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James Jamerson

The most important and influential bass guitarist in the 66-year history of the Fender Precision he played, South Carolina-born, Detroit-raised James Jamerson wrote the bible on bass line construction and development, feel, syncopation, tone, touch, and phrasing, while raising the artistry of improvised bass playing in popular music to zenith levels. As Funk Brother #1 in Motown’s “Snake Pit,” Jamerson customized his approach to fit the style of each artist he cut with, including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, the Temptations, and the Jackson 5—resulting in such masterworks as “Bernadette,” “I Was Made to Love Her,” “I’m Wondering,” and “What’s Going On.” That he tops our list adds to the irony of his dying in relative obscurity in 1983, at age 47, considering all of the accolades since then that have shined a light on his genius. It also speaks to a collective bass player understanding that the instrument’s function is still about support. Or as Stanley Clarke said in his March ’15 BP cover story, “Creating a great bass line is much harder to do than soloing. The true genius bassists are not the ones who play a million notes—it’s the ones whose bass lines are loved worldwide and remembered through history.”