I have twice contributed to bassplayer magazine, on both occasions eulogising the unique skills of John Entwistle, and this irregular involvement entitles me to free copies, courtesy of its editor Joel McIver, from whom I commissioned many books for Omnibus Press. His best-selling book was a biography of Metallica that was translated into several languages but the first, in 2000, was a handbook for fans of Extreme Metal. You can find a picture of Joel in every issue of bassplayer, top left on page 4, above a brief resume of what that month’s issue contains. He’s bearded and brandishing a sturdy looking 4-string bass guitar with a religious cross and stag’s head etched on its body, which could imply that he’s still au fait with the rituals of the bands he wrote about in that book, though in reality they're the logo of Jagermeister, a herbal liqueur favoured by heavy metal fans. 

        Not having played bass since I was a teenager, I only occasionally find anything to interest me in the magazine, usually features on bassists I’ve known over the years, among them Roger Glover of Deep Purple, which enabled me to reconnect with him and become involved in a project that might see the light of day in a year or two. 

        This month, however, bassplayer includes something quite different that interests me, a fascinating article on two of the greatest bass players of all time, James Jamerson and Carol Kaye, specifically a sort of “who played what” investigation. There’s a controversy here too. 

        Jamerson, of course, was the Motown Funk Brothers bassist who played on countless records that spun out of Hitsville USA at 2648 W. Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan, and died in 1983 aged 47, an indirect result of his alcoholism. Many regard him as the man who made the sixties swing and America dance. 

James Jamerson

        Kaye, now 86, worked out of Los Angeles and played on thousands of recordings during a 50+ year career, including some Motown sessions which have been disregarded by scholars inclined to favour Jamerson. She now alleges, probably correctly, that some of her work has been wrongly attributed to Jamerson. 

Carol Kaye

        All this might be pretty small time compared to the problems – sorry challenges – the world faces these days, but without knowing it I was a huge fan of Jamerson in my days as a DJ in Andertons Bar in Skipton back in 1968, and probably before. In the discos they played their Motown loud, and the bass lines stood out. Motown, however, never credited the musicians who played behind The Supremes, Vandellas, Four Tops, Temptations, Miracles, Stevie W, Marvin and all the rest, so how was I to know I was tapping my feet to James Jamerson? 

        I didn’t really realise this until 1985, when, on behalf of Omnibus Press, I bought the rights to Where Did Our Love Go? – The Rise And Fall Of The Motown Sound by Nelson George, an unauthorised but extraordinarily revealing book on the label that for the first time told the behind-the-scenes story and gave due credit to the musicians who were as responsible for the Motown Sound as the stars themselves. Jamerson figured prominently, and the book led me to Standing In The Shadows Of Motown (1989), a book about Jamerson that included two cassettes of his bass lines isolated from the rest of the tracks. A bit nerdy I know, but those bass lines were so lyrical, so full of invention, or so goddam funky, that it was worth the effort to listen. Man, could he play. 

        “The Motown producers rarely wrote detailed arrangements for Jamerson,” wrote George. “Instead they’d hand him a chord sheet or have him listen as the melody and lyrics were run down on piano by Brian Holland or Norman Whitfield, and he would build the bass line around what he heard.” Bassist Louis Johnson, who played on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and Thriller, told George: “Jamerson brought the triplet feel on bass to pop. Before him it was unusual for the bass to deviate from that single note, dum-dum-dum style Jamerson broke the mould and made the bass more creative.”

        Carol Kaye, equally well regarded, doubtless outplayed Jamerson in terms of total work accomplished, and in her book Studio Musician (2016) and on her own website, has attempted to correct any misconceptions about who played what. Her first session, in 1954, was with Sam Cooke, so her CV is as illustrious any in the game. 

        And while it’s not unreasonable to assume that, since Jamerson spent most of his working life in Detroit and Kaye in Los Angles, Kaye took over when Motown moved its headquarters to California in 1972, it’s not that simple. Which is why bassplayer has interviewed Brian F. Wright, Assistant professor of Popular Music at the University of North Texas in Dallas, who has dug deeply into the who played what controversy. I won’t divulge the contents of the interview, or the link to the website where Wright’s dissertation, Reconstructing The History of Motown Sessions Musicians: The Carol Kaye/James Jamerson Controversy, all 11,292 words of it, complete with annotated lists of sessions and those who worked on them, can be found, but it makes great reading for anyone interested in a story that didn’t quite keep me on the edge of my seat but was well worth an afternoon’s reading. 

        Thanks Joel.



“The music world is full of arseholes – absolute arrogant, self-serving dickheads who imagine it all revolves around them,” writes Richard Thompson in his otherwise fairly benevolent, yet highly readable, new memoir Beeswing: Fairport, Folk Rock And Finding My Voice, 1967-75. “I’ve met plenty and there’s plenty I avoid. To work for these people can be painful, and usually an unmusical, unrewarding experience.”

I half expected the next sentence to follow the famous example of Richard’s namesake, Hunter S., commenting on the music business, as in “There’s also a negative side”, but it didn’t. It went on to imply that Thompson is equally happy to play to an audience of 30 in a folk club as he is to appear on a big stage anywhere. And what’s more, after reading Beeswing, I believe him. 

        I was late discovering Richard Thompson. Island labelmates Free, Traffic and Cat Stevens diverted me from Fairport Convention, and what with everything else going on during those years – mainly The Who and Bowie – the kind of music that Richard Thompson was making passed me by. Indeed, it wasn’t until a road journey to the Frankfurt Book Fair undertaken in the early nineties with Omnibus Press sales manager, Cajun music expert and Thompson fan Frank Warren at the wheel, that I got to hear ‘Mother Knows Best’ from his LP Rumour And Sigh. Like the Porsches overtaking us at 120mph plus on the autobahn, the song is taken at a breakneck speed, and includes many extraordinary between-verses electric guitar solos, all worthy of James Burton or his UK counterpart Albert Lee, with the one at the close coming to an abrupt, unexpected end, almost as if Thompson decided he simply couldn’t go any faster or he’d crash. “Play it again Frank,” I said. 

        This stirring introduction to Richard Thompson prompted me to set out on a crash course. Two box sets, half a dozen CDs, two live shows and a reappraisal of Fairport Convention later I figured I knew my Thompson and I made myself a playlist, and kept his Live In Austin, Texas, CD in the car for months. When I played ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ to a biker pal who was unfamiliar with the song he burst into tears.

        But back to Beeswing, the memoir. Thompson has great recall for details, people and places, including a time when “every music shop in the West End had a sign that said ‘No credit for The Who’”, which made me chuckle, coming as it did during the same week that Pete Townshend put his Richmond house on sale for £15 million. I also liked his story about the Fairports appearing on Top Of The Pops in 1969 to promote ‘So Tu Dois Partir’: “The Bee Gees were also on the show and were acting like prima donnas, so I thought we should do the same. When the producer complained we had too many members on stage… I explained with a straight face that we were a tribe that lived communally, and the others would be devastated not to be included. The poor man, who must have dealt with acres of bullshit every week, just rolled his eyes and adjusted the cameras.”

        Beeswing, though not overlong at 262 pages including an index, is full of funny little tales like this, as well as interesting anecdotes about fellow travellers like Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. Thompson’s father was a senior policeman, which makes for more interesting asides, especially in situations involving the looser cannons among the Fairports, who did, indeed, live communally at times. 

        Anyone familiar with Richard Thompson’s songs will know that he rarely wastes words, and so it is with this memoir, at times droll, at times poignant, always literate, and above all truthful in a modest, occasionally self-deprecatory way. As you would expect, his disdain for fashion, fame and capitalist values feature strongly, as does his constant search for sensory fulfilment, found in his discovery of Sufism, and for new genres of music and inspiration. 

        The pity is that it ends in 1975, although the brief afterword and epilogue allude to the future, the breakdown of his marriage to Linda Peters and his regret at not being the best of fathers to his children. “The attic is empty now,” he concludes, which suggests there won’t be a second volume. “It was time to throw out some old junk, but in doing so, it brought up a lot of memories, fond, tragic, regretful, loving. The arrow is arcing back towards earth now, and catching a glint of gold from the setting sun.”

        The book includes two eight-page photo sections. One appendix features lyrics from songs mentioned in the book and the second, intriguingly, offers straightforward narratives from the author’s dreams, which are left to the reader to interpret. 




Any Just Backdated readers who subscribe to Rock’s Back Pages, the online music press library, will find among this week’s new features my interview with jazz guitarist George Benson, published in Melody Maker dated 5 February, 1977. Normally this would not be cause for comment, as RBP often adds pieces by me to its website and now has no fewer than 324 in total, the vast majority from the seven years I spent in the service of MM. However, this particular interview might well be the very last piece I wrote for the paper as I had just handed in my notice, and still have in my possession the letter of acknowledgment I received from editor Ray Coleman, which is dated 27 January, 1977.

        “Thank you for your good work for the paper and best wishes for your future,” writes Ray, who interviewed me for the job on MM seven years earlier, in the spring of 1970. 

        By a strange coincidence, I very recently came across what might well be the first issue of Melody Maker that carried anything written by me. It is dated 27 June 1970, a bit later than I thought when I wrote in May of 2020 that I joined MM ‘on the first Monday in May, 1970, 50 years ago today’. Through a process of deduction, I now realise I was about six weeks out.  

        It’s nowadays possible to find scanned copies of MM on the internet and through this means I’ve discovered one dated 6 June, 1970, in which my name does not appear on the staff list, and another dated 27 June when it does. I cannot find the copies for June 13 and 20 on the internet but from all this I can glean that I joined between these dates, and one of those missing copies, albeit one for which I contributed next to nothing, must therefore represent the week I first landed on MM.

        Elsewhere on Just Backdated you can read an account of my first few days on MM in which I mention the first LP I was given to review. The 27 June MM contains this review, of Soft Machine’s Third, for which I solicited some help from a friend who knew their music better than I. “It is their most ambitious yet,” I – or should I say my mate Steve – wrote, demonstrating a knowledge I did not possess. After a bit of flannel gleaned from the credits “I” conclude: “A good set for the Soft’s fans and jazz enthusiasts too.” 

        Wisely, Richard Williams, the assistant editor, whose job it was to distribute LPs to MM staff to review, never gave me another Soft Machine album to write about. 

        Since the dates on the cover of MM were for the Saturday of the week of its publication, I can infer from all this that I must have turned up at MM’s Fleet Street offices for the first time on Monday, 15 June, 1970. My reasoning is that because it went to press the following day I wouldn’t have had time to write anything of substance for that week’s issue (20 June), but in the days that followed Ray Coleman set me to work with a vengeance, as the saying goes. 

        And I’m not kidding. On page 5 on the 27 June issue there’s my interview with Paul Rodgers, the first of many pieces I would write about Free; on page 7 there’s my (uncredited) interview with Don and Phil Everly, conducted in their suite at the Inn On The Park Hotel near Hyde Park Corner, where I recall sharing the elevator with Dustin Hoffman on leaving; and in a ‘Chartbuster Spotlight’ feature on page 13 you can find my phone interview with Cliff Richard to mark the arrival in the charts of the excruciating ’Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha’, not an opinion I expressed to him or in my piece; and also my brief interview with ‘Mike’ Rossi – Francis must have come later – whose group Status Quo was switching styles from the psychedelia of ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ to the down home and ultimately far more successful boogie of ‘Down The Dustpipe’, which was at number 18 in the charts that week.

        And talking of Status Quo, there’s also my review of their show at St Mary’s College, Twickenham, where they performed at the annual rag ball, one of two ‘Caught In The Acts’ I wrote that week. The other was on Pete Brown’s Piblokto at the Marquee, but Status Quo sticks in the mind because I was invited to review it by none other than the notorious PR Max Clifford who had fixed up the Rossi interview and promised to ‘bring a bird’ for me if I came to the show in Twickenham. No doubt the late publicist, who subsequently became the master of ‘kiss and tell’ and suffered an ignominious downfall, had clocked a new name on the MM staff list and decided he was ripe for placing in a compromising situation. (The full story can be found here: http://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2017/12/max-clifford-rip.html)

        All the work that landed in my in-tray that first week is perhaps explained by the fact that only three ‘staffmen’ appear in the staff list on that 27 June issue of MM: jazz expert Max Jones, old timer Chris Hayes, whose sole contribution in those days was the Any Questions column, and newcomer Charlesworth. (The 6 June issue lists only Max and Laurie.) Chris Welch, next to whom I sat, was the Features Editor and Laurie Henshaw, another old timer who, bless him, probably thought Free was something you didn't have to pay for, was News Editor. Within a month all that would change, and I would be joined by Michael Watts, Roy Hollingworth, Mark Plummer, Andrew Means and Neil Roberts. By then I’d superseded Laurie as Melody Maker’s News Editor, much to my surprise, as only six weeks earlier I was a staff reporter on the Slough Evening Mail, reporting not on Status Quos change of musical direction but the penalties imposed on miscreants at the local magistrate’s court. Onwards and upwards.