WHEN IT COMES TO THE UPPER RUNGS ON THE LADDER of unsung bassists, it would be difficult to place much higher than Scott Edwards. Between 1972 and 1982, Edwards appeared on 12 Billboard #1 Hits as a first-call L.A. session bassist. From R&B and rock to disco and pop to TV and film scores, Edwards’ rhythmically righteous, melodically savvy lines were everywhere. He laughs, “I remember turning on the Grammys one night and realizing I had played on three of the winning songs.”
Born and raised in Atlanta, Edwards started on trombone at age 5 and switched to bass guitar at 18, shedding along with James Jamerson-driven Motown radio hits. In 1970, Stevie Wonder came through town having yet to replace Michael Henderson, who had left to join Miles Davis. Edwards’ brother and cousin were hired as part of the regional horn section, and they recommended him on bass. After the show Scott was offered the gig. Three years and two albums later, he followed guitarist Ray Parker Jr. out of Stevie’s band and on to Los Angeles, where Parker recommended him to Motown arrangers. Additionally, Wilton Felder gave Edwards his session work whenever he hit the road with the Crusaders.
Along with his favorite drummer, Ed Greene, Edwards really hit his groove when the disco scene exploded, leading to seminal sides with reigning dance divas Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer, and a key role in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. When the disco backlash swept out many of the producers and contractors he knew, Scott’s worked slowed down and he graciously stepped aside. “It was time to pass the mantle to new players, like Nathan East.” Today, the 61-year-old lives in Long Beach, doing tracks in his home studio for industrials and enjoying his residual-fed retirement.
Among the most stylistically revealing Edwards tracks is the Johnny Mathis/ Deniece Williams ballad, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” a stand-alone single that reached #1 in spring 1978. Scott, who recorded his ’59 P-Bass with LaBella flatwounds direct, recalls, “We had a great Gene Page arrangement, but producer Johnny Mandel encouraged the rhythm section to put our personalities into it.” The under-three-minute cut consists of an intro and alternating verses and choruses, with no bridge. As the only instrument providing contrary rhythmic and melodic motion to the vocals, Edwards’ bass is a key third voice in the mix.
Example 1 shows the intro figure and a typical verse part. Note how Edwards subdivides by 16th-notes, astutely applies chromatic passing and leading tones, retains the classic root-5thoctave shape in most bars, and issues a killer fill in bar 5. “I’d hum the part in my head first and then try to find it on the neck.” He continues, “All of those moves can be traced to Jamerson’s upright-bass-influenced style, especially the way I used open strings to navigate the bar 5 fill.” In Ex. 2, the chorus, Scott’s busier staccato part provides almost a reggae bounce. Standout measures include another cool open-string-pivoting fill in bar 4, and chord-tone movement in bar 8. Overall, he advises, “There’s a lot of space between notes, so be sure to breathe in there and not rush the next note.”