Groove master: Paul Jackson /2

In the second and final part of this 2009 interview the legendary bass-man talks of the US Army, taking up electric bass, the genesis of Actual Proof, and the supercharged chemistry of the Hancock-Jackson-Clark trio

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Paul Jackson as depicted on the cover of Groove Or Die (2014, Whirlwind)

Paul’s professional career was interrupted by a stint in the US Army around the end of the 60s.

“They sent me to Berlin, and so I was out there with all the weirdness at Checkpoint Charlie at that time. I had my Farfisa [Italian] organ. I had a little stand amplifier and a little Leslie that goes on top of it, man, so you could pretty reasonably fake Jimmy Smith on it. I played blues all night with me and a saxophone player, and that led me to being in the special services and playing on the east side with that group. And that was the scariest thing, driving to the east side, playing at the embassy, in East Germany, ’cause you had to go through one the back little corner points.

“You get in a car – a Ford Galaxy. They said it was 50-caliber bullet proof; I didn’t want to be in there to test it. This thing had solid rubber tires, and an M-16 under the seat. And you got over there, you got debriefed: ‘OK, don’t say anything. You’re going to be walked through the building to where you’re gonna play, and the non-commissioned officer is just going to simply point. Whatever object, or anything that he points at, you have to understand that there is a concealed microphone there that was built into this building’. And you’re walking down the hall, and he’s going [points], and you’re thinking, ‘That’s a table’. It was crazy”.

I wondered when he made the switch from acoustic bass to electric bass.

“My switch to a Fender bass actually happened a little bit before Herbie when I [played] with Little Anthony and the Imperials, the job I had immediately before I joined the Headhunters. That was like one of my shortest-lived gigs. God bless him, but I had to leave, I had to get out of that. We were playing in Lake Tahoe. I couldn’t hack it. When the group makes a mistake, and they look back to the band, like the band made the mistake, I’m going like, ‘I don’t mind covering for you, but don’t make it look like [I made it]’.

‘Actual Proof, that is a first take We had been playing the song for maybe three days, and I told Herbie “Hey, listen man, it’s not makin’ it”. I said, “Herbie, let us play it. Let us play, one take, the way we want to”. And he said “Go on”, and that was it’

“Because that’s one of the beautiful things that we had in this group [Head Hunters band] is that you never knew when we made a mistake because we were on top of each other so much. I mean, think about it, when we recorded – this thing was done on my birthday – Actual Proof, that is a first take [on Thrust]. We had been playing the song for maybe three days, and I told Herbie ‘Hey, listen man, it’s not makin’ it’. And me and Michael Clark, we always had like our own Tower of Power kind of style, because we had been living together and we would practise. And so I said, ‘Herbie, let us play it. Let us play, one take, the way we want to’. And he said ‘Go on’, and that was it”.

I asked Paul to respond to this quote from Clark, from the notes to the 1997 CD reissue of Thrust: “The first time we played with Herbie was as a trio, as soon as we started playing it was as if we went into warp speed”.

“It’s absolutely true. The trio was the audition, right in San Francisco. That’s the first time. Herbie said ‘You have a drummer?’ ‘Yes, of course, Mike Clark, my roommate’, so he came over. We both came over, and we weren’t scared. We just laid it on him, and he says ‘Ooh, these cats!’ We played the way we had been playing together, and when he saw that, that turned him on, it was an immediate connection. He played his butt off. Because we weren’t going to let go of him; we had the cat by the tail”.

This prompted me to ask how his approach to the bass was different from what had gone on before.

“Unleashed. I play call and answer. I believe in repetition, but also a variation in repetition without trying to sound like a soloist. For me, the bass line is a composition, but it’s more in the sense of being like a Bach composition that evolves, like having the repetition happening on it, and then it evolves into layers but you still have a rock-steady theme. That involves keeping the time, and that’s pretty much me. And of course, I’m not afraid to try some other things – my thing is messing with people’s head in the time, you know, because I can divide it into micro [units]”.

Mike Clark also described Jackson’s playing as “revolutionary”, so I asked if he saw it that way.

“Me? I might be revolutionary, but the thing is, I didn’t see it for a long time because for me, it took a long time to be that introspective and old enough to. For me it was, this is what I do, and you know, like everybody else’s thing. Let history be the judge. Maybe it is”.

As for the reconstituted Headhunters band, without Herbie, Paul had this to say.

“Oh, the Headhunters became Headhunters because after this record, after the original Head Hunters band, we played so much, the people themselves started calling us Headhunters. That was just the name of the record, but they started calling the band the Headhunters. And out of that evolved Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. So this is the people, all the people that are on this album [Straight From The Gate]. This became the group. And that’s not the first one, that’s the second one. That’s where I made my singing debut on God Make Me Funky [on the first Headhunters album], and that’s one of the kind of underground hit songs I’m always asked to do”.

Near the end of the interview, I asked about some of his activities in Japan and the association with James Levi.

“Well, I did a lot of things with Char [guitarist Hisato Takenaka], I did a lot of things with a lot of good musicians: Terumasa Hino [trumpet], Motohiko Hino [drums], before he died, Yousuke Yamashita [piano], a lot of musicians. I did Asahi commercials as Monk on piano – that was really nice – Asahi beer commercials.

“Me and James Levi go back way before Mike, yes, we go back to when I played trombone in a funk band, and we used to do showcase shows, and revues and everything else, and that’s what we’re going to be going for [in an upcoming tour]. I’m going to be definitely trying to get that together. And James also is playing the new synthesizer drum set; it’s just amazing.

“Future plans, I’d like to get this trio going, I’d like to get the Char thing and right now trying to release some other CDs. This is going to be kind of a showpiece band; I’ll put this out as soon as I can. We have a working name called Y, and it’s the Paul Jackson-James Levi group featuring Ton Kanematsu [guitar], and we call the group Y”.

Paul’s response to my question on the significance of that name?

“Y? Yeah, Y. Why not? Why do we groove? Oh, that’s why. You come and hear us, you’ll know”.

See part one of this interview with Paul Jackson