25th April 2022

Music & Drink: James Jamerson & Metaxa

James Jamerson was a phenomenally gifted bass player widely considered as a founding father of the funk.

Born in the deep South, his propulsive bass lines underpinned the renowned sound of the legendary Motown record label and he was the lynchpin of the illustrious Funk Brothers rhythm section – the backing band of all the Motown stars who recorded out of the legendary Motown ‘snakepit’ studio. Motown legend Norman Whitfield, once said: ‘You could throw a chicken in there and let the Funk Brothers play background, and it would be a hit.’ Jamerson

Jamerson provided the groove for Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Junior Walker, Candi Stanton, Wilson Pickett, Jackson Five, Bill Withers, Aretha Franklyn, The Temptations, The Crusaders, The Pointer Sisters and The Supremes.

Stevie Wonder famously remarked that “Jamerson’s bass playing made a certain fabric of my life visual” while Paul McCartney said “His style of bass playing for Motown was one of my major influences when I was learning electric bass. He’s one of the greats.”

But despite having more chart singles than not only the Beatles but Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined, Jamerson is still relatively unknown beyond funk and soul devotees – mainly because Motown seldom celebrated the Funk Brothers at all.

While their equivalent at Memphis Records, Booker T. & The M.Gs, became stars – the men of Motown slogged away in anonymity and seldom received song writing or arranging credits – and their paltry pay fell criminally short of the crucial role they played.

Worse still, when NBC television recorded its glittering celebration of 25 years of Motown in 1983, Jamerson even had to buy a ticket from a tout to watch his former bandmates bask in the limelight.

At his peak, Jamerson’s melodic and funky skills were sought after by all the leading soul stars. When Marvin Gaye was recording his track, What’s Going On, he insisted on having Jamerson play bass – but no-one could get hold of him.

Gaye went looking for him in the bars of Detroit and discovered him, slightly worse for wear, in a local club. He brought Jamerson back to the studio but he was so inebriated that he was unable to sit upright in the chair.

So Jamerson got down on the floor and, drunk out of his mind, unleashed one of the most beautifully laid-back bass lines ever recorded lying flat on his back with his eyes closed.

Jamerson claimed drink loosened up his play, his tolerance to alcohol was legendary and according to Motown producers, drink didn’t dilute his musical performance. When asked why he drank so much, he answered “Because I like the taste of it”.

In 2000, Jamerson’s contribution to music was finally recognised by the industry when he was indicted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – 17 years after his death.

Given that Jamerson always kept a bottle of Metaxa Greek Brandy in his bass case, try the mellifluous “Metaxa 12 Stars”, a blend of double pot-stilled brandy created using Savatiano, Soultanina and Koritnthiakos grape varieties.

Matured for a minimum of 12 years in Limousin oak, it is then blended with Muscat wines from Samos and an infusion of rose petals and Mediterranean herbs. A harmonious blend of black pepper, almonds and smooth honeyed notes. Delicious served over ice.  

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