Anthony Jackson has been a distinctive voice on the electric bass since entering the scene in New York City. He began playing the piano as a teen before switching to the guitar, and finally picking up the bass after being influenced by legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson (see "Influences" below).
Jackson is a student of Jerry Fisher, Lawrence Lucie, and Pat Martino. He has performed live in more than 30 countries, and has recorded in more than 3000 sessions on more than 500 albums. His bass introduction for the O'Jays' "For The Love Of Money" (on their classic album Ship Ahoy) earned him a co-writer's credit on the song alongside Gamble & Huff.
In 2010, Jackson released his first leader album, INTERSPIRIT, with Greek bassist Yiorgos Fakanas from Abstract Logix.
Jackson devised a “six-string bass”, tuned B-E-A-D-G-C, which he called the contrabass guitar.
Jackson said that the idea for adding more strings to the bass guitar came from his frustration with its limited range. When asked what he thought of criticism of the six-string bass, Jackson replied:
“Why is four [strings] the standard and not six? As the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family, the instrument should have had six strings from the beginning. The only reason it had four was because Leo Fender was thinking in application terms of an upright bass, but he built it along guitar lines because that was his training. The logical conception for the bass guitar encompasses six strings.”
Jackson first approached various luthiers in 1974 about the construction of his idea, and Carl Thompson built the first six-string for Jackson in 1975. He later approached luthier Ken Smith of Ken Smith Basses to build him a six string bass before finally playing instruments made by New York-based bass makers, Fodera. Jackson has been playing the six string bass since 1981.
Jackson initially played the guitar, and studied with renowned jazz guitarist Pat Martino. But as he put it,
“I continued playing standard as well as bass guitar until 1968, when I was forced to admit that my standard guitar playing should be quietly put to death.”
Jackson always plays sitting down.
He cites his main influences as James Jamerson, Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane, and French composer Olivier Messiaen. Jamerson’s influence on Jackson is perceptible to anyone familiar with both players, particularly on Jamerson tracks like “How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone?” by Diana Ross and The Supremes, where the use of arpeggiation and passing notes for simultaneous chordal and rhythmic expression are telltale.
Jackson was also influenced by Jack Casady. As Jackson said in a 1990 interview in Bass Player magazine.
“Casady, whom I'd first heard on Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album in late 1966, had a big, rich, metallic sound with a full bottom and a curious, guitaristic way of playing that I was immediately drawn to. When I saw him perform live, I was struck by his dignity and serious mien. It was Casady's sound that kept me exploring the expressive possibilities of using the pick. To this day, when I use one and a flanger, Casady's influence emerges and can be clearly detected by an aficionado.”
Jackson’s other major influence is Olivier Messiaen, whose music changed his life “irrevocably and forever”. It was Messiaen’s organ suite “La Nativité du Seigneur” that so impressed Jackson that he remarked:
“I hear the tritone as the central interval on which to build harmonies and melodies, as opposed to the major or minor third… The tritone interval has been extremely important to me from the first day I heard Messiaen playing his own music on organ.”