Hey! In today’s bass guitar lesson I’m going to show you to learn 5 legendary Motown Bass Riffs originally played by James Jamerson.
If you’re not already familiar with the name ‘James Jamerson’... you’re in for a treat!
Jamerson was the house session bass player for Motown Records in the 1960s and 1970s. When the record label was based in Detroit in the 1960s he was the man behind the bass lines of hundreds if not thousands of records.
He can be heard on records from artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons, The Temptations, Jr Walker, The Supremes… to name a few!
Paul McCartney credits Jamerson as a huge influence on hit bass playing and in 1989 many of the world’s greatest bass got together to credit Jamerson’s work in the iconic book ‘Standing In The Shadows of Motown’.
Today, I’m going to show you how to play 5 of Jamerson’s most iconic riffs and also how to install them into your wider bass playing.
Enjoy the lesson!
Riff 1 - Shotgun
This is a one bar riff from the 1965 album ‘Shotgun’ by Jr Walker and the All Stars. James Jamerson plays a few different variations of this riff on the track but this version seems the most common.
Try also putting the first two Ab notes up the octave.
Riff 2 - Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
This is from the 1966 album by The Temptations called ‘Get Ready’. This is a two bar riff and all of the notes are derived from the C major scale.
Riff 3 - Get Ready
This next riff is also by The Temptations and is the title track from the Album ‘Get Ready’ … it’s also one of my all time favourite bass riffs ever!
Riff 4 - Uptight
This is the introduction to the legendary Stevie Wonder Track Uptight from 1966. There are only 3 notes in the riff but the rhythm is trickier. N/C means no chord because the band are all playing the riff in unison.
Riff 5 - Nowhere To Run
This is the most challenging of all 5 riffs and was released in 1965 by Marther Reeves and the Vandellas. When first learning this I recommend using an open string for the D note… but once you’re more comfortable try fretting it at the 5th fret on the A string. This will allow you to move the riff around the fingerboard.
Backing Tracks For This Bass Guitar Lesson
If you want to get the backing track used in this lesson you can get it as part of the Blues Jam Backing Track Album available on the eBassGuitar website.
Here’s a link - Get The Blues Jam Backing Track Album
The drum groove I used is from the Drum Beats+ iPad app.
Lesson Wrap Up
James Jamerson is unquestionably one of the most important bassists in bass playing history and was hugely innovative in his style. He paved the way for some much of what developed from that point forward.
These 5 riffs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding James Jamerson's style. Make sure you checkout Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ to hear how his style developed by 1969.
That’s why I recommend all of my students study his bass lines because they are absolutely essential study for anyone in the beginner to intermediate phases of learning.
You can learn the core fundamental skills bass players need inside my program The Bass Lab PLUS.
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Good luck and get stuck in!