“Prince was serious about what he wanted. He would turn around, point to you and say, ‘Go!’”: Josh Dunham names the five albums that helped shape his sound with Prince

Prince performs at half time during Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida on February 4, 2007.
(Image credit: Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Having held the bass chair with Prince for five years, Josh Dunham needs no introduction as one of the bass guitar world’s top groove players.  “Playing your part was important,’ said Dunham of his role with Prince, “and having the chops and stuff was cool, but with the Prince gig you really had to lay a groove and play in the pocket.”

It was while playing with Prince that Dunham learnt a valuable lesson regarding when to play and when not to play: “Prince was very specific about what he wanted, especially on his hit songs, but everyone got a chance to shine. He would turn around, point to you and say, ‘Go!’”

Dunham’s role with Prince ranged from working with him on new material to learning his huge catalog of songs. “I once asked him if he would show me some stuff on bass, and he said no! He just walked out! But then he would come to rehearsal and say, ‘Let me see the bass,’ and that would be his way of sharing his approach to playing those basslines. One time he showed me this groove where he was playing one note, with his thumb. It was so funky. Just that one note!”

Josh’s interest in music started when he was 12 years old. “I played drums at the church where my dad was a deacon, but there was always a constant rotation between the other drummers, which didn’t give me much playing time, so my attention shifted to the bass. I spent a lot of time practising with Eric Elder, Chris Black and Jerlando Johnson and listening to players like Barry Jackson, Andrew Gouche, Jimmy Neuble and Jaco Pastorius. I would sit on the porch and play for my friends or just practise with VHS videos and cassette tapes.”

So what five albums does Dunham chart among those that shaped his bass style?

1. Thomas Whitfield - Alive And Satisfied (1992)

"Growing up in church exposed me to a lot of gospel music. Because my dad was a deacon, he was very strict about my two brothers and I only listening to gospel music. I would sneak in the Alive And Satisfied album and play along with it all day. It made me more aware of the importance of each instrument." 

2. The Canton Spirituals - Live In Memphis (1993)

"I love the Canton Spirituals because of the ‘hump’ that their music has. When I heard it I couldn’t sit still because of the way the bass and drums would lock together and sound like one movement. That was my first time I had heard a piece of music build before someone saying, ‘Break it down!’ I thought it was so cool the way they would use the dynamics."

3. Al Green - Tokyo Live (1981)

"Al Green’s music has more of a laid-back and relaxed style. It’s groovy but still soulful. I could hear all his energy and intensity, and that really made me focus on playing the basslines with more purpose to really complement the style regardless of the tempo. He always had the audience’s attention and such a command over the band. A certain movement or body gesture could signal the horns or the singers to come in. To me, he was the epitome of music."

4. Jaco Pastorius - Jaco Pastorius (1976)

"Wow! When I heard Jaco I was amazed. I had never heard anyone approach the bass the way he did. His style was more staccato and his rhythmic concepts seemed endless. He was the first person that I heard on a fretless bass that had a mid-range tone. Even now I'm inspired by how well he knew his instrument."

5. Maceo Parker - Made By Maceo (2003)

"Before I got this album, I actually heard Maceo play this song Off The Hook live, and man it was funky! The band grooved so hard and it was just so cool. I actually got a chance to play it with him on a show with Prince, and Maceo had such a command over the audience. You could see the influence of James Brown. It was just great."

Dunham's 2010 solo album, Reinvigorate, is available to buy on Amazon.

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Nick Wells
Writer

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.