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January/February 2018 HOOK Magazine 47 Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson — BOOK+CD By Allan 'dr. licks' slutsky There's a running joke about bands. You got drums, you got guitar. somebody sings. You got this buddy who's got good Equipment, i.e. a PA system and some mics. You can use his stuff. But he wants to be in the band. Next ques7on, what should he do. ANsWER: He can play bass. Crazy because of all the instruments one might play, bass is definitely the most difficult. True, you have only four strings to deal with instead of six or 12, yet the bass func7on lies somewhere between the guitar and the drums. It's the bo8om end link- age between rhythm and melody. A melodic percus- sive instrument. With it you can do great work or big damage. For the bass man, there is no escape from mistakes. If the note is wrong, it's really wrong. strangely enough, music listeners rarely listen to the bass. They just feel its propulsive power. And in Motown, the bass is everything. Motown music is mostly just bass and vocal. And the bass player of record (pun intended), who played on virtually every Motown tune (Bernade8e, Grapevine, How sweet It Is, This Old Heart of Mine, I Hear a sym- phony) you have ever heard.... who was Berry Gordy's first call for 15 years....at the height of Mo- town's ascension to #1 label in a forest of R&B labels ....... not the guy behind the music but the guy under the music. James Jamerson. He was in his early teens when he chose string bass as his instrument. With his jazz background, his lines were all about improvising...... rhythm and har- monic counterpoint to the vocalist. His bass lines vary immensely in a song context. He is always on the move. To the point: exercise: take the song "Bernade8e" penned by the prolific song wri7ng team Holland- dozier-Holland. Put it on. Turn the treble way down and turn the bass way up. listen how're line moves con7nuously thru the tune. A defining tour de force that is like an alterna7ve melody line. It dances with sung melody. And James Jamerson invented it. On the fly. While you're at it, listen to the placement of the drums in the mix. It's a kit sound. That is, that the individual instruments in the kit are not miked separately. That comes in the eigh7es with the ad- vent of 24 track recordings. As a result, Jamerson's lines hang alone in space, making Motown and its ar7sts so excep7onal. In fact, James used to sing with the track while he played. A quirk that drove engineers crazy. You do know some bass players — familiar names.... John Entwistle of The Who or Jack Bruce who drove the Psychedelic CREAM to surreal rap- ture. But Jamerson was a different kind of master....so good that Berry Gordy, Motown's CEO, put him on retainer and kept him off the road. He was Indispensable. In the heyday of Motown, he would be doing three four-hour sessions at the cozy and 7ght Hitsville studio in detroit. Nicknamed the snake Pit. There, Jamerson teamed up with the FuNK BROTH- ERs: Robert White, dan Turner, Earle Van dyke, uriel Jones. He and they embodied a ferocious force. side upon side. Groove upon groove. Year a&er year. It's always great to explore what's under the Rock. Pick up the Rock at Motown and you were going to find James Jamerson. The most ins7nctually talented bass player of all 7me. This book takes you there to detroit to hang with the Funk Brothers and check out the hits they created. Weaned on string bass, Jamerson came into the instrument early and always liked to return to that essen7al stand up sound whenever possible. When he did play in the Fender precision, he would use only one finger, his poin7ng finger. For that he was nicknamed the "Hook". listening to the syncopa7on that he gets on the instrument, one would think that he had as many fingers as shiva has arms. The book is loaded with pictures right from the 7me (the six7es) and laced with innumerable nota7ons show- ing how he moved. (Oh, how I wish I could read that bass clef). Also included in the book are a couple of Cds where his not so shabby admirers (including Paul McCartney) pay tribute to this musical legend and innovator by playing his lines. Fascina7ng stuff. Makes you wanna slap da bass and join a band. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen This stream-of-consciousness autobiography illus- trates beau7fully the paradox of fame. The post- tour springsteen faces that dilemma. The rush. The moment. The runaway American dream. For fans of his music and deep iconic and o&en tortured lyrics, this book is truly a 500-plus page treat. Not too shabby for the 1st book. I remember reading that springsteen arrived in lit- erature late in life, well a&er the sublime-heartbeat surfaced in his music and all the world embraced it. Perhaps his favorite book is steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. The story chronicled the migra7on of an Oklahoma family from the "dust bowl" to Califor- nia— the Promised land. It inspired the album and song, Ode to Tom Joad. The album was a bit like a book report. Coming off the road, springsteen finally had 7me to read. Pu9ng himself in the populist's dusty shoes. At the end of the book, in an eloquent soliloquy, Tom Joad declares how he will ever be the voice for forgo8en Americans. springsteen created his own myth un7l his blockbuster album BORN IN THE usA propelled him into the world market. Max Weinberg's relentless snare hi9ng you between the eyes. Every song. All night long. A song for Everyman sung by a self-proclaimed Everyman. The song got trac7on cause everyone could find themselves in it. It's a big tent. In any case this slogan BORN IN THE usA allowed spring- steen to globalize. It focused on American pride and iden7ty. And that inclusive message went viral and his three-year tour made Bruce the Rock N Roll oli- garch. As "The Boss", he moved away from the sen- 7mental and hear6elt content to "playing" Everyman in his own vision. This was springsteen "growing up". like every recording ar7st the most compelling music comes early from the ba8le for survival and the struggle to be heard. By the 7me Bruce got off the road, he had become a very rich man. And a household name. He di- vested himself of the band and did some soul searching. His Tunnel of love album takes aim at that dilemma. The song Brilliant disguise strikes be- hind the mask as he sees himself from outside him- self and finds himself wan7ng. It is amazing a&er stalking the globe and doing the hard work— stumping for the record company is grueling. stadium rocking/ soul killing Run. He was born to do this. A fierce work ethic. All over the world. The American Everyman. like a blue-collar Odysseus, the wanderer returns to his home turf. But Rumson this 7me. le& alone to manage his musical body of work. Now moving to Broadway as Elvis the King moved to Vegas. Playing himself but just slightly uncertain of who that is. Out to pasture? What is your story? He would say "I'm working on it". This I know, he won't stop. Truly he was and is, Born to Run. MUSIC READS By Compton Maddux

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