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In Memoriam: Wilton Felder

Wilton Felder
Photo credit: Don Peake

His main instrument may have been saxophone, but Wilton Felder’s early work as a bass guitarist launched him into the history books of the low end. The musician, who played the bass line for the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, passed away on September 27th at the age of 75. Longtime collaborator Ray Parker, Jr. broke the news on his Facebook page.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1940, Felder got his start in his early teens by playing as a member of the Swingsters with drummer Nesbert “Stix” Hooper, trombonist Wayne Henderson, and pianist Sample. The band would go on to move to Los Angeles, eventually changing their name to The Jazz Crusaders. They became prolific in output and scope, recording 19 albums from 1961 to 1970 in a straight-ahead format before shortening their name to The Crusaders and evolving their sound to jazz fusion.

It was around that time that Felder’s bass work picked up steam. He worked as a studio musician for soul and R&B musicians and became an in-house bassist for Motown Records once they set up shop in Los Angeles. Besides “I Want You Back”, Felder was featured on the hit Jackson 5 songs “ABC” and “The Love You Save,” among others. He also played bass for Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, America, Seals and Crofts, John Cale, Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Michael Franks, and more.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Wilton Felder.