James Jamerson (January 29, 1936 to August 2, 1983) started out playing upright bass in Detroit in the 1950s. He became a regular studio musician in 1959 and eventually switched to electric bass.
Jamerson started playing upright bass in high school and eventually moved from playing in clubs to doing session work at Berry Gordy's Hitsville U.S.A. studio. He developed a distinctive style, playing a '62 Fender Precision that he called "The Funk Machine". He used his index finger, which came to be called "The Hook" while resting his middle and third fingers on the pickup cover.
He was famous for neglecting any kind of maintenance to his bass guitar, never changing strings and allowing the neck to warp. Other musicians said his bass was "unplayable" but Jamerson's playing proved them wrong.
Jamerson developed a musical style that went beyond the simple root and fifth notes played by many bassists at the time. He added passing notes and created a funky style with syncopated eighth notes and walking bass lines. And he continued to develop, playing unpredictable but highly musical patterns and passing notes
Even though James Jamerson played on many Motown hits, most people had never heard of him, as he received little credit on the recordings of the artists he played for. Eventually he did receive more recognition, however. Allan Slutsky wrote a biography of Jamerson called Standing in the Shadows of Motown that was also made into a television program.
Jamerson struggled with alcoholism and died in 1983, but is widely believed to be one of the most influential bassists ever.
What's Going On - Isolated Bass Track (James Jemerson)