Welcome to my Motown Bass page!
"Bass players call from all over, wanting to know what type of equipment I use, what type of bass, what kind of strings-- things like that. I'll tell them, but that's not what's important; it's the feel. The strings don't make the sound, it's the feel. It's all in here, in the heart."
- James Jamerson, 1979
Ask any good bassist who their influences are, and surely the legendary James Jamerson will be somewhere near the top of their list. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who inducted Jamerson as a sideman in 2000, says this about the king of Motown bass:
James Jamerson was described by Motown founder Berry Gordy as "a genius on the bass...and incredible improviser in the studio and somebody I always wanted on my sessions.” He was the anchor of the in-house group at Motown dubbed the Funk Brothers. Though few among the record-buying public ever never knew Jamerson by name, they were well-acquainted with his work, which included the bass lines on such Motown classics as “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” by the Four Tops; “Dancing in the Street,” by Martha and the Vandellas; “I Was Made to Love Her,” by Stevie Wonder; and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” by the Supremes. His groove-oriented melodicism brought about a broader awareness of the role and possibilities of the bass guitar, and no less an authority than Paul McCartney rates him as an influence on his own playing. In a 1995 interview with Bass Guitar magazine, McCartney recalled his training on the instrument: “I started listening to other bass players, mainly Motown. As time went on, James Jamerson became my hero...because he was so good and melodic.”
I've uploaded Jamerson's original bass tracks from several classic Motown recordings. His parts here are isolated right off the original Motown 8-track master, so here's your chance to hear every note James played on these records. For copyright reasons I can't include the actual Motown-released recordings for comparison, but on all tunes I've included a stripped-down mix of the original track, minus drums, to help hear the bass parts in context with the actual song. Keep in mind that on some of these isolated bass tracks the bass doesn't enter right away, or there are breakdowns within the song, so you'll hear occasional gaps of silence.
I've also included some other famous Motown bass performances in addition to Jamerson. Listen to Wilton Felder on some early Jackson 5 recordings, John Parrish with Rare Earth, Ronald La Pread with The Commodores, and even a tune from one of Motown's unsung bass heroes, Stevie Wonder. While not thought of as a bassist in the traditional sense, Stevie was nonetheless a true Motown Bass pioneer in the early seventies and helped popularize the use of the newly emerging synthesizer for recording bass parts.
Complete track list:
1. What's Going On (James Jamerson)
2. Reach Out I'll Be There (James Jamerson)
3. Ain't Too Proud To Beg (James Jamerson)
4. Standing In The Shadows Of Love (James Jamerson)
5. I Heard It Through The Grapevine (James Jamerson)
6. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing (James Jamerson)
7. Ain't No Mountain High Enough (James Jamerson)
8. Mercy Mercy Me (Bob Babbitt)
9. I Want You Back (Wilton Felder)
10. ABC (Wilton Felder)
11. Let's Get It On (Wilton Felder)
12. I Just Want To Celebrate (John Parrish)
13. Brick House (Ron LaPread)
14. Superstition (Stevie Wonder)
Here's a quote from Deke Richards, member of The Corporation -- producers of many early Motown hits:
"In those days we cut on 8-Track. There wasn't a lot of room for error, much less giving anyone extra tracks, including the lead vocalist. The 3 guitars were mixed to one track while you were recording live, Jamerson had his own bass track, the drums were cut on one, (sometimes) on 2 tracks The piano on one, percussion on another. So, you see there is 6 gone right there. You had enough for the group and the lead. If you planned to sweeten the tracks, you had to either do a different mix when you recorded the original tracks or make an 8 Track to 8 Track transfer and put the perc and drums together etc., etc., to open up another track."
On a personal note, my first experience in fully appreciating Jamerson's work was back in the early 80's when I was hired to play bass by Motown artist Martha Reeves (of Martha & The Vandellas) for her "oldies" tour. While learning her repertoire I became quite familiar with Jamerson's work both from her recordings and the many signature Jamerson bass lines written in on Martha's charts. I can remember during the first rehearsal improvising a couple of bars of one tune with a little bass slap and pop, but Martha wouldn't have it. "Don't modernize my music!" she said to me, but with a smile-- definitely a quick lesson at an early age for me. One of my fondest memories is relaxing on the beach in the Bahamas with Martha and listening to her tell a few great Motown stories, as only she could tell them.
Please Note: My Motown Bass audio files are now password protected.* Feel free to e-mail me via my Contact page for access, I will e-mail you back with the username and password. I've received many password requests and am a bit backlogged at present, so please be patient for reply.
To hear Jamerson's and other Motown bassists' tracks, click this link: Motown Bass
(I've made these tracks available for non-profit educational purposes only, and ask the public to respect the copyright owners and to not copy, reproduce, or use them for any other reason. It's my belief that the "fair use" doctrine of section 107 of US Copyright law allows me to make these tracks available to the public for the sole purpose of study, review or critical analysis.)
To see Jamerson's discography (unofficial), click this link: James Jamerson Discography
To read a rare 1979 Jamerson interview, click this link: James Jamerson Interview 1979
To read a rare 1983 Jamerson interview, click this link: James Jamerson Interview 1983
THE JAMERSON MAILBAG: My Readers' Comments...
Here are some comments I've gotten about my isolated Motown tracks.
"How in God's name did you ever get these isolated Motown bass lines? This is brilliant!!!" - Glenn Letsch (bassist for Robin Trower, Montrose & many others) by e-mail
"It's such a gift. Jim Keltner was here Saturday night sitting at my computer and just delighted." - Dan Schwartz (bassist for Sheryl Crow, Roseanne Cash & many others) by e-mail
"I was poking around on Wikipedia and found a link to your site. I am amazed! I am also a bassist and was floored to discover the James Jamerson tracks!! I live and breath James Jamerson. I can hear every last articulation! Wow! He has completely changed my perception of electric bass. I am so thrilled! HOW DID YOU GET THIS? Can you get more? PLEASE??!!" - Tige DeCoster by e-mail
"Hi Rick, thanks for the Jamerson mp3's and for your website. Jamerson made me (without knowing at that time) pick up the bass and make music throughout my life. Greetings from Germany." - Michael by e-mail
"Life changing mp3s here - just found this online...Jamerson tracks isolated..what a TONE!" - 'Quadrogong' talkbass.com forum
"I'm enjoying these clips immensely. It's really wonderful of you to make them available, it took some work and I really appreciate it. These guys are all my heroes, so it's very moving to listen to the tone, the distortion, the technique ... I'm just a junkie for this stuff." - Mark Prentice (bassist for Lyle Lovett, Olivia Newton-John, Felix Cavaliere) by e-mail
"Thank you for the great website, It really helped me to hear the bass for Reach Out and ABC isolated, I love those old funk / Motown bass lines but sometimes those P basses with flat wounds are hard to hear!" - Paul by e-mail
"Great stuff ! You've done the bass community a service." -Wasim talkbass.com forum
"Rick, I'm speechless after listening to the tracks. It really puts a nail in Carole Kaye's argument about her playing on the Motown Jamerson tracks in question. She always played with a pick, these tracks are so clean and un-mastered that you can tell it's Jamerson. No question!" -Steve Hantis by e-mail
"Those Jamerson tracks, isolated too! Unreal, man..too fantastic to be true. Where did u GET those????? This stuff will be invaluable to me. For years I heard those tracks, amazing to hear it isolated that way. Was he using the foam under the strings? Or is that his own muting technique? The tone is amazing, a little dirty too,which I never noticed before, wow. You rule!" - Kevin Todd, bassist, NYC by e-mail
"I found your site while searching for anything and everything I could on James Jamerson (which unfortunately there isn't much out there) after being hooked a few years back when the Standing in the Shadows of Motown documentary and soundtracks were released! I was ecstatic to see the James Jamerson isolated tracks on your page." - by e-mail
"This is an incredible initiative. More worth than any book ever published." - Olivier (Belgium) by e-mail
"Thank you so much for having this site up! I was simply researching James Jamerson to learn about him and WOW! You have such a generous spirit to make these basslines available in this format. May you find some small or large thing that is equally good for you in the days to come!" - Anthony by e-mail
"Damn good stuff! An invaluable resource for those seeking the 'answer' to some of Jamerson's classics!" - 'DWbass' talkbass.com forum
"Rick, let me add my thank yous to those of many others of us here. I can't tell you how useful and fascinating it's been to have those naked Jamerson bass lines. What's *really* been cool has been to correct the transcription of "What's Going On" in Standing in the Shadows of Motown so it's absolutely 100% correct: I've found 18 spots where the written text differs from the recording (sometimes ever so slightly). Not insignificantly, the "Brick House" bass line is another treasure. Excellent to hear exactly what he's been doing all this time, as well. Thanks again." - Steve by e-mail
"This link with the bass part only was right on time for me. I put in 2 hours today and I have fixed a bunch of things and found lots I did not hear with the original recording. Without the link I don't think it would have been possible." -'Littlepoke' (Central America) fenderforum.com
"Just wanted to say thanks for the solo bass tracks on your website. Never thought I'd get to hear isolated Jamerson tracks and the Jackson 5 stuff was excellent too. Cheers." - Ben (United Kingdom) by e-mail
"Rick, I was speaking with Bob Lee, my friend and a Jamerson aficionado, when I learned about your audio files with James and Jaco. What a nice tribute and a fine web presence. Keep up the GOOD work on the Web and play on!" - Steve by e-mail
"Just amazing! Never thought I'd listen to these basslines this way! Thank you and congrats on your web site!" - 'Depalm' talkbass.com forum
"Hey Rick, just came across your website & I'm intrigued by the jamerson tracks... where did you find these? Thanks for a wonderful resource!" - Paul (British Columbia) by e-mail
"Wow. Thanks. This is an incredible set of gems." -'sbassman' talkbass.com forum
"This is outstanding. Thanks for sharing, Rick!" -'Vandelay' talkbass.com forum
"I'm amazed that this site hasn't surfaced before - at least in my scene. Very interesting to hear those solo'ed tracks. It's encouraging to hear that as brilliant as they are, they still sound very 'human'." -'Bassfelt' (Holland) fenderforum.com
"Viva la Jamerson! These tracks are a revelation. Thank you so much!" - Charles Kane by e-mail
"Just wanted to say a big thank you for letting me access the site... being a big Jamerson fan all my playing life, this has been a real education." - Garry Cribb by e-mail
"Thank you very much. Gosh, that´s a great resource, and lots better than "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown" with its playbacks -- these are the original tracks, I can´t believe it!" - Mathias by e-mail
"Speechless. Just speechless. The sound I love most, apart from James J., is the gorgeous Wilton Felder stuff with the Jackson 5. Cannot believe I've just heard the isolated basslines from 'I Want You Back' and 'ABC'. What a gift - thank you so much for letting me listen." - Mary Hynes, Toronto by e-mail
"Thanks a million for the access. This is priceless stuff including the knowledge of Wilton Felder's bass lines. I knew he was an outstanding bassist but hadn't ever heard him isolated like this!" - Rod Williams by e-mail
"I think you should be nominated for the Nobel Prize!" - Kevin F. by e-mail
Have any comments on the Motown bass tracks? Feel free to e-mail me, I welcome the feedback. On occasion I'll add some of the comments here.
Why are these tracks password protected?
Early in October 2007 I was contacted via e-mail by David Benjamin, a senior VP at Universal Music Group. Besides being the record industry's largest conglomerate, Universal also owns the entire Motown catalog.
I called David at Universal after he contacted me and we discussed the situation. The conversation was pleasant and I assured him I had no intention of being confrontational regarding my keeping the Motown tracks up on my site. He was curious how I actually obtained them, and even asked if the bass tracks were actually me playing, to which of course I replied how flattered I was at the mere suggestion. "Why not," he asked. "You're a great bass player." Clearly diplomacy is one of the man's strengths.
Amazing, the power of the Internet. Here I am on the phone with one of the senior members of Universal Music and he's complimenting my bass playing. How did this happen? David mentioned that he was a bassist from Queens back in the day (played a '63 Fender Precision), and we chatted for a bit. It seemed to me the world was getting smaller by the minute.
Anyway, long story short... my disclaimer under the Motown tracks about "fair use" in copyright law, plus the fact that I don't offer a "download" option, seemed to matter little and David asked that I don't make them available for streaming. He did say that he would find out how to go about licensing them to me, however. So in fairness, I've password-protected the page until licensing details are worked out, assuming that the option stays on the table. I see it as a compromise, for while I'm glad that there is some sort of legal path to travel in order to leave the tracks up, I think musicians have to ponder the scenario that they can walk into a studio and record their parts, only to find out years later that the record company that released those recordings can license out their individual performance and make a profit. Or attempt to, anyway.
Once again, I offer these Motown tracks for study purposes only and clearly with good intention for the bass community. I have no doubt reasonable former bass-playing people in the record industry can be open minded enough to see the good in all of this and realize that hearing Motown bass this way is our version of "the bottom line".
Rare Motown Documents
"What I found still blows my mind... Marvin was the producer, so most of the notes are in his handwriting. I had about 20 pounds of documents in a box at my house for about a year before I really examined it." -Randy Wilcox
For me one of the nice benefits of this website is having the opportunity to hear from fascinating people from all over. Not long ago I was contacted by Detroit photographer and local historian Randy Wilcox, who complimented me on my site and thanked me for putting the time into it. Randy, who is also a bass player, checked out my Motown Bass page and was eager to share his own personal Motown experience.
As a self-described "urban explorer", he had been to Berry Gordy's Motown Center in downtown Detroit several times over the years, but it was his last visit to the building that enabled him to come away with a boxful of of rare and historic Motown documents, not long before the city demolished the structure in preparation for their hosting of the Super Bowl that year. What Randy found is just amazing, and he kindly gave me permission to reprint the Motown document images he sent, and his story as well.
The images can be viewed in these three Motown Docs pdf files. They are all viewable in full size and high quality (please note they are all large pdf files between 5 and 10 mb each, however each will open in a new browser window).
Motown Docs 1 - Marvin Gaye studio request sheets (handwritten by Marvin)
Motown Docs 2 - Smokey Robinson & Miracles studio request sheets (handwritten by Smokey)
Motown Docs 3 - Temptations studio request sheet, various Motown letters & docs
In Randy's words:
"The Motown thing is a huge story, but the basic deal is that when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl, they tried to knock down every abandoned building near downtown in a few weeks. We lost many important historical structures in the process, including the Donovan and Sanders buildings. Donovan/Sanders was purchased by Berry Gordy in 1968 and was converted to make room for Motown Center, new headquarter offices.
I am an artist/photographer and an amateur historian - which boils down to me being an "urban explorer" in Detroit. Motown Center was just one of the historic places my group explored over the years. We had been in the building a number of times and found interesting things, but the last time through I made an effort to dig through the piles of shit they left in there.
What I found still blows my mind. The most important thing was the producers' studio notes for the month that "Whats Goin On" was recorded. (album, not the single). Of course, Marvin was the producer, so most of the notes are in his handwriting. I had about 20 pounds of documents in a box at my house for about a year before I really examined it. I had recovered full renovation blueprints for the buildings, travel expense reports for Gladys and the Pips, the Supremes - all sorts of very interesting documents. Canceled check xeroxes from Ed Sullivan, the Tonight Show - all sorts of things.
I published a number of documents on my website while they were demolishing the building, and that got national attention (thanks to NPR). Then I was swarmed upon by people who wanted the documents - the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Berkley, Interlochen- and worse yet....lawyers. I had no intention of eBaying this stuff, no intention of wanting to 'own' such things either. I really just wanted to save it. So I ended up donating it all anonymously to the Burton Collection in the Detroit Public Library where they have the finances to protect, defend and preserve the documents.
Happy ending, stressful story - one I am proud of though.
Here's some of the documents - a few are quite large so you can read them. I got chills down my spine the first time I saw 'James Jamerson' and 'Eddie Bongo' and the rest of the Funks written out in Smokey's handwriting, or in Marvin's. All the famous producers and arrangers-- just crazy."
(When I asked Randy if I could reprint his story on my site, he asked that I include the following info:)
"The documents were donated to the Detroit Public Library, and specifically are stored in the Hackley Collection which is one of their special collection libraries. I wanted the documents to stay in Detroit, and personally I believe they are a very important part of African American history, aside from music and Detroit history. That's why they are in this specific collection. You'll see that I am never mentioned as they were donated anonymously. The part that mentions 'Motown Recording Company' is my donation.
Lets just say I am far FAR from being a wealthy person. Many family members gave me great shit for not selling this stuff, although a few did understand my altruism. Musicians understand.
Detroit is a great place with some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Don't believe the hype and bullshit people spread about this city. Yes, it is very blown out, and third world as far as modern cities go. But amazing things have happened here, and this place has history like no other place in the USA. This is where my website comes from (I work as a professional photographer / photo journalist). My personal explorations of the City ended up being detroitfunk.com.
Don't mistake my enthusiasm for being naive - if you read my site you'll see I am as critical of this city and the things going wrong here as anybody is. But I am also obsessed with its mangled beauty and its powerful rich history."
Motown Studio A / Studio B
"I also got photos of the building interiors before they were demolished. Everybody knows about Studio A - the "Snake Pit", but there was also a Studio B. This was demolished a few years ago to make a parking lot for a strip mall. I got in it before it was totally gone (with the owner) and took photos of that. Studio B was mostly for orchestral overdubs. I think it was Golden World Studios when Gordy bought it out.
Here's a video I made of Studio A:
I recorded the soundtrack for this, but the drums and percussion are from Acid Loops - ('The Drummers of Motown") so it's me jamming with Pistol Allen, Uriel Jones and Jack Ashford ! Scrazy."