Jamerson, James (1936-1983)

Born on Edisto Island, one of South Carolina’s barrier islands, and grew up in Charleston; by age 10, he taught himself to play piano and also studied trombone; began playing bass at age 16 in Detroit; in high school, he was a highly sought after jazz bassist playing in Detroit’s jazz and blues clubs with Washboard Willie, Kenny Burrell, Hank Jones, Yusef Lateef, and was Pearl Bailey’s bassist in the early 1970s; joined Berry Gordy and Motown in 1958 and brought to the simple rhythm and blues bass lines, a more complex and inventive style of bass playing — a jazz sound; Jamerson’s 2-bar vamps has his trademark syncopated chromatic style with walking bass lines, double stops, syncopation and zipping passing tones; he was a bassist with Motown’s studio band, the Funk Brothers (pianist, Earl Van Dyke, drummer Benny Benjamin, guitarists Robert White and Joe Messina and Jamerson) and has a lengthy discography of Motown and non-Motown hits including the multi-platinum, “What’s Going On” – a great example of Jamerson’s brilliant bass playing, “Bernadette,” “My Guy,” “For Once in My Life,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”; Jamerson was so critical to Motown’s hits that recording dates would be postponed until he was available; he was in high demand in the studio and recorded with non-Motown musicians including the Platters, Jackie Wilson, John Lee Hooker, Edwin Starr, the Parliaments, the Capitols, Marvin Gaye, Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, the Sylvers, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., Dionne Warwick, and the Spinners on such hits as “Agent Double-O Soul,” “Stop Her on Sight,” “I Just Wanna Testify,” “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher,” and “Cool Jerk”; as a composer, Jamerson is credited with “Fever in the Funk House” along with Eddie Willis; he received the Lifetime Achievement Award by Guitar Player, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the first bassist under the category, “Sideman”; at a time when many considered the bass a minor instrument, he single-handedly revolutionized bass playing with his innovative style and brought the instrument to the forefront through his playing of the electric Fender bass; chronic depression and alcoholism led to heart failure and pneumonia and Jamerson passed away in Los Angeles on August 2, 1983.

Image Gallery

Selected Albums


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