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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Bernadette" - James Jamerson's Isolated Bass

Today we're going to listen to the great James Jamerson, the bass player for Motown's Funk Brothers. Widely regarded as one of the best bass players to ever play, he's loved not so much for his technique (which was formidable) but for his choice of notes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Four Tops hit "Bernadette", which shows Jamerson at his best. This song is also available on the Standing In The Shadows Of Motown Deluxe box set.

Here's what to listen for:

1) Listen not only to Jamerson's choice of notes, but his unusual timing as well. He plays with a freedom rarely seen in todays recordings. It's amazing that he can stay as funky as he does. Also listen to how he pushes the groove, even as he plays around the set part.

2) At :37 the rest of the rhythm section is gradually brought in. Once again, notice how prominent the tambourine is to the groove of the song.

3) Also listen to how well the 3 guitars work together. In the chorus, one plays straight quarter note chords, while the other plays a high string mandolin-like part and the third plays a high pedal note. Along with the tambourine, this 3 guitar array is the heart of the Motown sound.

4) The only vocal of this mix comes at 2:38 with the single word plea of Tops singer Levi Stubbs. It hits really hard and is perfect for this mix.

5) After 2:38, all of the instruments re-enter, this time including strings and horns to complete the mix.

This is a really great example of the signature Motown sound, and James Jamerson at the peak of his personal powers. Enjoy.

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1 comment:

RPS said...

notice how prominent the tambourine is to the groove of the song

I listened to Motown for decades and never once noticed Jack Ashford and that tambourine. Then I saw the Standing/Shadows movie, and now it's all I hear. He's everywhere!


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