We are pleased to discuss life and music with legendary bassist Jerry Jemmott, two-time Grammy-winner. First of all, it’s amazing that Jerry was able to learn the bass. He had problems with concentration and attention as a child. He had problems focusing on details. Whether this was secondary to his multiple traumatic brain injuries or secondary to something like attention deficit disorder, that’s not clear. What is clear is that he had trouble growing up concentrating on a specific task for long periods of time. Yet, when he heard Paul Chambers playing with Miles Davis, he was immediately drawn to the bass. To me, it seems almost a minor miracle that he was able to concentrate, focus and direct all of his energy toward learning the bass.
At age 19, after years of playing the stand-up bass, Jerry Jemmott switched to the electric bass. Interestingly, he did not like the sound of the electric bass when he first heard it. He thought this was the direction that rhythm and blues was going, and so, therefore, he worked until he got the sound that he liked.
To say that Jerry Jemmott has played on some iconic albums would be an understatement. He was the go-to studio player for Atlantic records from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. He had an upfront, aggressive style. He was never boring. He played on Aretha Franklin’s, Aretha Now (1968). The album opened with the iconic tune, Think. The next tune on the album became another Aretha Franklin standard, I Say a Little Prayer. He also played with Ben E. King (best known for Stand by Me). He played on the Supernatural album. Listen to the bass groove on the tune, Supernatural Thing. Jerry also played on the iconic song, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott Heron. There is a classic tune which describes the angst, unrest, and fury of the black community in the early 1970s. Jerry’s bass playing was perfect. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Jerry Jemmott played on BB King’s, The Thrill Is Gone. Listen to how Jerry describes it in the interview. I thought his description was somewhat shocking. He stated that he didn’t want to do the same thing that it been done before. So instead, he played against the great BB King’s rhythm and style. This created an unusual mix of conflict and flow. This may be why this tune stands out as BB King’s greatest tune.
I thank Jerry Jemmott for granting us this wonderful, candid interview.
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