Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bass in your face - I Want You Back

Find this quite interesting... One of the great bass lines in popular music, but whodunnit?

Two isolated Mowtown bass parts on one of the seminal tunes:-

 1. Wilton Felder does 'I want you back'. He's playing upright fretless bass, though seems to hit a couple of stinker notes on it. I believe that Felder's version went out on the original Jackson 5 release. It seemed to work though...

2. The legendary Mowtown funk brother James Jamerson does a pitch-perfect 'Ain't no mountain high enough', using just his right index finger ("the claw").

Wilton Felder was a multi-instrumentalist (much more noted for his saxaphone playing) and got the gig as Mowtown had moved operations lock, stock and barrel to L.A. in the early 1970s. Wilton got more fame in the 80's when he had a big hit with a tune called 'No Matter how High I Get (I still keep looking up to you)' with Bobby and Linda Womack on vocals.

Getting back to 'I want you back', I had always assumed that James Jamerson or Bob Babitt must have played on the original of this, cos it sounds like an electric bass part - seem to recall that the riff was originally composed on a piano by someone else, whose name eludes me.

Certainly know that Jermaine (ooooohh my brother Michael would have loved this, can you give me a cheque now?) Jackson couldn't have had the chops to get this down when he was 14 and playing bass for the Jackson 5, although he did play some of their stuff live.

Anyhoo, Jamerson was Mowtown's #1 bass player but, like many of the original Funk Brothers, was hugely reluctant to leave his beloved Detroit and his family, friends, jazz and party buddies when Mowtown moved west, and unfortunately spent the ensuing years being bitter and drinking himself slowly to death (the feckin' eejit). 

People like Paul McCartney and John Entwhistle always cited the influence of 'that Mowtown guy' when describing their bass-playing influences.

One evening, Marvin Gaye stopped production on his classic 'What's Going On' album until Jamerson could be dragged in to play. James was found eventually and ended up playing his tracks whilst lying on his back, as he was so wasted at the time.

There is a sad story about Jamerson slipping quietly into the Mowtown 25th anniversary show in LA, having to scalp a cheap audience ticket from a tout, as nobody had thought to invite him and most of his then existing funk brothers didn't get invites either, even though they had played on hundreds of hits for the company.

Mowtown mogul Berry Gordy got conscientious (and probably more than a little bit guilty) in later years and finally gave carte blanche to the producers and director of the movie 'Standing in the Shadows of Mowtown' to tell the true story of the brilliant Mowtown musicians.

Unfortunately, Jamerson was a long time dead by that time...

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