Very sad news to report today: James Jamerson, Jr. has passed away at the age of 58. A cause of death has not been announced, though he had been ill for some time.
Jamerson followed in the footsteps of his father, the legendary Motown studio musician, as a bassist. In fact, much of his childhood was spent around Motown’s Studio A, where Jamerson, Sr. recorded many of the iconic bass lines we know him for. It wasn’t until his late teenage years that he realized his father’s work affected so many people.
”…When I was growing up I didn’t know I was around history-making people. I didn’t even know about my dad; I thought bass was played like that all the time. It was like a given,” he told us in a 2013 interview. “Then I came to find out that dad was changing the whole course of music. He was just my dad. [It was] just like someone that goes to work at a factory. That’s his job and that’s what he does. I liked what he was doing because during the Christmas time, I got interested in music. I didn’t know if I was going to be a scientist or a musician. It turned out musician. So there it was: same name, same instrument. [laughs] I know that he was happy before he left here because his son was making noise.”
Jamerson, Jr. recorded his first song with Motown when he was around 14. He was in the infamous “Snakepit” studio when his father left the room during a session for Smokey Robinson. Fellow session musicians Earl VanDyke and Robert White convinced him to pick up the bass and play for “Flower Girl.” “Normally I wouldn’t do it,” he said, “but I figured I was comfortable enough because I started learning how to play the bass at night. So that was the first thing.”
Soon after, gigs started to roll in. The Temptations picked him up for a stint, then he was doing demo work and a few tours. He branched out from Motown to work with a variety of artists he described as “Rock to Bach,” including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the Jackson Family, Luciano Pavarotti, and many more. He had a his own hit record in 1978 with the band Chanson with David Williams.
In the past few years Jamerson had been paying homage to his father and his work in Motown tribute shows, including the Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Live! tour.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of James Jamerson, Jr.