Many of you have heard of the passing of Mark Adams, THE bass legend of Slave. For fans and musicians, this is a shock, especially at the age he was. Even in his passing, he created and left a legacy of bass playing style and finesse that, in my mind, is unparalleled in every sense of the word. There are MANY bass legends in R&B and Funk – all of who you know about. This blog post is primarily a reflection of my perspective of not necessarily Slave, the group, but the bassist, Mark Adams – his unique bass playing style and influence on me as a musician.
“Sounds like an empire to me….”
I first discovered of Slave when Slide came out in ’77. At the time I was 14 or 15 years old and had been playing guitar for about a year. Back then, there were a lot of guys my age in my neighborhood, and as it customarily was, neighborhood bands were all over the city. Me and the fellas formed such a band, we were all within 2 – 3 years of each other in age (shout out to three band members I am still in touch with today, Tony Matthews, trumpeter, Damon Williams, guitarist (and now bassist) and Julien X. Neals (bassist)). We formed a group entitled “Black Frost” right around the time the Slide came out (maybe before). We were just beginning to write, compose, and play songs in our own right – covers and originals. I distinctly remember us sitting around whoever’s house we rehearsed at, listening to Slave – the horn arrangements, vocals, guitar, drums, and Mr. Mark’s nasty bass playing. We used call the bass track in Slide, the track with that “pure E”, resounding from the first note he opened the song with, and then into the bass solo. Not only did we marvel over that bass track, but we get even more detail of it in “Son of Slide”. Even that smooth track, You and Me, and that signature Ohio funk track “Separated” showed Mark’s nasty style. He had to be no more than 2 – 3 years older than me at the time and I was the oldest member of our group. Although a few members of Slave were older, we continually marveled at how funky Mark was at that young age. Never seeing Slave in concert during the first album, we always wondered what kind of bass he played to get that signature slide, tone, and raunchy deep growl he continually became known for.
At the time because they were just signed to Cotillion Records, Steve Washington went to school in my hometown, and Slave rehearsed there as well, I didn’t know until a short time later that they hailed from Ohio. Original members Orion Wilhoite and Carter Bradley shared an apartment in Orange. NJ, and did some recording at West Orange’s House of Music recording studio. You probably know the story…Mark was with a band in high school called The Young Mystics. Drac, who went to high school with Mark, and was in a band called Black Satin Soul, along with Steve Arrington and Steve Washington, approached him to start a new group. Eventually they ended up at Tim Dozier’s house and formed the band (see part 1 of the Mark Adams interview below). Orion and Tom Lockett went to Patterson High, in Dayton. They did their first show as Slave at Nettie Roth High School on April 1, 1976. Steve Washington already had fame in his own right be being related to Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks of the Ohio Players. Shortly after a few rehearsals, Slave was born and they took a demo to NYC, where they got their professional start with producer Jeff Dixon at Cotillion Records. (at least that’s how I know the story).
“We do mean business….”
When “Hardness Of The World” came out later that year, the back of the album jacket showed them in concert, with Mark playing that Alembic Bass (see above)…a bass guitar already revered by all of us. We knew that the Alembic was the bass that created the magic, but as some of us know, it’s really the Fender Jazz Bass that Mark rocked like a monster, as far as I know. I chose that picture out of all I’ve seen because I think it captures the defintion of Mark’s playing style, definitely nasty, definitely funky. The one below is a widely known one from the spot they did on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert.
Here’s the full version of Slide, from the same show:
Hardness Of The World showed more of Mark’s developing signature style, on tracks like Volcano Rupture, Party Song, and The World’s On Hard. What Mark established from the debut album was that “slide”, and he had a way of placing it, whether it was up or down the neck, that was unique. By this time, Slave always was becoming known not only as one of the hottest new R&B bands, but a funk rock band, evidenced from tracks like Slide and, Volcano Rupture.
“We are stellar….”
The third release, The Concept, proved to everyone that it was an all out funkfest. Steve Arrington and Starleana Young joined the group – Steve birthing that signature vocal style that years later would be trademark to Slave’s sound, and Starleana adding that female voice that later became trademark to Aurra. Mark’s style on Stellar Fungk, I think was the beginning of a style that became definitive throughout the next seven albums – that combination of deep growl, fingering, slides, and pops. It was the first time I think Mark started to use effects like an envelope follower on the bass (listen to Drac Is Back/We’ve Got Your Party) Three things stood out to me about Mark’s style in that stretch of releases:
- His plucking style: There are times where his pull up notes were clean, and single (i.e. Sizzlin’ Hot), other times they sounded like more than one note being plucked (i.e. Just A Touch Of Love). Then other tracks had a mix of both, like K.O.G (New Plateau)
- The growl, fingering, and the slides: The way Mark fingered his notes elicited a deep, raunchy, but smooth style I have NEVER heard another bass player sound like. I don’t know of it was the Fender Jazz, the Alembic or what…but it was a mainstay of his style. The slides, whether they were in the high registers or down in the basement, he placed them in an uncanny way that made the funk…undescribable.
- The accidentals: I think this may be what made Mark stand out the most, though the I’d be hard say it was the number one thing. He placed accidental notes in his playing that caused a tension, a feel, that took that funk to another level. Yeah, Larry Graham plucked, Louis Johnson had that thunder thumb, Bernard Edwards had the smoothness, but none used note placement like Mark. Two perfect examples of Mark’s use of accidentals are at 2:16 and 4:42 in Just A Touch Of Love, and through a lot of “When I Come Home” with Aurra, but specifically at 4:44 and 4:52. That song is really good example of how he incorporates all these aspects, but more towards the cleaner feel vs the grittiness of Stellar Fungk, or the nastiness of Motorway or I’ve Got To Get You (Unchained At Last). As for the fingerstyle funk, I gotta give it to him on Shine (from Just A Touch of Love, years later, on Slave 88, they release another track by the same name, but with totally different music) and Dreamin’ (Stone Jam). Hansolor ALSO played bass on Aurra’s track “Who Are You”…a return to what I consider his more laid back tones, a la “Can’t Get Enough Of You”, from the Hardness Of The World LP.“Make me shine, just a little bit….”
Enter 1979, and the album Just A Touch of Love, the smash hit off that album. This release had some sleepers on there like Shine, and the ballad Thank You, where Mark showed that unmistakable funk fingering style. Enter Curt Jones adding a new dimension to the lead vocal stylings of Steve Arrington, Starleana Young and Danny Webster – all giving it up on my favorite ballad, Thank You. It was the first time I’d ever heard a bass player making a ballad funk (re: that fingering, slides, and pluck right before the verses started). There was one silly, but CRAZY funky track called Warning.
“Looking at the ladies, all of them fine….”
That funk style grew to larger heights on Stone Jam, especially on the pluck vibe with tracks like Never Get Away, Sizzlin’ Hot (I don’t think they could have penned a better name for that track), and the title track, while that “finger funk” was heavy on Feel My Love, Dreamin’ and the smash hit, Watching You. This was about 1980, when Mark was about 20 maybe. Everytime I think about how funky and nasty that boy was at that age, I shake my head in disbelief. Steve Arrington had defined the vocal aspect of Slave on Watching You. It was the first time I can remember Mark introducing the style of “pick bass” (using a guitar pic to play), in the bass solo to Watching You.
“Strikin’ up that soul beat….”
This was also one year before what some would consider Slave’s most commercially successful album, Showtime in 1981. With Steve Arrington bringing Slave’s vocal game to its highest point, he left to go solo, starting with Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame I. My favorite tracks went beyond Snapshot (once again incorporating all the elements of his signature style) and Wait For Me, to Spice Of Life (pluck madness) to Steal Your Heart, that smokin’ track “Smokin’ (had that bass track feel that started like Just A Touch of Love, this might be my favorite non-single on the album), and the sleeper, Funken Town. What I liked about Showtime was the elaborate string arrangements and the horn arrangements, even though all the original Slave Horns didn’t record on that album, it was reminiscent of Steve Washington’s time with Slave, citing “the groove has been changed, but the name remains (…it’s the same, it’s the same game).” The pegged the name “Jam Patrol, Inc” (“Smokin”, “Funken Town”).
In ’82 Mark’s style continued to be untouchable, uncopied, and pretty much signature through the release Bad Enuff. He began to incorporate the flanger effect on his bass on tracks like I’ll Be Gone and Sweet Thang (nice track on Visions Of The Lite) and a few others from that release. Visions Of The Lite (at least in my area) had not major hits, but had a lot of phenomenal bass playing on it, for sure…there were actually some bangin’ tracks on that CD. In ’83, Bad Enuff was released, no major hits either, but the bass nastiness continued, again with more pick bass playing as well. I like Bad Girl and Showdown…still with that deep growl, slides…the whole nine.
In my opinion, Mark’s inimitable style of bass playing got just a lil nastier on the New Plateau release in ’84. The credits list a new recording system that by Sony that was used in recording the tracks. The electronic drums became very prominent. I personally noticed a difference with respect to the way the whole album sounded. Mark’s bass is deeper, louder, and grittier…but he laid off on the flanger effects. The tracks had a big sound, bangin’ drum tracks, even on the ballad “Forever Mine”. At this release, Slave was, for all intents and purposes, Mark, Danny, and Floyd (as evidenced from the inner album jacket picture). “The Word Is Out” is a track off the release that has Mark’s “in your face” bass track. Strangely enough, I think it’s the only track that had an official video produced for it.
One year later, in 1985, Unchained At Last was released. (Trivia question #1: The title of this album came from what song lyrics from a previously released Slave track?). The first two tracks, Jazzy Lady and I’d Like To Get You again showcased Mark’s nasty, edgy style of fingering and razor sharp plucks, with I’d Like To Get You being my favorite….tight intro, the bass track for the bridge is nice, horns kickin’ throughout the track. The bass track for Thrill Me is definitely a spinoff from Snapshot…flanger, and fingering for sure. Nasty track through and through though. There is one track from this CD, Don’t Waste My Time, that I believe has the deepest growl that I can remember coming from Mark’s bass…definitely slightly different than earlier tracks.
It was around the 1982 that Slave began to venture outside the Slave Organization, from a musical standpoint. Jimmy Douglas who produced their debut album also produced Odyssey’s track “Inside Out”. From the minute I heard it, I knew that the members from Slave were on this track. Obviously the track is a bite off of “Watching You”. The odd thing (I just found out today), is that there was differences of opinion in the bass guitar community regarding who actually bass on this track – Mark or another bassist trying to cop Mark’s style. Here’s a thread from prince.org that talks that controversy.
Here’s what Curt Jones of Aurra had to say to me:
Hey brother, I wasn’t involved in that, by then we were either working on or had released Are U Single. The sound of the bass is unmistakably Mark Adams, his sound and touch was unique. Sorry i think the only one who really knows all about that is Jimmy Douglas.
Stay well brotha. Peace.
Here’s the video, take a listen: “Inside Out”.
Note: It has been confirmed to me via written dialogue (indirectly), by an ex-member of Slave, that it was NOT Mark Adams on “Inside Out”, but bassist Sandy Anderson from Unlimited Touch. Why Jimmy Douglas chose Sandy and not Mark is (now) a story only Jimmy (probably) can confirm. My final say on it…if you listen close enough (especially on the bass solo breakdown), you will hear that it is not “the great Mark Adams”.
Trivia question #2: Slave actually recorded a radio commercial for a hair care product company. What was the company and what song beared resemblance to the music they composed for the commercial? [I remember hearing the commercial over the NYC airwaves and after over YEARS got one of the members of Slave to remember and comment on the commercial)
In 1985, I was in my senior year of college and remember seeing Slave’s first actual compilation on vinyl, in a Bridgeport, CT record store. If memory serves me correctly it was called Slave ’85. Maybe I’m “Dreamin’ ” cause I cant find any reference to it anywhere.
In 1987, “Make Believe” was released. A lot more synthesized then any other previous release, and while like tracks like Juicy-0, You Take My Breath Away, and You’ve Got The Power To Say No, I think this album marked the moment Mark’s playing began to exit from it’s signature style. Make Believe has some nice tracks on there, but they bit off of Cameo’s style waaay too much on some, specifically with the vocal approach, drums, and synth stylings.
The following CDs Slave 88 (Ichiban 1988), Rebirth (Ichiban 1991) , Funk Strikes Back (Ichiban 1994), and Masters of the Funk (Ichiban 1996) released new material and newly recorded reissues but they had nothing that really jumped out and grabbed me. In my mind, the evolution of the arrangements didn’t encompass Mark’s signature style anymore, but tracks like She’s Just That Kinda Girl are phat….
Here’s a video with Mark and Drac back in ’95, right before Masters Of The Fungk was released.
As R&B evolved and Slave as we knew them slipped into the shadows, Mark garnered great respect in the bass guitar community and was never forgotten. Here are a few links from the Talk Bass forum about him (thanks to Damon for hookin’ me up with these):
Here’s a (way too short) interview from March 2005 edition of Bass Player Magazine. I believe the May 2004 edition has a longer interview. I’d like to somehow get hold of it.
Update: Bass Player Magazine did do another article on Mark Adams entitled “Style Study: Mark Adams of Slave”. The pictures are gone for some reason, but the text of the article remains. I’ve included a link to a zip file that includes the entire article, text and pics, (thanks Lamar Webster).
~~~~~~~~~~~~~The tracks I present in the podcast are ones that I think best respresent the untouchable, unduplicated play style of Mark Adams…the style I best tried to put in words above. I invite you to comment on some you think I may have missed.
Lastly, I send my condolences out the Adams family. I wish them strength and peace during this time, and even afterwards. I was talking with Damon today about Mr. Mark, the influence he left on us as young musicians (actually not much younger then he was), and how we all came up in a time where being a musician in that era was something special. Not that it isn’t now, but things were different then. In urban communities, and lifestyle, the band is no more (save Mint Condition for the most part), and while I readily use computers to sequence, sample and play samples to compose my own music, there is and will never be anything like actually PLAYING a musical instrument. Personally, Mark’s departure has a different effect than even Michael Jackson’s had on me. I guess because there was a connection, a local connection, to the neighborhood we grew up in, the sitting around listening to each Slave album released back in the day….it’s just different.
Here are some great words of remembrance from friends and family that are members of the Slave Fan Page on FB:
I declare March 5th National Hansolor Day! What does that mean? It means on that day listen to nothing but songs in which Mark Adams played bass.
The first Slave song I learned on bass at the tender age of…well, let’s just say it was a single digit. LOL – Snapshot. The second Slave tune I learned on bass – Wait For Me
Many of days Mark and the Son of Slave would practice and work on new songs. He loved working with Mark and he wanted so much to play beside his son and create new music. Mark would always tell me that he wanted all of his children to have his legacy…and I know that Mark is smiling in heaven..due to all the work that everyone is putting into this Slave page. Thank u Doug and thanks to all who participates in this page..Mark and Drac truly gave this industry a touch of love
I will be changing my ringtones on my phone to Just a Touch and Slide. As 11:30 pm approaching on March 5, that was the last time I spoke to Mark and heard his voice. When u called me at 2:30 am is when my heart weeped. Thank u Sheena and Doug for keeping me abreast…for staying in touch with me.
I’m going to go back to when Mark was in elementary school, and would perform in talent shows with Phil Dukes (drums) and John Madden (bass), see Mark played lead guitar then…he got his first music fix as a little boy, when he visited his grandma Hazel in Hillsboro, she played Piano. Mark would watch and listen…his ambition to learn was obvious, and like others have mentioned he played with several local bands. We were in high school when Mark signed with Atlantic, he quit to pursue his career…and the rest is History…I know that he was dedicated, any free time he had he was building cases for his wah-wah pedals or playing his guitar on the porch…
”THE WORLD IS YOURS, REACH OUT AND CARESS, IN SOLACE” MLA Wrote this in my Senior Yearbook…1979♥
Already coming up on the Anniversary of Mark L. Adams death…May 5th…still hard to believe, I keep pinching myself, I want to tell you Doug in front of the WHOLE WORLD that I love what you’ve done & what you’re doing….Mark spoke of his ‘LEGACY’ so much…with this page youre keeping him in Our minds, heart & soul…and that’s to everyone who shows genuine LOVE for him, Drac and SLAVE…GOD BLESS YOU♥
IN MEMORY OF MR…MARK L ADAMS…………..OUT OF THE HURT OF HIS DEATH..A LIFE…THAT WAS TAKEN TO SOON…..HIS CHILDREN HE LEFT ………………..THE FOUR WOMEN THAT HAD THEM……………TO ALL..MARK L ADAMS..AND SLAVE FANS………..PLEASE KEEP US IN YOUR PRAYS…………..WE THANK YOU………..MUCH LOVE TO YA..
ADAMS AND I WOULD TALK FOR HOURS……ABOUT MARK…..AND WHAT THEY WERE DOING…….HE WOULD TELL .ME……WHEN THIS CD COME OUT……..HE WOULD SAY …WHEW…………..IT IS GOING TO BE BAD…………….
Dreamed of Mark all night , he was at different stages of his life, at one point performing on stage with a big afro, JAMMIN’…..that bass, when I woke up I realized March 5th was in a couple of days, and this was why the dream presented itself to me, though we were so far apart, he will always have a special place in my heart as well as yours…funny how all the ladies in his life have come together with respect and love for each other, I find it odd, but beautiful that we are connected, and supportive of each other, I know he’s gotta to be smiling saying “this is something I never thought I see” haha..
Mark Adams once told me that Slide 88 was the way that they used to perform “Slide” when they were live in concert. I like Mark’s bass solo and Billy Beck’s keyboard solo at the end of the track a lot! Mark taught me how to use the fingerboard on my bass to get that extra thumping sound on that Slide 88 version! LOL!!!
i heard Mark Adams say in an interview that they weren’t exactly satisfied with Hardness Of The World. But when I look at the project as a whole, it was another above average effort. Way above average. And some of these guys were still teens.
Laurence E. Larri Davis
Mark Adams actually showed med a pedal he altered for his sound…I always wondered how he made that growl sound and he showed me what he did…he was brilliant! I don’t care how many come after him no one will ever have that sound…the ultimate compliment was when Sheena, Lamar and I were talking on Lamar’s page on one of the pics I had of Mark and Louis Johnson chimed in and gave his respects….now that is great respect!
I had the great pleasure of being classmates with both Marks (Adams and Drac) at Roth ’76. We were all in woodshop, which of course meant break time lol…anyway I remember we were all chatting (well mainly Drac-he was the conversation guy, Mark Adams just sat and looked cool LoL..)
Still hurt to believe! But he lives on in my headphones. R.I.P Mr. Mark still untouchable!
My life changed when I first heard Slave & in particular Mr Mark’s aggressive Bass style. Since then Slave have been my Number 1 & Mr Mark,my hero. It is with sadness that Mr Mark passed on Steve Arrington’s & my brother,Mark’s birthday & that Drac’s funeral was on my birthday. I’ll have a drink on Hansolors Day.
When I had met Mark Adams, Slave already had Slide out. I was still in my band Starchild. Later on when Steve Washington asked me to be a part of Upstairs productions and work with the group, I considered it an honor and still do. When it was time for the brothers to come back from Dayton to join us in N.J. to start recording what became the “Just a touch of love” lp, I’ll never forget how anxious I was to see everybody again. The first person to come upstairs & walk through the door was Mark Adams, he looked at me with a smile, graded my hand shook it and simply said,”welcome aboard”. I felt like a new man and my life changed forever. R.I.P. my brother, we can still listen to you play to comfort us but truly does not compare to having you among us. Till we funk together again your brother ~ Curt J ~ aka CabaL The name only Mark called me, he could be hilarious at times.
He’s in a better place now. Rest in Paradise, Hansolor. Special shout out to Mark Akridge, aka Son of Slave, he’s got the torch now. Be on the lookout….”sizzlin’ hot for the next generation!
Lastly, to aptly (and fittingly) quote Slave: “It’s about time somebody realized who funk is”
- Slave Discography
- Slave Fan Page on Facebook
- A Flickr Photo Gallery- Mark Adams: Bass Legend of Slave (Contact me to submit additions to the gallery)
- Slave Fanatacism
- Special Shout Outs:
- Julius Freeman for posting the info about Joe Kelley’s Tribute to Mark Adams on The Upper Room With Joe Kelley
- Joe Kelley for doing the Tribute to Mark Adams on The Upper Room with Joe Kelley
- WDKK Radio on Blogtalk Radio: Ohio Funkfest: A Tribute To Mark Adams (featuring call in guests Steve Arrington, Reggie Calloway/Midnight Star, Mark Wood/Lakeside, along with in-studio guest, Wardell Potts, SOLAR label session drummer)
- Tony, Damon, Julien – the original members of Black Frost. Still in touch after all these years, still playing as musicians. We came up in a good time, with some good music. We truly came to know what the “definition of a band” is.
- EJ Flavors, for doing an OSW podcast in memory of Mark Adams, and Slave.
- This is a really nice tribute with great words by Steve Arrington, a track recorded by Mark and Cedell Carter last year, and interview with Scot Brown, UCLA funk historian: The KPFA.org History of The Funk – A Tribute To Mark Adams and interview schedule.
- The Mark Adams Interview (1990) Pt. 1 of 2 and Pt 2 of 2 by Miss Funkyflyy
- Style Study-Mark Adams of Slave (Bass Player Magazine, July 2011)Below is the 31 track compilation of what believe is Mark’s best bass work with Slave and a track with Aurra. Enjoy!
You can stream and download the Mark Adams Tribute below (7 minutes into the 2 hour show):
Thanks for the read…
::: oceans of rhythm :::