I've been getting back into electric bass and it's time to get my chops together, so I'm revisiting a bassline I had worked on years ago while studying with Alan Jones. Check out Bootsy Collins on "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose" from James Brown's 1970 release Sex Machine.
The A section of this tune (FIG 1) is remarkable not just for its funkiness and virtuosity, but also in its total lack of variation throughout the tune. The effect of repetition in music is often under-appreciated — it's clear that Bootsy lacks neither the facility nor the creativity to change the line or include fills, so his dedication to repeating the line can only mean that he knew the music would be more powerful this way.
Bootsy's line on the bridge of this tune (FIG 2) is an incredible study in how to create and release tension. Check out the main groove:
The modulation up a 4th gives the song some motion, and Bootsy uses this as an opportunity to increase the tension: the line becomes a variation on the A-section groove, but he shortens it to one bar, repeating it over and over (and over), which gives the line an urgency that isn't present in the full two-bar groove.
At certain key points, he lets a little steam escape by dropping an octave for the downbeat (FIG 3). The low G grounds the line very briefly and lets things cool down just slightly.
After this riff goes on for a while, Bootsy further ramps up the tension by playing a wind-up line that sounds like it's setting up a return to the A section, only to tease your ear and send you right back to the bridge (FIG 4).
And finally, at the very end of the bridge he plays a similar wind-up line (FIG 5), this one stretching over two bars, creating a slingshot effect that releases all that tension when he goes back to the A section. (He varies this line just slightly the second time the band takes the bridge, but it remains functionally the same.)
Notice how the main groove of the bridge is derived from the first bar of the A-section groove, and the fills in the bridge are derived from the second bar of the A-section groove. 6 minutes of world-class basslines built from two bars!!
And now, the best part: there is an amazing drum break in the middle of this tune. I have taken it and looped it here, so you can play along with Mr. Stubblefield all you want. And not only that, I've taken that loop and slowed it down, so you can start the line slowly, getting your fingerings and sixteenth-note groove together, and work it up to speed gradually. I guarantee this is the most fun you will have all day! Try playing the A-section, then going into the bridge, playing the fills and going back, and see if you can't notice for yourself the way the various parts play with the amount of tension in the line.
Have fun and please comment if you have any questions or corrections. And don't forget to SHARE THIS on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere if you'd like to see the world become a funkier place.