Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Live! Q&A with James Jamerson Jr. and Allan Slutsky Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Live! Q&A with James Jamerson Jr. and Allan Slutsky

SITSOMOver the course of his career, James Jamerson, now regarded as one of the most influential bass players in modern music history, performed on nearly 70 hits that topped the R&B charts, including roughly 30 that topped the Billboard Hot 100. He is cited as a primary influence for everyone from John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) to John Entwistle (The Who). In 1989, Allan Slutsky aka Dr. Licks (known to this writer as “uncle”), chronicled the bass player for his book, Standing in the Shadows of Motown. As Allan began to peel back the layers of Jamerson’s career, he discovered that Jamerson was part of a collection of studio musicians dubbed the “The Funk Brothers,” largely responsible for the Motown sound. 13 years later, this revelation would go on to inspire a movie by the same name as Allan’s book. As mentioned in the opening credits of the film, the Funk Brothers “played on more number-one hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.” By the time of the film’s release in 2002, many of The Funk Brothers were well into their 70s (most, sadly, have since passed on). Jamerson passed away in 1983 and didn’t have the good fortune to read the book, see the movie or attend his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2000.

Several months ago, it was announced that “Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Live!” would hit the road and feature the music of Jamerson and The Funk Brothers. James Jamerson Jr., considered by many to be the only living bass player able to emulate his father’s style, will highlight an all-star cast of musicians fronted by singer and BET personality Leela James as well as Grammy winning singer-songwriter Peabo Bryson. I had the opportunity, recently, to sit down and speak with Allan Slutsky and James Jamerson Jr. about their recollections of Jamerson Sr., and the journey and experiences that have led to this upcoming tour.

James, what are some early memories you have of your Dad and some experiences that may have influenced your own career?

James: “My basic memories…to see my father play and I basically grew up in ‘The Snakepit,’ as they call it, Studio A and ‘Hitsville USA.’ I was interested in either music or science but I guess by me hanging out in the studio so much I got the bug. I wanted to play bass. I wanted to do what he was doing. Any time I got a chance to be in the studio with him, I was there. He’d give me pointers like how to hold a bass…one thing is I couldn’t play electric bass at first. I had to play upright. Once I learned the correct way to do everything first, then I could switch over to electric. But he was mainly playing jazz, the Motown thing was totally different. That was how he was expressing himself but it probably wasn’t in his sight when he bought his first electric bass.”

Allan, you started out on this journey some 25 years ago, first with the book on James Jamerson, then the movie with The Funk Brothers, and now the tour. Can you describe the evolution of it all, and the impact it has had on your life?

Allan: “It started out with me writing a book that took about 3 years to complete. Back then, there were no cell phones so I think I spent over $20,000 on phone calls to the West Coast, alone. When all was said and done, I knew I was broke. My kids and wife, all they’ve known is this project. In other ways it’s been very rewarding and a blessing. The recognition, the fame, getting to tour with your idols…I was a huge Traffic fan growing up and getting to raise my hand to introduce Steve Winwood in front of 3,000 people on stage in London…We were touring in Stockholm, Sweden and we’re sitting down ordering expensive bottles of wine while Winwood is recounting crazy stories from the road and his years with Traffic. But the best part is that all these guys (Jamerson and the The Funk Brothers) got their place in the sun. It’s been quite a journey and I wouldn’t trade it for anything”

jamerson Jr. Hi Res.James, you’re father unfortunately wasn’t around to see the movie or the book and never really received any credit when he was alive…

James: “None of the musicians received credit. Nobody knew who the guys were. Now some of the people in the business, they knew, but eventually the general public wanted to know who’s playing on this stuff. They would think the guys on the road were the musicians but there’s a very big difference between studio and road musicians. You have to be more disciplined in recording. When you’re playing live you can play all over the place, and try and show off and play in front of girls but then when it comes to recording, more restrictive.”

James, as a follow-up, what has all this recognition meant to you and your family even if your father isn’t around to witness?

James: “It’s great that it’s coming out and it’s unfortunate that he’s not here to see this and there are a lot of people that aren’t here either to see the contributions that they made. And for the music business or the record business, they changed the whole face of the business and the whole face of the music industry, so they should be going down in history.”

Allan, can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship with Jamerson Jr. and the evolution of the upcoming tour?

Allan: “I got real close with his dad even though we never met. The book, the research, and really just trying to do right by him where I knew he’d approve if he were still alive. Throughout the process and over the years, I became friends with his son (Jamerson Jr.) who is a pretty big musician in his own right out on the West Coast. He’s played with BB King, Chaka Kahn, Dylan, The Temptations, had his own group The Crusaders, etc. As some health issues began to sideline him, I wanted to do something with him and for him. Also, Bass Player magazine was doing this Bass Player live event where they induct people into their hall of fame. James Jamerson was picked along with guys like Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airlplane) and Larry Graham (Sly & the Family Stone). Jamerson had passed on so his son James Jamerson Jr would be accepting the award. His father didn’t have a band or anything so they called me to put together an act for him (including Jameson Jr.). So I put together an arrangement, we have a 2 hour rehearsal and play the Key Club in LA for the event. We’re playing on the same stage as Larry Graham and Cassidy who’s playing with Jorma (Kaukonen, also of Jefferson Airplane) and all these big established acts and yet when they announce us and we get on stage, it was like Jesus had entered the room, I mean the place went crazy and then we really tore up the room. So I knew we had something.”

James, what’s it been like to be able to honor your father by playing at events like the Bass Player Magazine induction over the past few years?

James: “People would get us confused when they saw my name and think it was a misprint or that me and my father were the same person cause they didn’t know. But I’ve been recording since I was 18 or 19 and, of course, have all my own stuff out there but people are still saying that I’m carrying the torch for my father and when I said I was gonna stop playing bass, they said well you can’t stop. But me and Al (Slutsky) talk and say we wish he was here and we need to be doing more cause the general public still isn’t very aware. The music business knows, but outside of that, the general public doesn’t have an idea.”

Allan, what are some of the biggest highlights over the past 25 years of this project?

Allan: “I was sitting at home a couple years ago and Robert Trujillo, the bass player from Metallica calls. I’m thinking did Kirk Hammett just die and you need a new guitar player. Turns out he was doing a film on Jaco Pastorius (influential jazz musician known for his fretless bass and use of harmonics) and he just wanted to pick my brain over a few meals knowing that I had done a movie…of course, hanging out with Paul McCartney who did narration for the “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” book was a special experience. I also got to play (with The Funk Brothers) for a presidential audience at the Whitehouse back in 2003, did some work for American Idol, and then of course, the world premiere and live performance for Standing in the Shadows of Motown at the Apollo Theatre.”

Any last thoughts on what we can expect from the upcoming tour?

James: “I’m going to go out there and represent my dad and myself. Very much about honoring my dad. I’m honoring him by saying ‘Hey dad, this is me and they see you through me,’ and how he was and what he did. And you know, these are also the songs that people grew up with and made babies to and all of that.”

Allan: “It’s going to focus on 24 Motown songs telling the story of James Jamerson. Narration by Jamerson Jr. will set up each of the songs, with various projections and images in the background to enhance the story. Then we have a couple world class singers in Peabo Bryson who’s won a couple of Grammys and Leela James who is rapidly gaining acclaim and seems poised to be the next big thing in the world of R&B and soul.”

If you’d like the chance to witness an important piece of musical history, check out dates for the upcoming tour starting March 6th at Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Live!

Also, stay tuned for the follow-up review of one of the upcoming shows.


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