Mark King – Level 42 virtuoso

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Level 42 bassist and lead singer, Mark King, was born in 1958 on the idyllic Isle of Wight in England.

His family ran a dairy farm on the south coast of England and his childhood was very stark with not a lot of money around. Mark and his family lived in a tithed dairy house with an outside toilet and a zinc bath in front of the fire. Later years as a child found his family living on a prison estate near Newport. He attended Cowes High School but was kicked out at the age of 17 for wearing denim jeans.

As his first job Mark worked on an assembly line, but he did not enjoy that, so he then became a milkman. He wasn’t thrilled with that job either, so he headed to London for more opportunities. At the age of 19 Mark, Mike Lindup, Phil Gould, and Roland Gould formed Level 42.

Up until his move to London, Mark had been playing the drums. Then he turned to the bass guitar. He was a natural with a distinct funk-jazz sound and playing with a slap and pop style. Their first job was at the La Babalu Club in Ryde and then Elite Records signed them in 1979. A year later, they released the single Love Meeting Love. The bands first top 40 hit was Love Games in 1981.

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Level 42 had several small singles prior to 1984’s The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up) hitting the British Top Ten. Released in late 1985, the album World Machine introduced the band to a much wider audience. The single Lessons in Love hit number one in Britain and another song, Something About You, hit number seven in the United States of America. The subsequent two records, Running in the Family (1987) and Staring at the Sun (1988), were also a tremendous success in the U.K. Sadly, both of the Gould brothers left the band Level 42 in late 1987.

In 1991, Level 42 released Guaranteed. The band followed this release in 1995 with the album Forever Now. Mark has released solo albums, Influences in 1984, One Man in 1998, and Trash in 1999. Trash was a compilation of songs from the past that never had been recorded.

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Mark has also released some live recordings such as Live at Jazz Café and Live at the Isle of Wight (his birthplace). He remains Level 42’s front man and still plays with his slap and pop style. The band tours all over the world, participates in music festivals, and even has an active and enormously followed Facebook page.

Trevor Bolder – A Great British Bass Player

It was a tragic loss to rock music when Uriah Heep’s bass player Trevor Bolder passed away in May 2013 after a brave battle against pancreatic cancer. For me Trevor was one of the greatest players of our generation, but at the same time he was almost criminally underrated outside of the rock fraternity.

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If you are not familiar with Trevor’s bass playing then I suggest that you stop reading now and go and listen to the driving ‘Watch That Man’ (Aladdin Sane – David Bowie), the fast rock’n’roll of ‘Hang On to Yourself’ (Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie) or the sublime, flowing lines in ‘Drive-In Saturday’ (also Aladdin Sane – David Bowie).

Tracks to listen to from his long career with Uriah Heep are really too numerous to list; but at least check these out –

‘The Wizard’ (the new version from Celebration)

‘Love In Silence’ (Sea of Light)

‘Shelter From The Rain’ (Sonic Origami)

‘Wise Man’ (Firefly)

‘Shadow’ (Wake The Sleeper)

A true Bass Great.

Early Years

Trevor Bolder was born on 9th June 1950 into a musical family. His father was a trumpet player, his brother was a guitarist and he was the nephew of an opera singer. Bolder said during an interview in 2003 that in his family “if you weren’t a musician, then you were a failure!” Bolder took up the cornet at the age of seven, and performed with local brass bands during his adolescence.

During his early teens Bolder saw the Beatles shoot to stardom so he and his brother bought two guitars. He later said “We needed a bass player, but he didn’t want to play bass, so it was down to me to learn and play it, and I bought me a bass”.

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Bolder began his professional musical career with the Rats along with Mick Ronson on lead guitar. He once bragged that he never played in a pop band, preferring the blues and rock instead. Bolder idolized the early blues players of the 1930s and 1940s such as Sonny Boy Williamson. Another influence on him was Jack Bruce who he had seen performing in Hull prior to the formation of Cream.

Trevor Bolder’s own musical style combined hard rock with harmony and melody. He played a heavier-style of bass, moving faster and harder than others of his era. Other critics described Bolder’s bass as unique, musical and showing shades of punk rock. The musical nature of his bass playing drove the great songs of Uriah Heep and the other bands he joined. Interestingly, Bolder could also play any brass instrument thanks to his early training on the trumpet and cornet. Bolder’s bass playing was marked by runs and flourishes, root notes and a lyrical yet driving thrust. He enjoyed making his bass playing have an edge with a melodic feel.

Guitar slinging also became a trademark of the Bolder style of bass playing. He claimed he did it all the time, and that it was not a planned event. Bolder said of the antics, “It’s just aggression, it’s just feel, it comes with the playing. It’s just part of it, part of the way I play.”

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Bolder joined the backup band for David Bowie in 1971, playing on four studio albums and appearing in the 1973 film and concert movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Multiple observers noted that Bolder never appeared comfortable in the latex and glitter rainbow-colored outfits and platform boots that were the standards for the Bowie “Ziggy Stardust” era. Bolder and the other Spiders were dismissed on stage by Bowie in 1973.

Uriah Heep claimed Bolder in 1976 when he replaced John Wetton. His first album was Firefly and he stayed with them for over three decades, apart from a brief interlude as bassist for the hard rock band Wishbone Ash. While with Heep, Bolder played bass and sang backup vocals along with songwriting and producing their 1991 album Different World.

When the Uriah Heep line up disbanded after the Conquest album, Bolder and Mick Box (the founder and guitarist) were all that remained. Attempts to form a new Heep line up were held up and Bolder decided to join Wishbone Ash in 1981 as their bass player. Coincidentally he replaced John Wetton once again. He stayed with them for two years before returning to a reconstituted Heep.

Bolder said in an interview in 2012 about his time in Uriah Heep “I have been friends with Mick Box for many years and we are just like brothers. We were born on the same day and seem to have a bond where we have the same thoughts. Uriah Heep is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. We have toured the world, playing at many different venues and achieved accolades that many big bands never achieve.”

Later, in addition to playing with Heep until shortly before his death, Bolder teamed up with Billy Rankin, Phil Lanzon, and Joe Elliott from Def Leppard as The Cybernauts. They performed as a tribute to Mick Ronson. The group staged five concerts in addition to the Ronson tribute shows while Heep was on hiatus.

Bolder always enjoyed writing rock songs as well as ballads. He stated, “I just sit down and plonk away on a guitar and see what comes out.” It was clear that ballads brought out the more romantic and lyrical person within Bolder.

After his death, tributes rolled in from Bowie, Heep and legions of fans and fellow musicians. Praise included a statement from David Bowie that Bolder was a “wonderful musician and a major inspiration for whatever band he was working with. But he was foremostly a tremendous guy, a great man.” Others noted that Bolder was “an all time great” and “one of the outstanding musicians of his generation.” One world-renowned producer raved that Bolder was “one of the finest and most influential bass players that Britain ever produced. His virtuosity and enthusiasm for the music made him a world-class bass player, singer and songwriter.”

Charles Shaar Murray, the renowned music journalist, said “Like all great musicians, he took the playing seriously and himself considerably less so”.

Mick Box said “Trevor was a ‘World Class’ bass player, singer & songwriter, and more importantly a World Class friend. He will be sadly missed by family, friends and rock fans all over the world” and Midge Ure stated that “Trevor was not only an incredibly tasteful and melodic bass player, as demonstrated on the Ziggy Stardust album but more importantly he was a great, down to earth man. He was ‘one of the good guys’ and that is an accolade only people who knew him could bestow”.

Fitting tributes indeed.

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John Entwistle – The Ox

Born on the 9th October 1944, John Entwistle lit up stages across the globe until the 27th June 2002.

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Entwistle was best known for his bass playing in British megaband The Who. In fact, he was the only member of The Who had had any kind of professional musical training prior to getting started. Over his years of success Entwistle has been the influence of hundreds of young aspiring bass players across the globe.

Growing up as an only child in London, his parents were both musical people and this evidentially was passed on to John. His parents went through a divorce, extremely rare at the time, and this led to Entwistle becoming a young recluse.

Having tried the piano, trumpet and French horn without any great or long-term success, his musical nomad years lasted until age 11. He met Pete Townshend and they formed a trad jazz genre band. His large fingers meant that he struggled to play the trumpet, and was recommended to try the guitar instead. Inspired by the tunes of Duane Eddy, he took up the bass and a legend was born.

He joined Roger Daltrey, a year older in Acton County School, in his band The Detours. john entwistle 2Both Daltrey and Entwistle encouraged Townshend to pick up the guitar and soon enough Townshend had joined them both in the band.

After your traditional young band changing names several times, they eventually settled on The Who. It was at this time that Entwistle dyed his hair black so that Daltrey would stand out from the others more.

In 1967, Entwistle married Alison Wise and they moved into a home in Acton, London. It was here that his taste for strange objects first materialised – from tarantula spiders to suits of armour adorning the walls and rooms of his home. By the time he moved to the Stow-on-the-World, away from the big city in the late 1970s, his Quarwood mansion resembled more of a museum than a home.

Known as “The Ox” because of his natural power or “Thunderfingers” because of his quiet persona off-stage but loud equivalent when he played, he was also one of the first to use Marshall Stacks to make himself be heard over the other band members. He even helped come up with new ways of playing the instrument with the likes of bi-amping, which makes use of both high and low bass sounds sent through separate signal paths, proving to be extremely powerful for the future.je1

He was part of The Who until 1971, when he released his own solo album alongside. He released seven solo albums in total, one of which was a collection of unreleased The Who music. As well as being a quality bass player, he was a fantastic artist and painter too.

He toured with groups like The Best and members of the Rat Race Choir throughout his later years. He also toured with The Who in the 90s, and he regularly played with various other bands and gigs across the globe until his untimely death.

He died in room 658 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas on the 27th June 2002. This was the day before The Who were to take on a US tour. It was determined that his death was brought on by a heart attack.

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John Taylor – Duran Duran groove master

john_taylor_duran_duran_91Born Nigel John Taylor, British bassist John Taylor is primarily known as the co-founder of MTV-era band Duran Duran. John Taylor claimed Roxy Music were his favourite band in his early teens. Other early musical influences included Paul McCartney, James Jamerson and the Chic bass player Bernard Edwards. He was born in Solihull, Birmingham in June 1960.

Taylor and art college friend Nick Rhodes created Duran Duran in 1978 along with Stephen Duffy. Drummer Roger Taylor was added later, and the Duran Duran sound was born. Taylor originally played guitar in the band, but switched to bass once Roger Taylor joined the group. The band name Duran Duran references “Dr. Durand Durand,” a character in the 1968 science fiction film Barbarella. Taylor’s philosophy to his instrument was summed up when he said “I don’t like the bass as a lead instrument. It’s OK to feature occasionally, but I’ve always thought that the best bass players you shouldn’t hear – you should feel.”

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During the early 1980s, Duran Duran was one of the most popular groups playing on newborn MTV. They had their first hit single in 1981 and they continue recording and performing today. The band’s early music featured melodic funk and disco bass lines from Taylor. Taylor described the music as “night music.” It was intended to be interesting, edgy and strong enough to get party-goers dancing.

As the early Duran Duran group began to split, John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor joined with singer Robert Palmer and drummer Tony Thompson of Chic fame to form the group The Power Station. They released one self-titled album containing the hit singles “Some Like it Hot” and “Bang a Gong (Get it On).”

John Taylor began his solo recording career at around the same time, recording a single for the 9 1/2 Weeks soundtrack. He spent time recording and touring with a side group, the Neurotic Outsiders, during 1995 and 1996. Taylor created his own company, “Trust the Process,” and recorded several more solo releases. He starred in the movie Sugar Town, along with appearing in several smaller TV and film roles over the next few years.

john-taylor-duran-duran-perform-live-at_3794167In 1996, John Taylor and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols created the independent record label B5 Records. Taylor sang, played bass and guitar on his solo album Feelings are Good (And Other Lies). These tracks featured vocals and instrumentals with a rougher, rawer quality reminiscent of punk and grunge music, unlike the pop/new wave style of Duran Duran. Taylor created and toured with a band called “John Taylor Terroristen” in 1997 and 1998, releasing a live album before signing with a Japanese record label. After the tragedies of September 11, 2001, Taylor vowed never to use the “Terroristen” name again.

John Taylor and the other original members of Duran Duran reunited in 2001. Taylor released one final solo collection titled MetaFour in 2002. Since their reunion, Taylor and Duran Duran have signed with Epic Records and released several albums. They performed their 2007 album Red Carpet Massacre in its entirety live on Broadway for 10 shows in 2008. Duran Duran released their 13th studio album in December 2010. They toured from 2011 to 2013 in support of their album All You Need is Now, stopping for performances at Coachella and SXSW.

Throughout the years, Taylor has favoured using his Japanese Aria Pro II SB1000 bass guitar, settling later on his Phillip Kubicki Factor bass featuring a drop-D latch on the head. He inherited the Music Man StingRay that belonged to his musical idol Bernard Edwards. In 2006, Peavey Guitars partnered with Taylor to create the 4-string limited edition “Peavey Liberator JT-84” bass guitar. A six-string “Peavey Liberator A435” guitar followed. Taylor and Peavey released only 100 each of the individually numbered and signed instruments.

Taylor released his autobiography, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran, in 2012. He recounts his turbulent early years, the Duran Duran superstardom and his own struggles with addiction and recovery. John Taylor has been in recovery since 1994. He was named Patron of Mount Carmel in February 2014 in celebration of his 19 years free from alcohol and drug addiction. The South London treatment center featured prominently in Taylor’s own recovery process.

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He received the Writers in Treatment “Experience, Strength and Hope” award in 2013, and also was voted the “Greatest Bassist” by Music Radar in 2013. These honours join the six Lifetime Achievement awards garnered by Duran Duran over the years, including one from the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and another from the BRIT awards.

The BRIT Awards also presented Duran Duran with the “Outstanding Contribution to British Music” award after the band played live on the show in 2004. This was Duran Duran’s first life performance with the original five members in nearly two decades. So far, Duran Duran has sold over eighty million records around the world, and their latest album All You Need is Now debuted in the Number One spot in 15 countries.

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Ray Brown – Jazz Legend

Ray Brown was a stunning jazz bass talent whose career spanned over 50 years. He played double bass and cello, and worked extensively with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. He was featured on over 2000 records throughout the years, performing with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Oscar Peterson.

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Brown was one of the leading forces in the creation of the bebop style of jazz in the 1940s, and he was a long-term member of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Ray Brown was one of the original members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and he accompanied many famous singers of the day from Linda Ronstadt to Frank Sinatra. Jazz masters agree that Ray Brown was one of the leaders in defining the modern jazz rhythm.

Born in Pittsburg, Ray Brown began piano lessons at age eight. He began playing the upright bass in his high school jazz band. Major influences on Brown and his bass playing included Jimmy Blanton, the bassist in the Duke Ellington Band. Brown also felt a kinship with the likes of Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller.

Even before he graduated high school, Ray Brown was playing bass at local shows. He quickly became one of the most in-demand young bassists in the region. After graduating in 1944, he performed with the Jimmy Hinsley band for eight months.

At the tender age of 20, Brown bought a one-way ticket to New York City, where he was introduced to Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie hired him for his bebop group without so much as an audition. The next night, Brown was onstage with the group that included Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach. These men were the giants in the bebop jazz style, and their music featured fast tempos and complex harmonies. Brown continued with Gillespie’s band through 1951. Drummer Kenny Clarke and Ray Brown formed the Modern Jazz Quartet, one of the most famous jazz groups of the time. He met Ella Fitzgerald and married her in 1947.

During the late 1940s, Brown played in Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts organized by Norman Granz. In 1949, Brown first performed with pianist Oscar Peterson. This led to a long-term collaboration in which Brown played in Peterson’s trio from 1951 to 1966. He also became a manager and music promoter during this time. He and Fitzgerald divorced in 1952, but Brown continued to collaborate with her and produce her music.

During the Oscar Peterson Trio years, Brown became widely known an admired for his intricate bass solos, and for the development of a hybrid cell-bass instrument in 1960. The trio ranked consistently as one of the most popular jazz groups in the 1950s and 1960s.

Brown relocated to Los Angeles in 1966 and quickly gained work for television show orchestras. It was during this period that Ray Brown got the opportunity to accompany some of the musical greats such as Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, and Frank Sinatra. Brown also managed the Modern Jazz Quartet along with the young Quincy Jones. He produced shows performed at the Hollywood Bowl, developed a jazz cello, composed movie and television scores, and wrote jazz instruction books. Brown continued to work as a freelance jazz musician as well as a studio performer. Ray Brown got to play with the legendary Duke Ellington in the early 1970s, shortly before Ellington’s death.

raybrown_5After leaving the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1965, Brown moved to Hollywood and founded the LA Four in 1974. By the mid-1970s, Brown was playing four days a week on the Merv Griffin Show. Between 1974 and 1982, Brown recorded albums and performed live with the LA Four. He played on every Frank Sinatra TV special, directed the Monterey Jazz Festival for two years, and he was music director at the Concord Summer Festival in 1976 and 1977.

Zan Stewart of Down Beat magazine gave the Something for Lester album, created with pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Elvin Jones, a 5-star rating. Stewart commented that Brown was “the superlative bassist” and raved about his “glorious tone… his superb intonation.”

Throughout the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, Ray Brown led his own jazz trios, touring and recording extensively. He continued to refine and expand his bass style in everything he did. The emerging talent of jazz piano player Diana Krall studied under Brown, among others. The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio reunited from 1990 to 1993, featuring Brown, Herb Ellis, and Oscar Peterson. Ray Brown continued to play with the last version of his Ray Brown Trio until his death in 2002.

His tasteful rhythm lines and his forceful yet melodic solo performances defined Ray Brown’s musical style. Not only was Brown technically masterful but he possessed a vast depth of musical knowledge and amazing bass technique. Other musicians described Brown’s playing as having “a feather-fingered guitar-like virtuosity” on the bass. He was treasured as an accompanist for having astounding foresight when collaborating with other artists. He took the bass technique to a soulful, more sophisticated than traditional jazz bass lines.

Dizzy Gillespie commented about Brown’s sound that it was “so deep and true you could hear the wood.”

Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote in 2000 “Brown is still one of the best musicians out there. His notes are shapely, fat, round and well defined. His rhythm is so propelling that on up-temp pieces his eighth-notes are always blowing wind into the music.”

Also in 2000, Mike Joyce from the Washington Post observed “One of the great and enduring joys of jazz is watching bassist Ray Brown dig his fingers into a deep, rhythmic groove until he is smiling like a kid who just got his hands on a new toy.

Dizzy Gillespie’s memoir “To Be or Not to Bop” claimed that “Ray Brown, on bass, played the strongest, most fluid and imaginative bass lines in modern jazz at the time with the exception of Oscar Pettiford.”

Ray Brown was the most-cited musician in the initial edition of the Penguin Guide to Recorded Jazz, published in 1992.  He received multiple awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts “Jazz Masters Award.” He received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art – 1st Class in 2001. In 2003, Down Beat inducted him into their Hall of Fame.

Ray Brown was a fixture in popularity polls of both listeners and music critics. Most include him in the top five greatest jazz bassists, in the company of Oscar Pettiford, Jimmy Blanton, Milt Hinton, and Charles Mingus. Brown received his first Grammy award for “Gravy Waltz,” which was later used as the Steve Allen Show theme song. The albums of the Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio earned at least four Grammies for Brown.

Ray Brown’s lasting legacy among jazz musicians is his contribution to bebop as a musical style and to the bassist’s role in that. Other standouts in the bebop revolution included greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. Brown led the way in educating young bass players as they learned the instrument.

Thomas Owens wrote in Bebop: The Music and Its Players in 1995 that Brown was “an agile, inventive, and often humorous soloist. His bow technique is excellent…he shines most brilliantly as an accompanist. Examples of his beautiful lines are legion.”

Herb Ellis, interviewed in The Guitar Player Book, stated “Ray Brown is in a class all by himself. There is no other bassist in the world for me, and lots of players feel the same way… Ray has it all locked up.”

In addition to being a top-echelon soloist, Ray Brown was a leader in defining the modern jazz rhythm section. He influenced some of the great jazz performers with his dynamic and unique sense of swing. Brown dedicated most of his later career to passing on his musical knowledge and experience to the next generation. He became deeply involved in mentoring and educating young jazz performers, writing bass instruction books and developing a jazz cello.

John Paul Jones – a Biography

jpj6John Paul Jones was born on January 3rd, 1946 and is best known as the bass and keyboard player and songwriter for Led Zeppelin. He is also a composer, arranger, record producer, and master of many instruments. His playlist includes bass guitar, six string guitar, keyboards, koto, steel guitar, mandolin, autoharp, violin, sitar, cello, ukulele and more. It was Jones who played the three over-dubbed recorder tracks on Led Zeppelin’s keynote song, “Stairway to Heaven.”

Jones began playing music as a member of his father’s dance band in 1960. The next year he formed his own band and then began to travel and perform professionally in 1962. He has left an indelible mark on rock and roll history since then. By the mid-1960s, Jones was working as director and arranger for several other groups, in addition to using his talents as a session keyboard player and bassist. In the 60s, he worked with the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, the Yardbirds, the Everly Brothers, the Supremes, and many more.

The iconic Jimmy Page handpicked Jones to form Led Zeppelin in 1968 with Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham. The keyboard-based compositions of Jones’ were a central focus of their music. From 1968 to 1980, John Paul Jones and Led Zeppelin created 9 albums, one movie, and went out on nearly 30 tours.

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Jones is considered a highly influential musician, not just for bass and keyboards, but also his musical arrangements. Other bassists influenced by Jones include John Deacon (Queen), Geddy Lee (Rush), Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Gene Simmons (Kiss), and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana).

Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. Jones continued his musical career producing and arranging albums for other artists. He wrote songs and film scores, and built his own studio. In 1998, he recorded a solo album, Zooma.

jpj5Since going solo, John Paul Jones has collaborated with many artists such as Sir Paul McCartney and Brian Eno. He released Zooma in 1999, and his second album, The Thunderthief, in 2001. He has produced many artists and has recorded tracks with the Foo Fighters. Jones has also been known to jam at Bonnaroo, and he has participated in the Led Zeppelin reunion shows.

In 2009, Jones, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) joined forces as the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. They released a debut album that same year. They have toured and continued to produce albums since that time.

The list of Jones’ accolades is long. Chris Dreja, rhythm guitarist and bassist for The Yardbirds, called Jones, “The best bass player in Europe.” Jones consistently ranks among the best rock bassists in music magazines and other publications. He was named Best Bassist in Creem Magazine’s 1977 readers’ poll. Guitar Magazine ranked him third in the 2000 Bassist of the Millennium reader poll.

jpj3In 2010, Jones received the “Gold Badge Award” from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, a nod to his outstanding contributions to British music and entertainment. Later that year, the Marshall Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards gave Jones the “Outstanding Contribution Award.” In the US, President Obama honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.

Jones continues to tour, perform, compose and produce music to this day.

From a personal point of view John Paul Jones is the reason I got enthusiastic about the bass guitar in the first place. I heard ‘Led Zeppelin II‘ when I was (much) younger and the bass playing really got my attention – I hadn’t heard anything like it before. To this day I believe that the bass solo on ‘The Lemon Song‘ is one of the greatest performances committed to record, ever. That album inspired me to take up the bass, and Jones’ playing has been a constant source of inspiration and education since then.

 

The Enduring Influence of James Jamerson

jj3Called the most influential musician of the past 50 years, Motown bass player James Jamerson changed the face of soul and R&B music forever. He was a master of the art of developing inventive and distinctive bass lines, characterised by unexpected fluidity, rhythm and harmony. His influence on subsequent generations of bass players is profound.

The Motown sound dominated popular music from the late 1950s through early 1970s. Household names like Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and countless others, enchanted listeners worldwide. Behind the scenes a largely uncredited group of session artists calling themselves the Funk Brothers worked their magic.

The studio musicians at Motown records had long been unsung heroes until Marvin Gaye’s 1971 “What’s Going On” album; which was the first to credit James Jamerson and the other Funk Brothers. Ultimately Jamerson played on over 100 hit songs, including nearly 30 chart Number One’s. His unique skills and contribution to the music still shapes bass players today. Jamerson is said to have played on around 95% of the Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968.

Some of Jamerson’s notable recordings include –
For Once In My Life – Stevie Wonder
My Girl – The Temptations
Reach Out I’ll Be There – Four Tops
Bernadette – Four Tops
Dancing In The Street – Martha and The Vandellas
You Cant Hurry Love – The Supremes
Whats Going On – Marvin Gaye
This Old Heart of Mine – Isley Brothers

Jamerson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, seventeen years after his death.

In a way James Jamerson has had an impact on every bassist who has picked up the instrument since 1959, whether they know it or not. His style of playing, built on sixteenth-note runs and syncopations, pushed the envelope of the sound. Jamerson’s constant, fearless exploration of the bass role in popular music is still felt today.

Paul McCartney of the Beatles stated Jamerson’s style was one of his major influences. John Entwistle, bassist for The Who, claims every British bassist of the 1960s had “a little Jamerson in him.”

Jamerson expanded the role of the bass in popular music. Up until his time, bass players followed a steady repetitive pattern of root notes and fifths. Jamerson’s bass lines, in contrast, used syncopation, chromatic runs, and more. He erased the “standard” bass line and played in harmony with the singer’s melody while remaining locked with the drum groove. His creative and forceful playing brought the electric bass from a mere rhythm role to a lead instrument.

Bassists since the 1970s have become less afraid to play what they want. James Jamerson lit the way for many musicians to follow, and inspired bass players all around the world. He is considered a legend and a genius on the bass, according to Motown founder Berry Gordy. Most of Jamerson’s parts were improvised or created in just a few seconds. This melodic sound influenced later generations of musician’s awareness of the potential for the bass guitar. Some have called him the first electric bass virtuoso, the first to give the electric bass its own voice.

Jamerson was the behind-the-scenes spirit and groove of the Motown sound and the Motown recordings remain some of America’s most iconic and durable songs decades after their release.

jj4James Jamerson primarily played a 1962 Fender Precision Bass nicknamed “The Funk Machine”.

 

 

 

Quotes about James Jamerson –
“As far as I’m concerned, he was Motown.” – Wah Wah Watson
“When Leo Fender designed the Fender Bass, he had James Jamerson in mind.” – Ron Brown
“He was the only guy I ever saw who was just as adept on electric as he was on upright. He’s really the father of the modern day bass player.” – Smokey Robinson
“Jamerson was a genius.” – Marvin Gaye