Monthly Archives: September 2013

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.


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