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How James Jamerson Changed the World of Bass Playing with His Funky Grooves | PDF

James Jamerson: Standing in the Shadows of Motown

If you love music, chances are you have heard the bass playing of James Jamerson. He was the main bassist for Motown Records from 1959 to 1972, and he played on countless classic songs by artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, and many more. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest bass players of all time, and his innovative style and technique have influenced generations of musicians.

James Jamerson Standing Shadows Motown Pdf 14

In this article, we will explore the life and career of James Jamerson, his legacy and influence, and how you can learn more about him by downloading the PDF version of the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which features his biography, interviews, transcriptions, and audio examples of his bass lines.

The life and career of James Jamerson

Early years

James Jamerson was born on January 29, 1936, in Edisto Island, South Carolina. He grew up in a musical family and learned to sing and play piano at an early age. He moved to Detroit with his mother when he was a teenager and attended Northwestern High School, where he joined the school band and learned to play upright bass.

He soon became a proficient bass player and started playing in local clubs and bars with various jazz and blues bands. He also met other young musicians who would later become part of the Motown studio band, such as pianist Earl Van Dyke and drummer Benny Benjamin.

In 1959, Jamerson was hired by Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown Records, to be part of his house band, which was later known as The Funk Brothers. He switched from upright bass to electric bass, which gave him more freedom and flexibility to create his own bass lines.

Peak years

From 1962 to 1968, Jamerson played on almost every Motown recording session, sometimes recording up to three albums a day. He was responsible for creating some of the most memorable and iconic bass lines in pop music history, such as "My Girl" by The Temptations, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes, "Reach Out I'll Be There" by The Four Tops, "For Once in My Life" by Stevie Wonder, and many more.

Jamerson's style was characterized by his use of syncopation, chromaticism, inversions, passing tones, ghost notes, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and other techniques that added rhythmic and melodic interest to his bass lines. He also used a heavy-gauge flatwound string set on his Fender Precision Bass, which gave him a warm and deep tone. He often played with only his index finger, which he called "The Hook", and sometimes used a felt mute under the strings to dampen the sound.

Jamerson was not only a skilled bass player, but also a creative and spontaneous musician. He rarely played the same bass line twice, and often improvised on the spot based on the chord changes and the groove of the song. He also had a great musical ear and could play by ear without reading music. He was highly respected and admired by his fellow musicians, producers, and artists, who often gave him the freedom and space to express himself on the bass.

Later years

In the late 1960s, Motown Records moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, and Jamerson followed them in 1970. However, he found it hard to adapt to the new musical environment and the changing trends in pop music. He also faced personal problems, such as his divorce, his alcohol addiction, and his declining health. He became less reliable and less in demand as a session musician, and he was eventually replaced by younger bass players.

Jamerson's last recording session for Motown was in 1972, when he played on Marvin Gaye's album Let's Get It On. He continued to play sporadically with other artists, such as Robert Palmer, Smokey Robinson, and Eddie Kendricks, but his career never recovered from its peak years. He died on August 2, 1983, at the age of 47, from complications of cirrhosis of the liver, pneumonia, and heart failure.

The legacy and influence of James Jamerson


Despite his enormous contribution to music, Jamerson was largely unknown and uncredited during his lifetime. He was not listed as a musician on most of the Motown records he played on, and he rarely received royalties or recognition for his work. He was also overlooked by the mainstream media and the public, who were more focused on the singers and the songs than on the musicians behind them.

However, after his death, Jamerson's reputation and influence grew among bass players and music lovers who discovered his bass lines and appreciated his genius. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman, becoming the first bass player to receive this honor. In 2003, he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his "artistic contributions of outstanding significance to the field of recording".


Jamerson's bass playing has inspired countless musicians across genres and generations. Some of the most famous bass players who have cited him as an influence include Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Flea, Geddy Lee, Sting, Pino Palladino, Nathan East, Carol Kaye, and many more.


One of the best ways to learn more about Jamerson's bass playing and his contribution to Motown music is to download the PDF version of the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson, written by Allan Slutsky and published in 1989.

This book is a comprehensive and detailed biography of Jamerson, based on interviews with his family, friends, colleagues, and admirers. It also includes transcriptions of 49 of his bass lines, along with audio examples and commentary by Slutsky. The book covers Jamerson's musical style, technique, equipment, influences, and challenges, as well as the history and context of Motown music.

The book was also adapted into a documentary film of the same name in 2002, directed by Paul Justman and featuring interviews and performances by many Motown artists and musicians who worked with Jamerson. The film also features a tribute concert where contemporary bass players play Jamerson's bass lines with a live band.

By downloading the PDF version of the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown, you will be able to access a wealth of information and inspiration that will help you appreciate and understand the genius and legacy of James Jamerson.


James Jamerson was one of the greatest bass players of all time, and one of the most influential musicians in pop music history. He played on hundreds of hit songs by Motown artists, creating bass lines that were innovative, expressive, and groovy. He was a master of his instrument, a creative genius, and a musical legend.

If you want to learn more about him and his work, you should download the PDF version of the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which features his biography, interviews, transcriptions, and audio examples of his bass lines. You will be amazed by his story and his music, and you will discover why he is still standing in the shadows of Motown.

To download the PDF version of the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown, click on the link below:

James Jamerson - Standing in The Shadows of Motown PDF - Scribd


Here are some frequently asked questions about James Jamerson and his work:

  • Q: What kind of bass did James Jamerson use?

  • A: Jamerson used a 1962 Fender Precision Bass that he nicknamed "The Funk Machine". He modified it by adding a foam mute under the strings near the bridge, and he used La Bella heavy-gauge flatwound strings that he rarely changed. He also used an Ampeg B-15 amplifier that he carried around in his car trunk.

  • Q: How did James Jamerson learn to play bass?

  • A: Jamerson learned to play bass by ear, without reading music or taking formal lessons. He was influenced by jazz bass players like Ray Brown, Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, and Charles Mingus. He also learned from other Motown musicians like Earl Van Dyke and Benny Benjamin. He practiced constantly and developed his own style and technique.

  • Q: What are some of James Jamerson's most famous bass lines?

  • Q: How can I play like James Jamerson?

  • A: Playing like James Jamerson is not easy, but it is possible to learn from his bass lines and his approach to music. Here are some tips to help you play like Jamerson:

  • Listen to his bass lines carefully and try to transcribe them by ear or use the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown as a reference.

  • Practice his bass lines slowly and accurately, paying attention to the notes, rhythms, articulations, and dynamics.

  • Learn the chord changes and the structure of the songs he played on, and understand how his bass lines relate to them.

  • Improvise your own bass lines based on his style and technique, using syncopation, chromaticism, inversions, passing tones, ghost notes, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and other devices.

  • Play with a good groove and feel, and