One of the must-do movies to see for any Detroiter – or Detroiter at heart – is to watch the movie “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”
If you’ve watched that 2002 documentary, you’ll know it wasn’t just the voices you may have heard – Martha Reeves, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson -but it was also the band that made that iconic Motown sound a reality. When they swap modern day artists for sets, you realize the Motown sound is much like the city itself, powered not just by the stars, but a sound impossible without the work of everyone.
One of the key parts to that sound is the bass line – and that was often by James Jamerson. He transformed the instrument, taking a typical bass line from a simple and basic pattern to complex, something that mirrored the song itself.
So up for auction starting May 29 is one of Jamerson’s legendary bass guitars, with almost everything original save for one “G” string that was replaced.
Where did it come from? One Detroit bassist named Billy Hayes. Here’s some of the story:
“For my day job, I was an executive chef at the Lafayette Clinic. That’s where I met and befriended a co-worker and fellow bass player, Horace “Chili” Ruth. He, in turn, introduced me to his dear friend, James Jamerson. We all became very close friends, spending countless hours together eating, drinking, playing cards, jamming and checking out music all over Detroit. We shared a special bond because of the instrument we all played and were supportive of one another. On occasion, we would borrow one another’s instrument.
Somewhere around 1967 or 1968, I don’t recall specifically, I had a gig but no instrument. Occasionally, I found myself in that situation. I mentioned it to James and he offered to help. He said he had a bass I could borrow. It was a 1962 Fender Precision Bass with a sunburst finish. He never asked for it back and I continued to use it for years with his blessing. James and his family left Detroit for California when Motown Records moved to Los Angeles and we never saw each other again.”
Here’s to hoping this piece of history finds a home in Detroit after auction – or even better, also ends up somewhere where we all can enjoy it. Here’s the auction page.