Most musicians and producers hold Motown in a certain reverence, and well they should, since the music has influenced a few generations of artists, players, arrangers and producers. One of the icons of the Motown studio band is bassist James Jamerson, and it’s always fun to listen to anything that shows his genius. Here’s the isolated bass and drums from the Marvin Gaye hit “Ain’t That Peculiar” that doesn’t so much show James’ technique as it does his ability to lyrically pick what to play.
1. The sound of Jamerson’s bass is a little on the distorted side, and what you’re hearing is a miked Ampeg B-15. He also muted the strings on his Precision bass with foam to get his unique sound.
2. There’s lots of leakage, but that’s because the whole band (piano, horns and all) recorded at the same time in a relatively small room about the size of a double garage. When you look at it in that context, the leakage really isn’t that bad.
3. Jamerson plays a repeating line that’s unusual in where it fits with the rest of the song, but listen to the notes he plays around the line. Once again, the notes never seem to fall into the places on the bar that you’d expect, and that’s what made him a genius.
4. The drums are pretty straight, but again, when there are fills they usually aren’t what you’d expect. The sound of the drums is also pretty flat, but that was before we knew what “big” drums sounded like.
5. The interplay between the bass and drums is fairly loose. If you’re used to being in the studio a lot, it’s even a little jarring at first, but by the end of the song it just feels so right!
Oh, for the good old days of people playing together in the studio! Here’s to the great James Jamerson.