James Jamerson: The Father of Modern Electric Bass Playing

James Jamerson

I love playing my old Fender Precision bass strung with flatwound strings (LaBella strings, seeing as you were wondering!) and I’m not the only one. For those of us who appreciate the ‘traditional’ nature of playing the bass, it’s the approach that makes sense in so many musical situations, both live and in the studio. Why? Because there’s history and character in that sound.

Ask any player who plays this combination of bass and strings why they chose this approach and you’ll more than likely hear this name; James Jamerson.

Jamerson was the famous bass player who played on countless hits for the famous Motown record label in the 1960s and ’70s. His playing style was busy, inventive, interesting, surprising but always supportive. He played with a feel that has become the benchmark, the standard to which so many of us aspire to reach. He did it all with one bass, the Fender Precision, strung with heavy gauge LaBella flat wound strings.

So listen to this! Here’s the man himself on the classic ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. The bass part has been isolated so you can hear just the bass with the vocals, without the band.

Notice the consistently strong feel and tone. You can hear and feel the subtle push and pull against the underlying time too. It’s not about playing like a robot. This was done in the days before computer editing. There was no grid to work to, no click to perform to. It’s 100% human feel by a musician working playing at he height of his abilities. Strong, authoritative feel and great ideas that enhance the song while providing harmonic and rhythmic support to everyone else in the band.

The word ‘genius’ is overused these days but in this context it’s absolutely true. The father of modern bass guitar playing, James Jamerson.


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