Ok guys, first of all: a big huge thanks for really taking the time to dissect this tone! I really appreciate the time you guys put into this, and believe it or not I've taken some aspects from every response and made *some* progress last night. Let me give an update, touching on the various points in no particular order or focus. The term "very slight growl and not too much distortion" was used and I think it describes the desired tone VERY nicely, specifically with only the note attack getting that growl. It is correct that Donald Dunn did the bass on that recording (pretty sure that's not Duck Dunn on the video, not sure what he looked like - yet - but I know he wasn't part of the Heartbreakers and to my knowledge he didn't use a Ric). Good call on looking up info/videos on his technique and gear. Even though Dunn supposedly didn't use Rics, I did achieve this sort of tone all those years ago one night in a studio playing my '77 4001 through what I recall being a vintage SVT head and some unlabeled and very road worn 8x10 cab (the fabric cover didn't make me think of an Ampeg 8x10 but it could have been replaced at some point)... it's what set me off on this quest.
Now I cannot at all recall whether I was in my "flatwounds" period with my Ric. Very likely I was finger-playing on that session though, based on my recollection of the material. Nonetheless, one of the closer attempts last night came from using a medium sized pick and with only the neck pickup. Another interesting byproduct of my efforts last night was using palm muting. Now, I'm fairly sure (not 100% certain) that I did not palm mute on that session so long ago nor any of the close attempts in recent years with Amplitube SVX. Palm muting on the Ric (stock bridge) is actually a fun thing, I enjoy wrapping my little finger around the lower damper adjustment knob on the bridge. This might serve as another good starting point to this tone.
So on the Helix last night, as per the brainstorming by you guys, I loaded up a clean SVT factory preset and added a parametric EQ and a multiband compressor at the tail end of the chain. Some tweaking to do but time was limited last night. What really seemed to generate a "wait a minute..." moment was focusing on the output side of the amp module rather than trying to drive the input harder. I'd been focusing on the input side because I recall I likely used a tube-based optical compressor (EH's Blackfinger) ahead of that vintage SVT so many years ago. But now I'm wondering if the real key to that initial growl might be the overdriving of a cabinet????
So the first attempt last night seems so promising especially considering how quickly I moved forward... I'm EVER so thankful to you guys for your initial guidance!
As I was thinking of the toaster pickup comment, that led me to think of older Rics which led me to think of Paul McCartney which led me to think of... this very late 60s recording has a good example of that initial growl (albeit not as clear or pronounced or long as on the Petty track above). Best of all, this stereo version has the bass printed only on one channel which helps isolate it pretty well!
Thanks all, and the search continues... any more hints greatly appreciated, for sure I'll feed back any progress on my side!