As a bass player looking to tighten up my "pocket" (whatever that means), I spent a lot of time looking for drums and bass books to play through and jam on with my friends. Granted, I could have probably spent that time just transcribing it myself, but you know how it goes. In looking for resources, I found a couple really fantastic books: Funkifying The Clave by Lincoln Goines and Robby Ameen, and The Funkmasters - The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections. What I really dug about these books were both that there were songs to play with dope reference recordings, but also that they spoke a little about what made these songs unique and how to approach them. I'm going to try and give back to the bass community with some of my own transcriptions of tunes by The Meters.
The reason I chose the Meters is pretty definite: they do one thing, stick with it, and make it sound incredible. The record "Rejuvenation" is such a good example of their "A-B-repeat" formula that always sounds rad and you can SERIOUSLY groove to. Hailing from New Orleans, they brought a tight-yet-lazy second line feel to their music.
So now, why in particular did I choose "Jungle Man"? I have no idea. I say that to mean that their entire repertoire is good music and it's hard to pick. However, it does have distinctive elements that I think really glue the whole track together.
1. Bass drum and bass are made for each other
As you can see in both the A and the Pre-Chorus sections, the bass drum and bass are playing the same rhythms (watch the rhythm section from Red Hot Chili Peppers say it) with guitar playing a really straight backbeat. Once the B section rolls around, it's different. HOWEVER, instead of locking in with the bass drum, the bass and guitar are now a unit with the drums providing the steady backbeat. They are always using each others' playing to build the groove and that is a large element of what makes their grooves so strong.
2. Busy playing is selective
The most active part of the tune is where there is no vocals. When the vocals are present and most important, they are given the spotlight through the players playing very little; when the vocals are no longer most important in the B section, the bass and guitar come out with a much more rhythmically dense part, and the spotlight goes to them. This is a much different approach than James Brown's tracks with Bootsy like "Sex Machine", where it's pretty much bouncing around in busytown all of the time. It's not that it is more or less effective, but it's a much different approach.
3. In performance, fills are very, very rare.
And if they exist, are very minor. I think one of the only fills he does in this whole track is a fat low E on the fourth beat of the A section. This is my chronic issue is adding more to make it "interesting" when really not doing anything is the way to make it groove hard.
4. No hammer-ons or pull-offs.
In playing along, I noticed he articulates each note separately, which gives a much different sound than through economic left-hand techniques and slurs. It gives a distinct feel and a definite amount of space in between each note that you wouldn't otherwise get. Subtle, but definitely present.
Below, I've created a drum loop of the A section from the intro for solo practice. Note the aspects mentioned above and have fun with it! Once you've got the groove feeling good, try and fool around with changing small aspects of it, like the articulation or being ahead/behind, to find out what really makes bass lines like this one tick.
I can't stress enough the benefits of working on grooves like these as a full rhythm section, or even just as a drum and bass duo. Once you're really feeling comfortable, have one person keep steady on their part while the other person changes stuff up, and vice versa. For me, working on stuff like this taught me a lot about the subtleties of articulation, string choices, where on the string to pluck, and tons more.
Please PLEASE check out more of the Meters. Their rhythm section is unstoppable and deserves serious attention from pretty much every bass player in pretty much every genre. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!