LAST MONTH I HAD THE HONOR AND PLEASURE of reconnecting with one of my musical heroes: Jerry Jemmott, the Groovemaster. Born in 1946 in New York City, Jemmott was gigging on upright bass by age 12, and went on to play with Mercer Ellington’s band as a seasoned 16-yearold. While playing double bills with popular electrified R&B groups, he noticed, “The cats playing jazz were very much into themselves, and that turned me off . It seemed to me the people playing electric bass were playing music for people, not just themselves.” He soon switched to electric bass, and by 1967, was offered Chuck Rainey’s former slot in the King Curtis band. His innovative approach is well represented on the seminal King Curtis Live at the Fillmore West , as well as the studio session Everybody’s Talking .
Jemmott’s style descends directly from the James Jamerson school, but his nimble lines, crystal-clear articulation, and bouncy feel on the Fender Jazz Bass created a new lineage. It was Jemmott’s playing on tracks like “Hideaway,” from Freddie King Is a Blues Master , and “You’re Losin’ Me,” on B.B. King’s classic Completely Well , that fueled the funk in a young Jaco Pastorius. Check out the Florida Flash’s hallmark groove on “Come On, Come Over”—you can hear the Jemmott influence on display, loud and proud. Jemmott’s impressive track resumé includes Aretha Franklin’s “Th ink,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “The Weight”; B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone”; the Rascals’ “People Got to Be Free”; George Benson’s “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”; and Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” among others. For the past six years, Jerry has been touring with the Gregg Allman band, and witnessed at a recent gig in Austin, Texas, the Groovemaster is still showing us how it’s done.
During the late ’60s, many of the electric blues pioneers found a new audience with rock & roll fans, and funkier strains of the blues emerged. Example 1 is a classic Jemmott approach to Freddie King’s funky version of “Hideaway.” Jerry performs the repetitive, syncopated 16th-note line with trademark fire and clarity. The dead notes and accents are important to the line’s sense of propulsion— in particular, the syncopated figure on beats three and four. Broadening the “and” of four nicely sets up the next downbeat. The 1–8–b7–6–5 melodic pattern is one Jerry used on many tracks, always with a signature twist. The turnaround bar (bar 12) features another staple R&B figure, the chromatic walkup from the 3rd of the chord to the 5th. Jerry intersperses percussive dead notes on the same string between the notes of the line to create a feeling of topspin at this already burning tempo.
Check into the recorded works of this founding father of bass, and if the Gregg Allman band is playing near you, take the opportunity to witness a living legend playing his butt off . You can stay in touch with Jerry’s activities at jerryjemmott.com, and read more detailed information about his history, equipment, and playing style in my book The R&B Bass Masters: The Way They Play [Backbeat, 2005].
Ed “the Bass Whisperer” Friedland plays, writes, and teaches out of his bass base in Austin, Texas. Dig deeper into his analysis of Jemmott, Jamerson, Dunn, Rainey, and more in The R&B Bass Masters. edfriedland.com