When TM Stevens met James Brown: “I said, ‘One day I'm going to play with you!’ He said, ‘Don't do it! Stay in school!’”

 Musician James Brown performs on stage at the Miller Rock Thru Time Celebrating 50 Years of Rock Concert at Roseland September 17, 2004 in New York City.
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Throughout the '80s and '90s, TM Stevens forged a reputation as one of the bass world’s most wanted. Aside from his tenure with The Pretenders and in Steve Vai’s Sex and Religion band, he also laid down the bass to some true funk classics, including Narada Michael Walden’s I Should Have Loved Ya and James Brown’s Living In America.

Speaking to Bass Guitar Magazine in 2009, Stevens recalled his relationship with Brown, which stems back to the early '60s at the Apollo Theater. “When I was a kid I would take the subway down to the Apollo on 125th Street in Harlem. I would go there at midday and watch cartoons and guys like The Three Stooges, and then in the evening it was time for James Brown. I would sit there in the balcony and watch every single show.

“One night I ran out the front of the theater and there was his limo. I knocked on the window and I said, ‘Mr Brown I’ve seen all of your shows, and I love your music! One day I’m going to play with you.’ He said, ‘Don’t do it! Stay at school!’ Twenty years later I was in the studio with him recording Living In America.”

“I’ve had a strange career,” said Stevens. “I’ve played with everybody from Tina Turner to Al Di Meola, but I don’t think it’s because I’m a great bass player. I think you can make these things happen if you have the right attitude.”

For the June 2009 issue of Bass Guitar Magazine, we asked Stevens to reveal the bass players that helped shape his style.

1. Bootsy Collins.

“The first record that really attacked me when I was growing up was Sex Machine by James Brown. The bass player on that record was Bootsy Collins. Most people have no idea what funk is, but to me it's a way of life. It’s about the groove of the music, and not how fast you can play. As Bootsy would say, Funk U Baby Bubba!”

2. John Paul Jones.

“I grew up in the Bronx and back then everyone was listening to Marvin Gaye and James Brown, but then I heard Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. Now I’m going to tell you something, man: it was so simple, but it was so funky! I had never heard anything like it. I became a huge fan of John Paul Jones and John Bonham. I have no idea if they played that stuff on purpose, but those timing changes were unbelievable.”

3. Larry Graham.

“I went down to Greenwich Village and I heard this music coming from a club. I can remember thinking, ‘what the hell is that?’ I couldn’t get into the club because I was too young, but I peeked in through the door and I saw this guy onstage with tons of amps behind him. It turned out to be Sly and the Family Stone singing I Want To Take You Higher with Larry Graham on bass. That moment changed my life.”

4. Noel Redding.

“When I got into Jimi Hendrix I became a rocker. Whenever I'd go to house parties, people would say, ‘there’s that guy who likes that rock stuff.’ The girls wouldn’t even dance with me! It’s not like I went to rock and forgot the funk or played funk and forgot the rock; all of those things stayed, but Noel Redding and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is the reason my music became more like funk rock.”

Living in America featured on the Rocky IV Soundtrack and is available to buy on Amazon.