BASSISTS
THE FUNK MACHINE
I
O
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
pocket'.
.. 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
Standing In
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
Amadeus
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.
Info: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1687370072/james-jamerson-and-the-legend-of-the-
funk-machine.
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