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Category: Groove of the Week

Groove Of The Week #44: Squarepusher – ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’

Like many bass players, I became infatuated with the sound of harmonics on hearing Jaco’s iconic ‘Portrait of Tracy’ for the first time; somehow JP had managed to transform the…

Like many bass players, I became infatuated with the sound of harmonics on hearing Jaco’s iconic ‘Portrait of Tracy’ for the first time; somehow JP had managed to transform the mumbling, monophonic plank of wood that is the bass guitar into a rich tapestry of shimmering harmonic (in both senses of the word) textures:


Imagine the horror of being a bassist in 1976 and hearing THAT. Luckily I grew up in the era of TAB books and Hot Licks videos, so I was able to ‘cheat’ my way into executing a sloppy approximation of Jaco’s harmonic vocabulary without too much effort. Thanks, Stu:


(I would love to have been at the meeting where they agreed on the title, the cover shot and wardrobe for this)

Playing ‘real’ bass using harmonics

While many players are comfortable with natural harmonics, few can incorporate them into everyday musical situations and most of the time they tend to remain in the ‘solo bass’ realm; I thought that Groove Of The Week should focus on at least one line that uses harmonics and fretted notes in more practical, supportive role.

Enter Squarepusher’s ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’:

This is a real gem – a self-contained contrapuntal line with two distinct voices (fretted bass notes and a melody built entirely from natural harmonics) that provides a real workout for the left hand; dump your finger independence exercises and give this a go instead.

Everything in its right place

As if playing the thing wasn’t enough, notating natural and artificial harmonics is another headache altogether.

Most natural harmonics have a completely different sounding pitch to their position on the fretboard and because we tend to learn harmonics by their location on the fretboard rather than their actual pitch name it’s easy to get lost if we use conventional notation. We have a few options when it comes to writing this stuff down:

  1. Write out all harmonics at sounding pitch, using 8va and 15ma markings to keep things as close to the stave as possible
  2. Notate harmonics using the location of the fretted note where the harmonic is located
  3. A hybrid of the above methods
  4. Tablature

Let’s discount option 4 immediately since TAB is scientifically proven to weaken your sperm and significantly increase your chances of knowing less about harmony than most guitar players (don’t ask me for citations on the first part).

After much head scratching and hurling expletives at Sibelius, I opted for option 3. Here’s the most legible thing that I could come up with:

Iambic 9 Poetry

Good luck, and if you have an alternative means of notation for harmonics then PLEASE get in touch.


Do You know Squarepusher?

If you’re unfamiliar with Squarepusher (real name Tom Jenkinson), then ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’ is one of the more accessible cuts from the reclusive English bassist’s back catalogue. His recorded output ranges from intense, glitchy electronica with live bass (Hard Normal Daddy and Big Loada) to melodic 6-string bass explorations (Solo Electric Bass), and his current project Shobaleader One provides a live band take on his earlier electronic works:

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Groove Of The Week #43 – Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’

  Berry Gordy’s Other Bass Player Although The Funk Brothers’ catalogue of classic bass lines is normally associated with James Jamerson, there was another guy on the scene whose lines…


Berry Gordy’s Other Bass Player

Although The Funk Brothers’ catalogue of classic bass lines is normally associated with James Jamerson, there was another guy on the scene whose lines deserve attention when considering the tradition of the bass guitar.

That man was Bob Babbitt, who worked on many Motown hits between 1966 and 1972, sharing the Funk Brothers’ bass chair with Jamerson. During his tenure in Detroit, Babbitt added masterful bass lines to hits including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’, Gladys Knight & The Pips’ ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ and The Temptations’ ‘Ball of Confusion’.

1971 was a particularly significant year in Bob’s career, where he not only managed to get away with recording a 90-second bass solo on a single release (Dennis Coffey’s ‘Scorpio‘) but also played on one of Motown’s most important albums, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Legendary among bass players for the tales of James Jamerson recording the title track’s breathtaking bass part while lying on the floor because he was so drunk, What’s Going On also includes some of Babbitt’s best bass hooks on ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’ and ‘Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)’.

Inner City Groove

Anchored by Bob Babbitt’s syncopated yet smoothly articulated bass groove, ‘Inner City Blues’ forms part of the essential education for bassists studying what the masters of the instrument play on a one-chord vamp:

The main line is comprised of a phrase built from the chord tones of Ebm7 that has two endings (the first on a high Gb, the second on a low Eb). The thing that hits me when I listen to the track while looking through the transcription is how little variation there is on each repetition, giving Bob’s warm Precision bass groove an almost hypnotic quality.


Inner City BluesThe line sits neatly in one position at the 11th fret apart from the low Gb in bar 6. As with everything that we ever play, being a stickler over note lengths will allow the line to feel right. Opt for a warm fingerstyle sound – roll the tone control on your bass down and move your right hand to pluck over the end of the fingerboard if your bass sounds too bright.

Later Years

Post-Motown, Bob managed to rack up over 25 Gold records playing for artists including Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Phil Collins and relocated to Nashville in 1986. His decision to take touring work during that period rather than remaining in town meant that his recording work began to wane, although the release of the 2002 documentary film ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Motown’ revived his career as people became interested in the men behind Motown’s signature sound.

Bob Babbitt left us on July 16th, 2012.

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The Gear Paradox (feat. Fight Club)

Uh-oh, it’s another post about gear. The main questions that you might have are: Why are you trying to use a Whammy pedal as a pillow? What the hell does…

Uh-oh, it’s another post about gear.

The main questions that you might have are:

  1. Why are you trying to use a Whammy pedal as a pillow?
  2. What the hell does this have to do with Fight Club?

Both of these can be answered by watching the following gear-orientated soliloquy:

T.H.Palmer’s famous self-esteem poem advises ‘If at first you don’t succeed then try, try again’, which is exactly what I’m doing in an attempt to confront my own gear addiction. For the back story on my struggles with gear hoarding, take a look at the post that started it all, The Gear Fallacy.

Having failed spectacularly to keep my 2016 resolution of not purchasing any new equipment I decided to give it another shot and, at the time of writing, I’ve been ‘clean’ for almost 6 months.

But I haven’t won my battle yet. I’m still confounded by what I’ve named ‘The Gear Paradox’.

What the hell is ‘The Gear Paradox’?

Just when you thought that I couldn’t be any more pretentious I drop this on you. I’m sorry.

Simply put, The Gear Paradox expresses the difficulty in reconciling the knowledge that fixating over gear is a waste of time with the desire to have an appropriate sound for every musical situation, which necessitates a certain amount of attention to detail when it comes to equipment.

I don’t yet have a solution to this conundrum, but here are some facts ideas that have helped me to work out how I feel about gear and manage my addictive, equipment-hoarding tendencies. Maybe some of these will ring true for you:

  • 90% of ‘your’ sound is down to you: your fingers, your technique, your sense of time, your harmonic knowledge and how ‘big’ your ears are. Gear accounts for only 10%. Many players invert these percentages and perpetually change their basses/strings/pickups/amps/pedals in an attempt to solve problems in their playing.
  • There is a perception that possessing rare or expensive gear somehow makes you a better player. This is exacerbated by the superficial nature of image-based social media platforms that allow us to engage in a perpetual show of one-upmanship and endlessly fixate on what others have rather than focusing on our own progress.
  • Your band and your audience don’t care about your gear – they want you to show up on time, play the right notes and make everyone in the room feel good; if you can’t fulfil those 3 objectives then the type of magnets used in your pickups really pales into insignificance.

One analogy about the importance of gear (or lack thereof) is from world class producer/arranger/writer/educator Richard Niles (I couldn’t find the original quote so I’m paraphrasing, but the essence is the same):

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re making music with a guitar, a bass or a computer – it’s the music that’s important. It’s like having a delicious meal in a restaurant and asking the chef what sort of spoon they used to stir the soup.”

Stop worrying about spoons and instead work out what ingredients are missing from your soup.

(Your soup might already have all the right ingredients, it just needs to simmer for longer).

What’s The Best Bass For Metal?

This nebulous question (and others in a similar vein) crops up again and again across the length and breadth of the internet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the comments underneath virtuoso bass performances asking questions about what brand of strings or which pickups the player is using – the phrase ‘barking up the wrong tree’ doesn’t even come close.

Sax supremo Bob Reynolds deals with this far more eloquently than I ever will:

The War of Art‘ is well worth it, by the way.

Contrary to what the internet would like you to believe you don’t become a great Gospel player because your headstock has ‘MTD’ on it, you don’t get the bass chair on a show in a London theatre by owning an Overwater and having a multi-scale fanned-fret Dingwall won’t make your metal playing any heavier.

There is no substitute for doing the work; I say this as someone who, in spite of 17 years of playing, still has a TON of work to do and avoids doing it by writing blog posts and filming silly videos. Do as I say, not as I do.

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Groove of the Week #42: Herbie Hancock – ‘Palm Grease’

Everyone knows Herbie’s classic synth bass line on ‘Chameleon’, and plenty of guys can tear through ‘Actual Proof’ without breaking a sweat but for me, the real gem in the…

Everyone knows Herbie’s classic synth bass line on ‘Chameleon’, and plenty of guys can tear through ‘Actual Proof’ without breaking a sweat but for me, the real gem in the Head Hunters’ catalogue of grooves has always ‘Palm Grease’ (from 1974’s Thrust).

As soon as you hear Mike Clarke’s drum groove kick in, you know something serious is going to happen.


Paul Jackson’s bass line on ‘Palm Grease’ is a masterclass in how to develop and expand a groove, using just enough variation to keep the listener guessing while still retaining a ‘common thread’. After the initial statement, he begins to embellish the part – notice how the line unfolds with each successive iteration:


Rhythmic variation is only part of the equation; one of the most distinctive qualities of Paul Jackson’s playing is his mastery of articulation. The elusive essence of groove comes from how each note is played – check out how each note in every phrase is carefully sculpted for maximum impact.

Control of the left hand is key to being able to freely switch between different articulations; slides, hammer-ons and – most importantly – the length of each note all put a different sonic stamp on each phrase.

As an aside, I found this one of the most difficult grooves in this series – although other posts in the Groove Of The Week archive have required a greater level of conventional ‘chops’, Paul Jackson’s time feel on ‘Palm Grease’ was the hardest thing to recreate.


The heir to the (greasy) throne


One contemporary bassist who has clearly taken a lot from Paul Jackson’s greasy grooves is Me’shell N’degeocello*, who has been (and continues to be) a massive influence on my playing.

I unknowingly first heard Me’Shell on a tune by Joshua Redman called ‘Greasy G’ (from the 2005 Momentum album) and was absolutely floored by her time feel:


With both of these grooves, it’s the almost undefinable quality of feel that sets the head nodding or the foot tapping; it’s not necessarily what you play but how you play it that counts.


*If you’re not familiar with Me’Shell, get hold of Plantation Lullabies and Peace Beyond Passion for some serious groove education.


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