I was once again watching the Standing In The Shadows Of Motown concert film, and during Joan Osborne’s fantastic rendering of one of my three all-time favorite songs, "What becomes Of The Broken Hearted", I was reminded of how much I adore the bass part on the original recording of the song (sung by Jimmy Ruffin). In honor of the player of that part (see below), and all other superior musicians, I thought I would start a thread to celebrate them.
My favorite musicians are those who make my favorite music, not those who may have the most advanced technical ability. Those two things are too commonly equated, imo. Having been a member of rhythm sections my entire playing life, I’ll limit my contribution to the most unique, influential, and musical bassist and drummer I know of:
- James Jamerson. He was Motown’s bassist, and played on the above song. Paul McCartney has said it was the playing of James that opened his head to the possibilities of the instrument, including James’ fantastic use of inversions. Listen to Paul’s bass part in "I’m only Sleeping"; it’s debt to James is SO obvious. Ask any pro bassist about James, and watch his eyes light up. Such an incredibly great musician, his parts can be listened to on their own, bursting at the seams with musical ideas.
- Levon Helm. Nobody played drums like Levon, nobody. So inventive, so musical, so cool. When Steve Jordan (Keith Richards, etc.) interviewed him, the first thing he asked was how in the Hell Levon came up with the incredibly cool opening drum part in The Band’s "The Weight". Nobody else would have thought of it; so simple, so elegant, so perfect. I consider it genius. His playing was the polar opposite of the vulgar, tasteless, amusical displays of empty virtuosity I hear in the playing of SO many drummers.
Levon joined Rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins’ band (The Hawks) at 18, straight out of high school (Ronnie had to wait for Levon to finish his Senior year before taking him up to Montreal, Canada with him in 1960). He grew up in Arkansas, listening to The Grand Old Opry and the "Race" (Black) music shows on the radio, then hearing Elvis and the other Southern Hillbilly’s who were inventing Rockabilly. After school let out for the day, Levon would go down to the local radio station to watch and listen to Blues and Hillbilly artists perform live on air. That doesn’t explain how and why he became the drummer (and singer) he was. A gift from God, I presume.
Speaking of Joan Osborne, to hear what a really great modern Rock ’n Roll band sounds like, watch the clip of Joan and her band on a radio station live broadcast, performing the Slim Harpo song "Shake Your Hips", viewable on You Tube. Smoldering hot, as is Joan! Compare it to The Stones version, and then ask yourself, who was it that claimed they were "The Best Rock ’n’ Roll Band In The World!"? Not me.