As a kid growing up in Homestead, PA in the 60s and 70s, Babbitt was an integral part of my daily existence, even though I didn't learn of his contributions- let alone his name- until decades later. Motown was everywhere then- and for me, it still is. I don't think I've gone more than two or three days without hearing something with a Babbitt bass line since I bought "Cool Jerk" at the little record store on Eighth Avenue in July '66.

Thanks, Bob, for all the memories.

(YouTube video: Cool Jerk, with Bob Babbitt on bass,
from the film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown")

(YouTube video: Love Is Like A Heat Wave, with Bob Babbitt on bass,
from the film Phil Collins' "Going Back" documentary.)


Categories: Bob Babbitt, Motown, Music, Video, YouTube


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