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Bass Transcription: Graham Maby’s Bass Line on Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”

This is part three in a series of transcriptions of the work of unsung British bassists, as prompted by conversations on the No Treble Facebook Group.

Joe Jackson has had a similar career to that of Elvis Costello, first coming to prominence in the “New Wave” era in the late 1970s, and then diversifying into a broader variety of musical styles as he became more established. The initial success of singles such as “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” (1978) and “Different for Girls” (1979) was followed by a move into swing and blues on the album “Jumpin’ Jive” (1981) where he covered a range of artists including Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong. Jazz, Latin and classical music were all influences on his albums from the mid-eighties onwards, with the inclusion of different ensembles to enable the musical approaches he utilised. Although this experimentation with various genres has seen the inclusion of many musicians, bassist Graham Maby has been a near-constant feature of Jackson’s work, appearing on eighteen of his albums and the majority of his live tours.

Maby began playing bass at sixteen when he bought an Eko bass for £15 and states that it was “…like a lightning bolt moment of awakening”. He played in local bands around Portsmouth, England, and first met Joe Jackson in 1974 when the songwriter was putting together a band called ‘Arms and Legs’. They were signed to MAM records, but the first three singles all failed to sell and they were dropped by the label. Jackson wasn’t to be defeated, and after some time spent creating new material, a band was formed to play on the demos. Maby was once again hired for this new venture, alongside guitarist Gary Sanford and drummer David Houghton. The new material led to a record deal with A & M and became the basis of the first Joe Jackson album “Look Sharp”. The line-up stayed together for the next two albums “I’m The Man” (1979) and “Beat Crazy” (1980). The original line-up reunited for “Volume 4” (2003) and again on ‘Rain’ (2008) but later Joe Jackson albums have again featured more fluid musical combinations.

Like Jackson, Maby moved to New York in the mid-eighties, and this led to a broader session career, working with Natalie Merchant, Graham Parker, The Might Be Giants, Regina Spektor, Marshall Crenshaw, Ian Hunter and Joan Baez amongst others, and he has also produced albums for Freedy Johnston.

Maby cites Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones, Roger Glover, James Jamerson, Dee Murray and Colin Moulding as influences. He has played a range of basses including instruments by Ibanez, Spector, Fender and Mark Hatcher, and he has used Fender Bassman and Wayne Jones amplification.

“Is She Really Going out with Him?” was written by Joe Jackson in 1976 and included on his debut album “Look Sharp!” which was released in 1978, and made the top 40 in five countries and number nine in Canada.

In the intro, Maby sticks to roots and fifths, but utilizes slides to approach each new root note, and this creates a smoother sense of movement between the chords – this is also seen later in the track. The verses are relatively simple, mainly using root notes, but ending each bar with a stepwise movement or a fourth. The notes are defined and precise and help to create a rhythmic simplicity that is contrasted in the choruses (bar 25), where a fuller rhythmic idea is used, and some more melodic ideas appear (26) that are varied on the repeat.

The middle section (38-53) re-states the introduction idea, but this is repeated and developed to include first octaves and then ninths, ending on a restatement of the unison figure from the end of the intro. The simpler verse idea returns for four bars before a chorus, and finally the verse groove re-appears for the outro, but this time a crotchet triplet idea adds to a more reggae feel.

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