Broken Heart – Booker T Feat. Jay James
I haven’t posted a blog in a while, so I thought I’d put up a transcription I was working on a few months back. I hadn’t heard this track before, but it turns out the vocalist (Jay James Picton) is from near where I live, we’ve hung out and jammed a few times since first meeting….he’s a great guy and a cool musician too. Check him out!
He told me about this track he did with Booker T, so I decided to check it out, and was floored by the bass player and his feel. His name is Bobby Ross Avila….you might not have heard of him, but you will have probably heard tracks he produced (with his brother IZ – check them out!) and you will definitely have heard a lot of the people they work with! It shocked me that I wasn’t aware of him, he’s an absolute beast. I felt I could learn a lot from doing a transcription of this song.
So here is the track:
And here is my transcription of his bassline for you to check out. It might not be 100% perfect, but that’s what the recording is for! If there are any major howlers you think need correction, comment on this post or use the Contact Page.
I thought I might do an outline analysis to demonstrate what I’m looking at when I do a transcription like this. As a quick aside, when working on something like this, I learn it from memory up to full speed first, before dissecting it for content. This dissection can be taken as far as you want, so I’ll just mention a few bits and bobs to hopefully spark some thought processes/research avenues for you to go down.
Analysis of the Transcription
Note Lengths: Especially on beat 2 but also beat 4, the bass cuts off or sustains his notes to clear room for the snare drum. Not normally a conscious decision when playing but can really help with your groove if worked on in the practice room.
Feel: It’s not fully addressed in the notation, but there is a lazy, behind the beat feel going on in the bass. The drums, especially hihats, are very much “on” the beat most of the time with occasional snare and kick drum behind the beat, but this is only on rare occasions.
On-beat/Off-beat Balance: The on-beat of beat 1 is utilised heavily in the bassline, but the other subsequent beats tend to be more syncopated. When the other on-beats are then used, it grounds the feel of the bassline, leading to it feeling heavier. Additionally, when beat 3 is played, often it is just a preceding note to the off-beat (+ of) 3, which is more heavily accented. It’s the balance of rhythmic lightness/heaviness which makes for a rhythmically interesting part. Too much of one or the other will make things uninteresting/unstable. To me, this bass part has great rhythmic interplay.
Mute/Ghost Notes: In this style these are very common, and can add real momentum to a song. In a mix context they can be very difficult to distinguish from the kick drum, so should be experimented with to see what feels the most comfortable and makes it groove the most. The thing to bear in mind is that the ghost are primarily derived from the subdivision of the groove; in this case straight 16th notes.
Tonality: Essentially this is diatonic C Major, but additional chromaticism in the bassline adds interest and connects the dots. Major chords tend to be treated pentatonically, and C pentatonic really is providing the core of the material in this bassline.
Chromaticism: There are lots of chromatic approaches from 2 semitones above or below the chord tones in semiquaver phrases. In slower crotchet or quaver based phrases, single semitone approaches are favoured from either above or below.
While this isn’t addressed in the transcription itself, it is very important. To me this seems like a classic Fender-style bass tone, possibly a Jazz Bass, or something similar. The sound of the bass, while being very round and low-end heavy, is relatively uncompressed, with the compressor functioning as a peak limiter only when he plays hard. This means the muted ghost notes poke through more sonically.
Instrument Specific Techniques
As well as the ghosts, there are a large amounts of slides over larger intervals, and hammer-ons over smaller intervals of a semitone or tone.
Melodic Referencing: The bassline references and plays in unison with the vocal melody quite often. This balance between hinting at and joining with the melody, and playing countermelodically against it give contour, dynamic and motion to the song.
Build: Verse 1 – Lots of space during beat 2 and the first half of beat 3. From Pre Chorus 1, the on-beat of beat 3 is filled more often (primarily every other bar) but not with a hugely regular structure. There is also a build of intensity from beginning to end by mostly playing off the quaver until the bridge. After that, the bassline steps up a gear by playing more off the 16th note.
This is a great bassline transcription to learn/analyse, and is full of interesting ideas which could be applied to your own playing. Hopefully you’ve got some ideas on how to extract information from something like this and apply it to your own playing….this transcription definitely expanded my horizons.
As always, any questions/suggestions/whatever, please comment below or contact me.