Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

Motown

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James Jamerson

James Jamerson, left, with fellow Funk Brother Uriel Jones, at the Blues Unlimited club in Detroit (1964). Courtesy of Photofest.

Though long considered one of the world's greatest bassists by his music industry peers, it was not until his 2000 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that James Jamerson received widespread recognition. A core member of the Funk Brothers, the Motown studio band responsible for almost every Motown hit from 1959 until the company's 1972 relocation to Los Angeles, Jamerson elevated the bass from secondary instrument to driving melodic force, an achievement that would influence musicians such as Paul McCartney, Bernard Edwards, and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. Jamerson, like most of the Funk Brothers, began his career playing blues and jazz in Detroit clubs, a background that provided technical heft for the complicated arrangements demanded by the "Motown Sound." In fact, so precocious was Jamerson that he played in clubs as a minor after securing police permission. In 1972 Jamerson accompanied Motown to Los Angeles, quickly beginning a successful solo career. He toured with Joan Baez and wrote the theme to Starsky & Hutch, among other efforts, but by the end of the 1970s his alcoholism and deteriorating mental health forced him out of the industry. He died in 1982 due to complications from alcohol abuse.

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