He just may be the most underrated bassist in the history of rock, pop, and soul music…. says KYBP’s Tom Semioli…
Along with guitarist Norman Harris and drummer Earl Young, bassist Ronnie Baker anchored “The Sound of Philadelphia” which produced scores of hits in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. A combination of funk and rhythm & blues with pop songcraft enhanced by an orchestral / big-band backdrop; “Philly Soul,” TSOP, or simply the “Philadelphia Sound” achieved massive cross-over appeal.
And though he was anonymous to most record buyers (Philadelphia International and similar labels were notorious for omitting musician credits) and Top 40 AM radio devotees – Baker, in a addition to producing, composing, and arranging – was a giant of the instrument. In fact, Ronnie was the legendry songwriting / production team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s go-to session cat.
Baker’s style, to my ears, was certainly inspired by James Jamerson. However Ronnie adhered mostly to outlining the changes in a traditional manner (1/3/5/7), and unlike James, kept his harmonic extensions and grace notes to a minimum.
As such, he afforded space aplenty for Harris and Young to groove, and for the horns, strings, and vocalists to do their thing. As I’ve stated a billion times (no exaggeration) great songs make for great bass passages . Every note, passing tone, and rhythm Ronnie rendered had a purpose. Baker eschewed gimmicks, and flashy fills, which were in vogue in the 70s, in the service of the composition – which was likely borne of his role in production and arranging.
Baker’s tone? The classic resonance of a Fender with flats….
A Baker’s dozen of Ronnie’s iconic credits included Labelle, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, The O’Jays, Billy Paul, The Spinners, The Stylistics, MFSB, Blue Magic, The Trammps, Archie Bell & the Drells, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Laura Nyro, Johnny Nash …
To cite a few signature Ronnie tracks:
Dig Ronnie with The Spinners “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” https://youtu.be/xttw2AHaNFE
Dig Tony Senatore’s rendition of The Spinners “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” https://youtu.be/Tpa6jvL70Vo
Dig Tony Senatore’s rendition of The Spinners “I’ll Be Around” https://youtu.be/4tDyE7nfXZY
Dig Ronnie with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes “Bad Luck” https://youtu.be/mykhgDJvp6g
Dig this clip of “Love Train” from Soul Train with the O’Jays lip-synching atop Ronnie’s groove https://youtu.be/QyT9jTW7MHc
Dig Ronnie with Laura Nyro and LaBelle “Gonna Take A Miracle” https://youtu.be/5CoN9PyoU80
Dig Ronnie with Laura Nyro and LaBelle “Monkey Time / Dancing in the Street” https://youtu.be/nyREgIqMCcU