🇺🇸 Edisto Island, South Carolina
January 29, 1936
August 2, 1983
Bassist James Jamerson played a decisive role in shaping the sound of Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s, synthesizing elements of blues, jazz and R&B to create a melodic and rhythmic style that brought depth and groove to countless hit songs.
Jamerson, born in South Carolina in early 1936, began playing upright bass soon after he and his mother relocated to Detroit in 1954. In the course of moving from the upright to the electric bass, he created his signature 'hook' technique, using only one finger to pluck the strings while muting the rest with his hand.
Jamerson toured with blues singer Washboard Willie and soul great Jackie Wilson before finding steady session work at Motown's Hitsville USA in 1959, joining the group of studio musicians who informally called themselves the Funk Brothers. Jamerson's technical prowess and ability to create captivating bass lines perfectly attuned to the material at hand made him an indispensable cog in the Motown hit-making machine: classic singles like the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love," the Temptations' "My Girl" and Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" are unthinkable without his contributions, although he went uncredited on many of these recordings per Motown policy. Jamerson's struggles with alcoholism and declining health affected his ability to maintain a consistent presence in the studio, however, and he died Aug. 2, 1983 at the age of just 47.