Saturday, May 22, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Funkmasters - The James Brown Rhythm Sections

By Paul Wolf

This is a review of the book 'The Funkmasters' by Allan Slutsky and Chuck Silverman. This book is not just for those learning how to play bass, it also includes drum parts and guitar parts. So it can serve as an instructional source for a rhythm section.

So What's The Funkmasters About?

The Funkmasters is a book/CD package chronicling some of the best work of the James Brown band rhythm sections during the period 1960 to 1973. 23 songs are discussed and each song has individual mini-lessons on the bass line, the drum line and the guitar line. Additionally there is brief biographical and stylistic information about all the players involved.

How Is The Funkmasters presented?

The book is hard bound, around 140 pages long and comes with two CDs that reproduce every single note in the book. Each song is presented as a master score - that is all the instruments are together - and the accompanying CD track has all the instruments played. Then each individual part has its own mini-lesson - which is also reproduced on the CD, often at slower tempos to facilitate learning.

The songs transcribed in the Funkmasters focus heavily on grooves. So for individual songs there might be mini-lessons on the verse groove, the chorus groove and the bridge groove. The songs are presented in chronological order so that you can trace the development of the James Brown sound over time - and each song is presented in its historical context.

Songs transcribed include Think, Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, Out Of Sight, I Got You, I Got The Feeling, Licking Stick, Funky Drummer, Sex Machine, Super Bad, Hot Pants, Make it Funky, The Payback and more.

How Could The Funkmasters Be Better?

The Funkmasters book could be improved in the following ways in my opinion.

Firstly, as I never tire of saying the book could be spiral bound. That way if you are going to use it for lots of studying - and there are lots of grooves to work on in this book - it will lie flat on your music standing without sustaining any damage.

Secondly the book is a rhythm section study. But if you are working on it with a fellow drummer and guitarist then each of you have to own the book, and you each have to damage your binding to get it to lie flat on a music stand. A better way might have been to have a 'Rhythm Section Practice Version' where the individual instrument parts for each song are printed on detachable pieces of paper so that the musicians can put those on their music stands.

Thirdly some interviews with some of the surviving rhythm section members would have added some additional background material to the book that would have seriously enhanced it. Bass Player Magazine did an issue with interviews with the surviving James Brown bassists which was both illuminating and inspiring. That could of material - repeated with the drummers and guitarists - would have made an excellent addition to the book.


If you're interesting in adding funk to your how to play bass journey then this is a great primer. James Brown was about grooves - and this is a thesaurus of sweat stained grooves that is essential vocabulary for you to learn. This book gets 4 and a half stars (it loses half a star for the solid binding).

If you want more bass related info, head over to my how to play bass website where you'll find video lessons, articles, reviews and much more. There's also a monthly ezine you can sign up for - in return for signing up you'll get a PDF file with 5 cool bass lines in - and each month's ezine features a bass line in music notation and bass tab.

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