Notes From An Artist

A Conversation with Legendary R&B, Soul Bassist Jerry Jemmott

June 06, 2023 David C Gross and Tom Semioli
A Conversation with Legendary R&B, Soul Bassist Jerry Jemmott
Notes From An Artist
More Info
Notes From An Artist
A Conversation with Legendary R&B, Soul Bassist Jerry Jemmott
Jun 06, 2023
David C Gross and Tom Semioli

Send us a Text Message.

Bass Legend Jerry Jemmott Discusses Career, New Book 

A bona fide legend of the bottom end, bassist Jerry Jemmott (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett) joins hosts/bassists David C. Gross and Tom Semioli to talk about his career, new autobiography, and other topics. Highlights of this interview can be read in Bass Musician Magazine: Jerry's book Make It Happen! The Life and Times of The Groovemaster can be purchased here:

The Jerry Jemmott Playlist

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Bass Legend Jerry Jemmott Discusses Career, New Book 

A bona fide legend of the bottom end, bassist Jerry Jemmott (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett) joins hosts/bassists David C. Gross and Tom Semioli to talk about his career, new autobiography, and other topics. Highlights of this interview can be read in Bass Musician Magazine: Jerry's book Make It Happen! The Life and Times of The Groovemaster can be purchased here:

The Jerry Jemmott Playlist

Jerry Jemmott On and Off the Record… 

 JJ: Jerry Jemmott

DCG: David C. Gross

TS: Tom Semioli

“When you saw Jerry Jemmott’s name in the credits, you bought the album!” So said New York City bassist Mark Polott, whose band Haystacks Balboa opened for Rod Stewart and The Faces, Jethro Tull, and Ten Years After on their early American concert treks circa 1970. This tenet holds true for scores of bassists spanning the late 1960s to the present day.

 A bona fide icon of the instrument as a sideman and session player, Gerald Stenhouse Jemmott’s big break came in 1967 when he assumed the bass chair with well-connected rhythm and blues saxophone colossus King Curtis.  

The door to numerous recording studios and artists swung open, and Jemmott made his bones on seminal sides and gigs with Aretha Franklin (Aretha Now, Soul ’69, Hey Now Hey The Other Side of the Sky), Ray Charles, Roberta Flack, Wilson Pickett (“Hey Jude”), B.B. King (“The Thrill is Gone”), The Rascals, Nina Simone, Gil-Scott Heron (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised), George Benson (The Other Side of Abbey Road), Carly Simon, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris, Mike Bloomfield, Freddie King, Herbie Hancock, Laura Nyro, Herbie Mann, and Eddie Palmieri just to cite a very select few.

Jaco Pastorius deemed Jemmott as his main inspiration on the instrument. Hence Jerry hosted Jaco’s sole tutorial video in 1985 the classic Modern Electric Bass – the most forthright portrait of Pastorius ever. 

An educator, clinician, author, performing and recording artist in his own right with five albums under his name, Jerry is self-publishing his autobiography aptly entitled I’m That Guy – check out for purchasing info.

Akin to Jaco, Jemmott’s life has been a roller coaster of very highs, and very lows. Our conversation was borne from our recent Cygnus Radio / Podcast Notes From An Artist Bass Talk ‘23 show with Ron Carter, Dave Swift, Benny Rietveld, Gary Karr, and Larry Grenadier. 

When Ron recommended that we get Jerry on the show, we acquiesced The Maestro. Our banter was jovial, informal, informative, and joyous. As per our modus operandi, we avoided the usual bass player questions – favoring what Mr. Carter refers to as “The Big M” – i.e. music! 

Here are a few highlights.   

TS: Jerry, had Jaco Pastorius lived, do you think he would have moved on to the Five and Six string bass? After all, Jaco was into new sounds and effects, new ways of composing. In a digital 21st Century, and especially with AI, I think Jaco would be at the vanguard of bass technology! What say you?

JJ: I say no! (emphatically)

DCG: Well, there goes that theory! 

TS: Why would Jaco have stuck with four strings? 

JJ: Jaco loved the pure bass and the instrument itself. The four strings make you play like a bass player. That’s because you have less to work with. It’s more foundational. It’s a different mindset. I think it’s hard to play six strings with taste! 

I feel that very few people can play normally with tasteful bass parts on a six string. The sound is different with the low B string and the high C string. To me it’s a different instrument. 

TS: Dave Swift (Later…with Jools Holland), whom we’ve had on the show and Anthony Jackson, whom David is acquainted with, maintain that the six string is the true bass guitar. Leo Fender designed his bass to accommodate upright bassists who were comfortable with four strings. 

DCG: The way I look at it, particularly from a studio player perspective, is that within the first three frets, from low B to high C, you have two octaves of D. For me it made sense. Back in the day, SONY used to do lots of karaoke records in Japan. And they would call me to change keys. For example, if a track was in the key of A, and they wanted to bring it down to an E flat, I could do it more quickly and efficiently. 

The key for me and note that I often subbed for Will Lee – was that I didn’t ‘slop up’ the joint with extended range playing! Howard Wheeler loved that I could read his charts on the spot.  So as long as you grew up playing ‘bass’ as we know it, I hear it that way, and visually I see it that way. 

Victor Gaskin used to be my instruction and he loved it when I rendered Bach cello suites and hit the low and high melodies. 

I always thought low – as a matter of fact on my six string Ken Bebensee bass, I have a double stop on the B string so I can go down to low G! 

JJ: Whoa! That’s a great low note! 

TS: So can we conclude that the six string bass is more dependent on the player and not the instrument? 

JJ: Yes! And you can say that about every instrument. It’s funny when you mention all the ideas and options about playing six string – it’s all great. However, the one thing I want to emphasize about the four string is that it can make you become more creative. 

To me, creativity comes from a lack of something. I think you can become less creative playing six string because you have so much available to you – you miss that struggle. To go down as low as you can then play an octave higher so the line makes sense – it makes for beautiful music. I think it makes the bass parts more lyrical. For the groove aspect, I feel that your bass part can be unique. 

Again, to me the challenge comes from a lack of something rather than an abundance of something. 

TS: Throughout your career you’ve participated in the evolution of pop music from analog to digital – your thoughts on how technology has changed the way we make and listen to music. 

JJ: It’s wonderful. The idea of digitalization, synthesizers, drum machines, and so forth, has leveled the playing field so anyone can make music now. We all have the tools now so it depends on how creative we can be. 

As for natural sounds versus synthetic sounds – that’s a matter of where you are, what you want to do. There are so many things involved, it all comes down to the individual. 

TS: When you filmed the Jaco Pastorius Modern Electric Bass video in 1985, were you aware at the time that you were making history as Jaco was not in the best of health at that time.

JJ: Oh yeah, I knew what was going on. He came to me, and I saw in him what I saw in me. The problems I had in my life – so nothing had to be said.

Jaco, like everyone else heard the ‘desperation’ in my sound and the energy I put out. He became a fan of mine based upon that. I did not know he was an admirer. When I first heard him around 1974 my first thought was ‘damn, somebody put the work in!’ 

He wasn’t playing anything that I imagined could not be played.  But he did it! Then I find out seven, eight years later that I am his inspiration. And I got that too! I understood completely. He came to me out of a feeling of who he was, what he was then, and the troubles he was going through.  His depression. Everything he lived with I lived with. He was not a stranger to me. I was in trouble myself at the time. And I talk about that in my new book as well. 

DCG: The part of that video that was most poignant for me was when you praise Jaco and he responds ‘hey, get me a gig!” That broke my heart.

JJ: Yeah, man that was hard for me too.  

DCG: Tell us one thing you learned about yourself while writing I’m That Guy. 

JJ: Writing my book, I had a whole lot of stuff that went on in my life that I hadn’t really considered. Like learning difficulties. My entire life has been a life of desperation. 

A writer recently asked me why people like my music. Why do I have so many fans? What was it in my music that people could relate to. I responded that it’s the desperation that they heard coming out. But I didn’t think of it that way. I was saving my life. 

Imagine how it is to see someone in the river or an ocean fighting to survive. It’s very captivating. You won’t take your eyes off that person in trying to save their life. This is the energy that I bring to the table. My life was always on the line. Do or die! 

I’ve always had this mentality of looking back at my life – and now, fifty years later – and saying to myself ‘yeah you were pretty distressed!” Music did save my life but I never figured that out while I was doing it. I was nine years old when I had this epiphany that music would be my life. And that was after I was in a serious car accident when I came out of a coma for two weeks. 

TS: Tell us about your Color Sound music program.

JJ: That came from my time with Laura Nyro. My friend Herb Lovelle suggested that I turn my music instruction method which focuses on using scales and harmonies to a system that uses colors. 

I thought ‘why not?!’  If you can call a note ‘A’ why not call it ‘indigo.’ You can call it ‘Bb’ and I can call it ‘pink.’ 

So I turned the Pythagoras' theorem system of notes to one based on the colors of a rainbow which is the key of C and also on the black notes based on the things we see on this planet as opposed to just the rainbow colors such as sliver, gold, brown, turquoise, and pink. When a note gets so high in pitch, it turns white.  Consequently when a note goes so low, it turns black. After all we have twelve octaves. 

A friend of mine at MIT here in California used that method to teach people perfect pitch. It’s a system that has so many applications. It has gone beyond my vision. I’ve put it in the hands of the world where they can make of it what they want, based on an individual’s creativity, their needs. I think of it as a cross referencing system of learning. 

DCG: This is a great method for children.

JJ: Of course! You can teach it to a baby in a crib. They can touch things and hear sounds. Red has a certain tonality. Green has a certain tonality. All these colors and sounds have a relationship that sparks creativity. 

It’s helpful for people with dementia – music is something that people do not forget. They respond to it. The power of music is incredible. 

TS: Tell us how you came up with the title of your book I’m That Guy. 

JJ: The title came to me when I started writing the book. When I ran the idea by some friends of mine they agreed. One of them sent a photo of me smoking a cigarette on an Aretha Franklin session and that became the cover photo. During the process of writing the book I realized that ‘I’m just another one…’ Which I considered as a title. 

I had a few other titles but I came back to ‘I’m That Guy’ as I realized that what I went through is a lot of the same stuff that everyone goes through. I hope that this book shows people that we all have challenges. I had learning disabilities – and this book talks about surviving it. There is always hope, there always is a way. 

I became a Buddhist in 1973 after suffering another life and death car accident. It’s been a hard road, but when you think about it, nobody’s road is easy! We all have struggles …but as I say, there always is a way!