Category Archives: James Jamerson

‘What’s Going On’ at 45: The Time Marvin Gaye Reminded Us That Only Love Could Conquer Hate

Marvin Gaye (1971) - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition 2001) (A)

Marvin Gaye had to fight Berry Gordy at Motown to get this album made and released. The label was transitioning from Detroit to Los Angeles at the time. Vietnam kept raging on,President Nixon was blowing a dog whistle to bring down the sociopolitcal revolts of the 60’s and Marvin was depressed. He decided to write an album from the point of view of his brother Frankie-coming back into an unwelcoming America from Vietnam. With the help of the Four Tops’ Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Motown’s bass maestro James Jamerson, Marvin came up with a musical masterpiece whose appeal is still evolving.

What’s Going On has a basic groove-a cinematic soul jazz sort of sound on just about every song. Marvin scats and improvises many of the vocal adlibs himself. The title song begins the album on a happier note-hoping that people will come to deal with the racial,political and ecological concerns Marvin is so troubled by. By the time of the instrumentally brilliant,percussive Latin soul stomp of “Inner City Blues”,Marvin has given up. He sings “make me wanna holler/throw up both my hands”. To this day,it’s really up to the given listener whether they feel Marvin’s mixed emotions here are cathartic or enervating.

Berry Gordy turned out to be very wrong that this album had no potential. Not only was it a huge commercial success for Marvin Gaye,but he could hardly go one concert after this without inserting the title song of this album into his set. That goes to show how sometimes,the artist making the music really has more of a finger on the pulse of the people than those peddling their raw creative material. In 2001,the album was expanded into a 2 CD deluxe edition. Upon hearing it,I went to Amazon.com and reviewed this new presentation of this 1971 classic on thoroughly musical terms:

How do you make a overly reissued album classic better? Well actually this one DOES-I love all the songs on ‘What’s Going On’-it’s a great album but I always felt that it was highly overproduced.This one starts with the original followed by a different variation on the same album called ‘the original Detroit Mix’-THIS version is far more understated in the finest Donny Hathaway tradition and truly brings out the richness of Marvin’s voice and the depth of his vision-the sparer arrangement actually better expresses the music’s message of urban and environmental blight.There’s still orchestration but it isn’t mixed so high.

It’s also forcing one to acknowledge how great a pianist Gaye is.And that’s why I highly recommend that those who purchased previous issues of this CD should go out and pick this set up-that along with a bonus disk of live material and outtakes make this the definitive version of this album-to such an extent myself bought this and gave my original CD issue of this album (in this case the tepid ripoff of 1994’s so called ‘deluxe edition’) to my dad,a fellow music lover who I felt would benefit from having the album in his collection alongside his other classics like The Beatles White Album,Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ and John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ where it belongs!For those who want to replace an old copy of this CD with a better one LOOK NO FURTHER!For those you for whatever reason haven’t been initiated-well,what more can I say-there is no better place to come!

Marvin was seeking with this album,to quote George Clinton about funk in general,not to tell people what to think but that they CAN think. It begins with a black man who’d made good in the world. And him looking through the eyes of a loved one who wasn’t so lucky in that regard. He starts out with a degree of optimism. By the end of the album,one realizes how much of a thoroughly human figure Marvin Gaye was. By the time it ends, he has almost lost  hope. Especially with Jamerson’s bass lines,the instrumentation is what tends to carry the positivity through when even Marvin can’t anymore.

This is the type of album inspired a lot of artists to make what I refer to as “people music”-a type of message music that takes the ethnocentric melodies and rhythms of the artists back-round to express important ideas. Unintentionally, this album became the “people music” for Generation X . This is an intelligent and aware generation of Americans who often lacked focus and interest. And with the election of Gen Xer Barack Obama for two presidential terms in America, this album seemingly succeeded in getting a generation who didn’t want to get involved to find that way to bring  loving here today.

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1971, Berry Gordy, cinematic soul, Detroit, Frankie Gaye, Generation X, James Jamerson, Los Angeles, Marvin Gaye, message music, Motown, people music, Renaldo Obie Benson, Vietnam War, What's Going on

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town” by Talking Heads

David Byrne,Tina Weymouth,Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison had been honing their performance persona and songwriting skills at NYC’s CBGB’s for a few years before. They started as an opening act for The Ramones in the very late spring of 1975. Looking back at their early performances,the bands stripped down and precise grooves must have been very strange amidst the noisy atmospherics of mid/late 70’s CBGB’s. Their early recorded demos didn’t make of an impact until later the next year-when Seymour Stein of Sire Records signed them up and they began recording their debut album.

This first album entitled Talking Heads 77 has a very different vibe than most albums that came out of NYC’s original punk scene. The main inspiration for it’s sound wasn’t as much raggedy 60’s garage rock as it was the cleaner instrumental sounds of early 70’s soul and funk music. My personal experience with the bands music started more with their early/mid 80’s album and worked backward to this one. Not being the loud guitar thrasher type album I half expected,it’s opening song gives a good idea of the grooves that lie within. The name of this song is “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town”.

Byrne and Weymouth begin the song with a bass/guitar that scales up and down with each other until Chris Frantz hi hats turns over to a slow,shuffling funky drum with bouncy percussion fills. Weymouth turns out a late 60’s James Jamerson style bass line throughout in the spirit of “I Was Made To Lover Her” while Harrison deals with a sustained chicken scratch rhythm guitar line. Harrison’s organ like keyboards play a horn-like roll on the choruses which take the melody up a key. The bridge adds a shuffling steel drums solo before another refrain/choral pattern brings the song to a slowed stop.

One of the key elements of much late 60’s/early 70’s pop/rock was an imitation of the early/mid 60’s Motown sound. Now Motown has an effect on this song too. But Talking Heads were somewhat unique among funk inspired rock groups in that they were inspired by the present and the future of the music-not the recent past. So this song has the funkier melodic vibe of early 70’s Jackson 5ive style Motown-with the use of more James Brown inspired bass/guitar interaction and a light Caribbean flavor. In that way,it’s an excellent template for what Talking Heads groove would evolve into.

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Filed under 1970's, CBGB's, chicken scratch guitar, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, James Jamerson, Jerry Harrison, keyboards, Motown Sound, New Wave, New York, pop funk, steel drums, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth

Bosses Of The Bass: Andre’s Top 12 Funk/Jazz/Soul Bass Players

Space Bass

Ever since my fourth grade music teacher Mrs. Gockle forced me to give up the upright bass due to her fascination with the melody based violins and violas? A deep life long interest in the bass as a musical instrumental emerged. Started listening for it closer in my fathers jazz records. And it was the foundational element in my favorite form of music-funk.  As time went on? I understood the sound it made to be so flexible,it could bring the melodies right out of the rhythms it created-when in the right hands of course.

As an adult? I’ve gravitated towards listening for how the bass is used on a song. It may have something to do with the old saying about how funk/soul lovers want to turn up the bass with rock fans prefer to turn up the treble. Since my understanding of the bass is almost totally oral rather than academic? The bass players I’m talking about here today may not all be the most renowned or well know. Though many of them are. These are people who have a distinctive approach that just reaches my type of musical ear. So here are my twelve (current) bosses of the funk bass.

James_Jamerson

James Jamerson is one of those bass players even non instrumentalist music lovers can pick out of the crowd in a second. Just listen to the opening of Motown hits he played on like “My Girl”,”Reach Out I’ll Be There”,”Don’t Mess With Bill” and “Just My Imagination”? And you understand how this key member of Motown’s now iconic Funk Brothers house band opened up the melodic possibilities of the electric bass probably more than anyone of his day. Jamerson’s sound probably got stuck in my consciousness those mornings half asleep going into town,from our family summer camp,in 1991 listening to the radio’s Motown Monday’s before I even realized it.

Larry Graham

Larry Graham,Bay Area bass player extraordinaire for Sly & The Family Stone,basically created the slap bass approach to playing that became one of the rudiments of the 70’s funk sound. Even before venturing out on his own with Graham Central Station,a solo career and session playing with Prince later on? Larry had already innovated the fuzz bass as well with the Family Stone’s breakout hit “Dance To The Music”. He’s probably one of the most renowned and famous funk bassist ever of course. And whatever I hear other bassists playing after? In some way it comes down to Larry in the end.

Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins,having spanned playing with the JB’s and than George Clinton’s P-Funk,picked right up in terms of bass innovation where Larry Graham left off. Bootsy’s effect on how I listen to music is one of personality. Rock musicians often call themselves guitar gods. And if I ever wanted to use such a term? Bootsy,with his glittering outfits and superhero like persona,is something of a bass god in that regard. He doesn’t just slap the strings. He pops out thundering,round tones. He snarls his bass like a guitar as well. Collins therefore probably has the most flexible and diverse style of playing the electric bass than many that I’ve heard.

Louis Satterfield

Fellow Earth Wind & Fire member Verdine White once said that everything he learned about bass came from this man,Louis Satterfield. One thing that really makes Satterfield fascinating to me is that he plays two low toned musical instruments: the trombone and the upright/acoustic bass. Often regarded more as a member of the iconic Phenix Horns,Satterfield has a long history playing for Chicago blues greats before essentially becoming the musical godfather of the totally rhythmic experience the bass played in EWF during their key years of the 70’s.

Wilton Felder

Wilter Felder,speaking of horn players,was only known to me to be a bass player as well when my blogging partner Rique informed me one day that Felder played bass on the Jackson 5’s first hit “I Want You Back”. As a bass player? Wilton did the reverse of what Louis Satterfield did. He helped to bring his melodic saxophone approach to his bass playing. Quite appropriate with the key role all the Crusaders played in late 60’s/early 70’s Motown-a label whose music always had a core of the melodic style of bass playing.

Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson,a musical disciple of James Jamerson,helped me to completely come to  terms with my understanding how the bass could be a powerful compositional instrument. Henderson played with Stevie Wonder,Miles Davis,Aretha Franklin and Dr.John in his earlier years before venturing out on his own solo career as a singer. He continued the tradition of melodic bass playing that came directly from his Motown education. And than took it onto a career as a premiere funk performer as well as being an instrumentalist.Louis-Johnson

Louis Johnson,much like James Jamerson before him,entered into my subconscious without me even fully realizing it the very first time I heard Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Johnson’s major contribution to my understanding of the bass came from his fusion of Larry Graham’s slap bass approach with the melodic innovations of Jamerson. This man was a monster play in the Brothers Johnson with his guitarist brother George. Not to mention an enormously important part of Quincy Jones’ iconic Westlake Studios instrumental crew who shaped much of the way I hear pop,funk and soul of the 70’s and 80’s

Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards,late of Chic and partner to iconic musician/producer Nile Rodgers in that band,probably did more for innovating the disco bass style within the musical sub-genre of funk than anyone else in his day. One of my very favorite basslines in fact comes from Edwards-the slippery jazz oriented intro to Chic’s 1977 hit “Everybody Dance”. Pretty much every electric bass player today playing danceable pop music has something of Edwards in what they’re playing.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller not only helped engineer the early 80’s comeback of Miles Davis. But he also went on to become a star producer and bass player for Luther Vandross at the same time. All before launching his own solo career in the 90’s up to the present day. What gets me about Marcus is how he took the slap bass approaches of funk players such as Larry Graham and Louis Johnson and bought jazz improvisation into the equation-a more hyper melodic alternative to earlier slap bass jazz icon Stanley Clarke. As a multi instrumentalist,he was also able to construct heavily funkified soundscapes with the bass as it’s core rhythmic element as well.

Mark King

Mark King was key of bringing of bringing the fast paced,jazzy slap bass style of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller into the new wave world as the bandleader for the UK’s jazz/funk/pop band Level 42 during the early/mid 1980’s. Also quite a fluid composer,King was a bass player that I came to love and appreciate within the last decade. And has actually helped me a great deal to understand new wave/synth pop as often being an instrumental outgrowth of American funk.

© Sasa Huzjak

Jamaaladeen Tacuma came out of jazz great Ornette Coleman’s 70’s and 80’s group Primetime to have his own solo career in the 1980’s. Tacuma bought together the free harmelodic approach of Ornette to his bass playing. Listening to his abstract slaps,thumps and vamps really fuel my imagination on just how much the electric bass can really do.

Peter Muller 2

Peter Muller,Berlin resident and modern day bassist,is one of my most recent discoveries. Muller’s sound comes out of the slap bass flower that Larry Graham got going almost half a century ago now. And he’s channeled it all into the jazz-funk revival that’s grown out of the smooth jazz production approach and is currently independently releasing some seriously strong bass oriented jazz/funk albums that have really peaked my interest as a listener.


While I am aware that people such as Stanley Clarke and the late Jaco Pastorious didn’t make this list? Well,these are only the bassists that had the most personal musical influence on me. And the appreciation of what we listen to and for in the music in our lives has a highly individual approach too. At the same time? If you can dance to the beat of the drum? Your probably already on the road to being able to pop to the beat of the bass line as well.

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Filed under Bernard Edwards, Bootsy Collins, Crusaders, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, James Jamerson, Jazz, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, Louis Satterfield, Marcus Mller, Mark King, Michael Henderson, Motown, Peter Muller, Wilton Felder