Who really played bass on 'I Want You Back' by The Jackson 5?

 Michael Jackson and the Jackson brothers backstage at the Inglewood Forum, 26th August 1973
(Image credit: Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It was October 1969 that The Jackson Five made their national television debut on ABC’s Hollywood Palace. As the bass-playing older brother of Michael (seen plucking a Gibson EB-3 bass in this early clip), Jermaine Jackson mastered the group’s signature dance moves on what would be the first of four consecutive number-one-hits for Motown Records.

A standout track from their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, 'I Want You Back' was written by a team of writers called The Corporation, but there’s been some debate surrounding who played bass. It’s been said that when the group signed with Motown, producer Berry Gordy wouldn't allow them to record on their own songs, with the recordings instead handled by Motown's in-house studio band and legendary bassist James Jamerson.

Forward to 02:45 to see Jermaine Jackson with his Gibson EB-3

Contrary perhaps to popular belief, the iconic 'I Want You Back' bassline was actually recorded in LA by Wilton Felder. Primarily a saxophone player, Felder discussed recording the bassline in the July 1998 issue of Bass Player magazine. 

Bass Player July 1998

Bass Player, July 1998 (Image credit: Future)

“The bass part, which essentially mirrors and counters the melody, was mostly written out," said Felder. "I added just a bit of myself to it. As a sax player, I related to the line’s hip chromatic movement - but being self-taught, I found the fingerings a bit intimidating.”

For the recording Wilton played a 1968 Fender Precision Bass, which was a a re-issue of the 1951 ‘Telecaster’ design and featured a single-coil pickup and the original Precision headstock.

Studio still life of a 1968 Fender Telecaster Bass guitar, photographed in the United Kingdom.

A 1968 Fender 'Telecaster' Precision (Image credit: Photo by Nigel Osbourne/Redferns)

A renowned saxophone player for The Crusaders, Wilton Felder later became the in-house bassist for Motown once they relocated to Los Angeles. His recording credits range from The Jackson 5, to Marvin Gaye, to Billy Joel and countless others.

Jermaine later became a successful solo artist who stayed at Motown when his brothers left for Epic. He was replaced in the group by youngest brother Randy before rejoining in 1983.

Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5 is available now on CD, and as a digital download

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Nick Wells

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.