BY E. E. BRADMAN WITH BRIAN FOX
Mark Adams (third from right) and Slave.
BACK IN THE DAY, FEW REGIONS COULD top the state of Ohio’s groove-a-licious contributions to the Billboard charts and DJ stacks. Canton had the O’Jays; Cleveland, the Dazz Band; Cincinnati claimed Bobby Womack, the Isley Brothers, and Bootsy; and Dayton was home to Roger Troutman and Zapp, Lakeside, the Ohio Players, and a stanky little ensemble called Slave.
Perhaps the most underrated of Dayton’s funk bands, Slave was in many ways a typical late-’70s dance group, featuring a rhythm section, a keyboard player, a horn section, a guitarist, soulful harmonies, as well as vocalists who alternated between leading and singing together. What set Slave apart from most other dance bands, however, were the upfront bass lines of Mark “The Hanselor” Adams, who passed away in Columbus, Ohio on March 5 at age 51. Over the course of five Slave albums released between 1977 and 1980, Adams perfected a distinctive approach to tone, groove, and embellishment that has influenced legions of bass players.
“Slide,” Slave’s only No. 1 R&B hit, was the first track from the band’s self-titled 1977 debut. The main groove is classic (as evoked in Ex. 1); dig especially the cool E-to-D licks (bar 2) he does at 0:16 and 0:40. Adams would later become known for the bright tone of his Jazz- and Alembic-style 4-strings, but on “Slide,” 16-year-old Adams still has a relatively dark sound.
Slave’s next two albums, 1977’s Hardness of the World and 1978’s The Concept, didn’t hit the charts, but did feature several cool Adams bass lines, including “Stellar Fungk” and “The Way You Love Is Heaven.” When drummer/vocalist Steve Arrington and Starleanna Young joined the band for Just A Touch of Love in 1980, Adams and Slave got a new shot of energy. The album’s title track starts off with a signature Mark Adams slide just before he gets into 3rd position for the main four-bar nugget recalled in Ex. 2. To cop that groove, bounce off the open A string on your way to C, and be sure to hold those “disco-octave” notes for their full values.
If you could get just one Slave album, make it 1980’s Stone Jam. (Rhino’s excellent 1994 compilation Stellar Fungk: the Best of Slave is pretty cool, too.) By this time, there were plenty of Slave songs that kicked off with one of Adams’ signature bass slides, but on “Watching You,” he waits for Arrington to lay it down before coming in on the 6th bar. After establishing the chorus groove, Adams launches into a verse line peppered with trademark vibrato trills (see Ex. 3). One of the coolest things about such Adams “extras” is how relaxed they sound. Getting back to a groove down low after reaching for a quick vibrato moment up high can be daunting, but Mark made it sound easy—he knew his fingerboard well enough to pull off crazy moves without shortchanging the main groove or the flashy lick. On “Feel My Love,” also from Stone Jam, Adams spices a simple I–V progression with quick but relaxed slides on the last two beats the fourth bar, a finger- funk fill at the end of bar 8, an exaggerated vibrato rub at 0:34, a slide across the bar line at 1:32, and a wild climb/slide at 1:46—and that’s just in the first two minutes!
Even on an album packed with basstastic goodies like “Never Get Away” and “Sizzling Hot,” the title track to Stone Jam topped them all. To replicate the monster F#m groove, loosen up your slapping hand and dig in to Ex. 4. Once you learn the basic line, try replicating Adams’ slides and timing throughout the song, and fast-forward past the epic guitar solo to hear Adams go for broke in the last minute of the 6:40 track. Stone Jam and “Stone Jam” were the crowning achievements of a career Adams began at 16, and besides “Slide,” they’re probably what he’ll be best remembered for.
Show Time, released in 1981, featured the Adams classics “Snap Shot” and “Party Lites,” but the magic was almost gone. Arrington left in 1982 to start his own band, Steve Arrington’s Hall Of Fame, and although Adams and the boys soldiered on for nine more albums without him, Slave would never achieve that level of success again. (Some Slave compilations also include hits by Arrington and Slave spinoffs Aurra to the mix; Adams’ only non-Slave essential is Aurra’s “When I Come Home.”)
Listening to Slave today reminds us of a time when bass players didn’t have to also be producers, bandleaders, composers, or businessmen to make a living—just being a slammin’ 4-string demon with energy, feel, and fresh ideas seemed plenty. Mark Adams was at the right place in the right time, and his groove will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, brother!