THE FUNK MACHINE
espite legions of world class
m usicians reciting versions of the
mantra 'the sound is in your hands',
m usical instrum ents - especially
those used by revered players - can
take on an iconic status am ong us
m ere mortals. The fetishisation of
Jaco's 'B a ss O f Doom', Eddie Van Halen's 'Frankenstrat'
and others approaches near-religious fervour, hence the
burgeoning m arket in replica instrum ents that m im ic every
scratch and ding.
If one instrum ent can m ake claim to be the holy grail
for bassists, it's the late M otown star Ja m e s Jam erson's
Precision, the legendary Funk Machine. Paul Crutcher is on
a quest to find this mythical instrument, which w as stolen
from Ja m e s in the final days of his life. A s he reveals, the
trail is far from cold.
to people and we're following up every lead w e get.
What is it about Jam erso n that still enthrals us?
Ja m e s would play things that w ere familiar and quite com m on, and then he would suddenly
do som ething that would lift everything to the stratosphere. A gentlem an called Dan
Garrett, w ho is writing a thesis on Ja m e s Jam erson, w ants to quantify w hat it is about
Ja m es' playing that worked so well. Even w hen you sp eak to the big nam es, they have
fairly vague an sw ers like 'H e played with soul', 'H e played with feeling', 'H e w as in the
.. but Dan w ants to w ork out exactly w hat it w as that m ade him so unique.
When you've approached artists for their involvem ent, Gene Sim m o n s of
K iss for instance, has the response been positive?
Overwhelmingly so - there is great respect for Jam es. David T Walker, w ho played guitar on
'Let's Get It On', told me a story about w hen he first m et Ja m es at a Motown sum m er picnic.
Everyone w as there having fun: the Temptations, the Suprem es, Marvin Gaye. In the distance
stood this solitary figure casting a fishing pole into the water: it w as Jam es. He w as away from
the crowd. It's those m om ents of colour that I love and want to bring to the documentary.
W hat prom pted you to undertake a
do cum entary about Ja m e s Ja m e rso n , and the
F u n k M achine in p articu lar?
I've been interested in M otown and Ja m e s Jam erson
for m any years. I loved Allan Slutsky's book
The Shadows of Motown,
but I found the accom panying
docum entary focused more on [the other session
m usicians] the Funk Brothers than just Jam erson. Those
guys definitely needed to be recognised, but Tom, my
co-producer, and I thought w e needed to go deeper on
Jam erson. He and drum m er Benny Benjamin w ere really
the heart of Motown. I spoke to som eone recently and he
said, "You know, w e never grooved to the lyrics. It w as that
rhythm section that got everyone dancing"
A re Jam erso n 's fam ily involved?
They are. I began speaking to his son Ja m e s Jr., w ho still
lives in Detroit, and I got his blessing to proceed. I've also
spoken with Ja m es' cousin Anthony M cKnight. He lives
in South Carolina and is trying to get Ja m e s into the South
Carolina M usicians' Hall of Fam e, which incredibly he isn't
in. I spoke to Annie Jam erson too.
Even if yo u do n't s u c c e s s fu lly lo ca te the Fu n k
M achine, w hat do yo u hope to ach ie ve w ith
the d o cu m e n tary?
W e have a responsibility, while the people involved in
M otown are still with us, to do our job as journalists,
film m akers and m usic lovers and record w hat happened.
M ost of these gu ys are 70-plus, so the clock is ticking.
Even if w e don't find it, at least w e will ensure that future
generations know w ho Ja m e s Jam erson w as, and how
much he contributed to m usic.
D o you have any leads to g o on?
I now have an eyew itness account from a reputable source
about seeing the instrument at a vintage guitar sho w in 1993
in California. This gentlem an worked for the Bass Center in
Los Angeles, which w as the first bass-only store in America.
He had worked with the Fender custom shop to recreate
an exact replica of the Funk Machine. At the show, a guy
in his early 20s cam e by the table and said, 'Hey, wanna
see som ething?' He opened up a plastic Fender case and
inside w as a 1962 or '63 Fender Precision with all the right
markings. The young man said 'This is the Funk Machine'.
I'm in contact with the people w ho put that sho w on, and I'm
going through the booth and vendors list and trying to track
down people w ho were at the sho w on that day. I'm talking
What has been the process behind the search?
A t first it began with word of mouth. I began by speaking to Phil Chen, w ho played bass
with Rod Stewart. He knew Ja m e s and know s a lot about him. Phil passed m e onto Bonnie
Raitt's bassist Hutch Hutchinson, so I spoke to Hutch and he then passed m e to the bassist
Don W ood, and through this kind of referral process I've picked up more information and
more nam es. Singer-songwriter Kenny Koontz's nam e cam e up again and again. He knew
Ja m e s at the end of his life, and I've spoken to Kenny. A t the tim e he didn't really know
Ja m es' reputation. He lived around the corner from Ja m e s and he loved him as a friend.
If you do locate the bass, do you th in k the ow ner w ill be aw are o f its
provenance? H ow do you th in k they w ill react w hen you con tact them ?
I've been thinking about that, because of course that's the ultimate goal of the
docum entary, and it throw s up a w hole set of problems. I believe that the owner know s
w hat they have, and that its provenance has been passed along as the bass has changed
hands. A s for their reaction, w ho can say? The bass deserves to be back with the family. If
it ends up in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fam e that's great, but the fam ily are really the rightful
ow ners so it should go back to them initially.
W hy have you chosen the K ickstarter route?
W e have potential investors, but w e know there are a lot of Ja m e s Jam erson fans around
the world and w e think offering partial ownership is a powerful thing. A lot of people have
contacted m e and told m e how important M otown and Ja m e s are to them , and they want
to be involved and also have som e investm ent in the project.
W hy do you th in k such a myth has sprun g up around the bass?
W ell, the Precision bass changed the gam e as far as basses w ere concerned, even though
w hen Ja m es first played a Precision he said, 'W hat does the P stand for? Pussy, that's what!'
because he cam e from that upright bass background which is more physically demanding.
Dan Garrett said to m e, 'Jam e s could have played a m op handle with a piece of twine on it
and m ade it sound good'. Ja m es had other basses and he used his upright bass too, but w e
think that the Funk Machine features on records that sold 200 million copies. The sound of
that bass w as so important because it w as part of the soundtrack of a generation.
W hy do you believe Ja m e s Jam erso n w as so im portant?
I rem em ber watching the film
and seeing that relationship between Salieri and
Mozart, and how the character of Salieri hates Mozart's gift but realises later in life that it
w as alm ost like the Creator speaking through a person. I believe Ja m e s had that gift.
His m usic speaks to m e, it m oves m e, and I just find it am azing how he plays so much
yet never treads on a vocal line or other instrument. To m y mind he w as the perfect bass
player. I hate the w ay his life ended, how he w ent to LA but w as so hurt by being turned
down for se ssio n s and his career and life ended so sadly. I alm ost feel like he's watching
over the project - and that's w hy I want to do justice to him.
Only tim e will tell if Paul and his team can find the Funk M achine and rem ove the
shadow of its theft from Ja m e s Jam erson's legacy, but one thing is for sure, he'll be giving
Ja m e s and his enorm ous contribution to m usic and bass playing the justice it deserves.
B AS S GUITAR M AG AZINE
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