The Funk Brothers

The Funk Brothers

The Funk Brothers was the nickname of Detroit, Michigan, session musicians who performed the backing to most Motown Records recordings from 1959 until 1972, when the company moved to Los Angeles. The Funk Brothers played on Motown hits such as "My Girl", "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", "Baby Love", "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours", "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", "The Tears of a Clown", and "(Love is Like a) Heat Wave".

The role of the Funk Brothers is described in Paul Justman's 2002 documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", based on Allan Slutsky's book of the same name. The opening titles proclaim the Funk Brothers as "having played on more number-one records than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined." [Justman, Paul. "Standing in the Shadows of Motown."]


Notable members

Early members included bandleader Joe Hunter and Earl Van Dyke (piano); James Jamerson (bass guitar); Benny "Papa Zita" Benjamin and Richard "Pistol" Allen (drums); Robert White, Eddie Willis, and Joe Messina (guitar); Jack Ashford (tambourine, percussion, vibraphone, marimba); Jack Brokensha (vibraphone, marimba); and Eddie "Bongo" Brown (percussion). Hunter left in 1964, replaced on keyboards by Johnny Griffith and as bandleader by Van Dyke. Uriel Jones joined the band as a third drummer.

In 1967, guitarists Dennis Coffey and Melvin "Wah-Wah Watson" Ragin, who introduced the wah-wah pedal that defined Motown's psychedelic soul records, joined the band. Benny Benjamin died the next year, and Bob Babbitt began to replace James Jamerson on many recordings. Most members were of African descent; Messina, Brokensha, Babbitt, and Coffey were white.

Legacy and techniques

Until the release of the "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" documentary, the members of the band were not widely known. Studio musicians were not credited on Motown until Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" in 1971, although Motown released a handful of singles and LPs by Earl Van Dyke. The Funk Brothers shared billing with Van Dyke on some recordings, although they were billed as "Earl Van Dyke & the "Soul" Brothers", since Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. disliked the word "funk".

The band used innovative techniques. For example, most Motown records feature two drummers, playing together or overdubbing one another — Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" used three drummers. A number of songs utilized instrumentation and percussion unusual in soul music. The Temptations' "It's Growing" features Earl Van Dyke playing a toy piano for the song's introduction, snow chains are used as percussion on Martha & the Vandellas' "Nowhere to Run", and a custom oscillator was built to create the synthesizer sounds used to accent Diana Ross & the Supremes' "Reflections" A tire iron was used in the Martha & the Vandellas "Dancing in the Streets".

Dissolution and later years

During the mid to late-1960s, one-fifth of Motown records began utilizing session musicians based in Los Angeles, usually covers and tributes of mainstream pop songs and showtunes. By 1970, an increasing number of Motown sessions were in Los Angeles instead of Detroit, notably all The Jackson 5's hit recordings. Nevertheless, Motown producers such as Norman Whitfield, Frank Wilson, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson steadfastly continued to record in Detroit.

The Funk Brothers were dismissed in 1972, when Berry Gordy moved Motown to Los Angeles. A few members, including Jamerson, migrated to Los Angeles, but found the environment uncomfortable. Jamerson died in 1983, Brown in 1984, Van Dyke in 1992, White in 1994, Allen and Griffith in 2002, and Hunter in 2007.

Awards and recognition

The Funk Brothers have received three Grammy awards:
* Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004
* Best Traditional R&B Performance for "What's Going On" with Chaka Khan, 2002
* Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media for "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", 2002.

Bassist James Jamerson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and drummer Benny Benjamin in 2003. In 2003, surviving members were invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, in an event tied to Black History Month. []


"Membership lists based upon research by Allan Slutsky, with some minor corrections. [Slutsky, Allan. "The Musicians". Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection [CD Box Set] . New York: Motown Record Co., L.P.] "

Detroit musicians

Los Angeles musicians

"Many of the Los Angeles players were members of The Wrecking Crew collective of studio musicians.

Arrangers and conductors

*"Detroit:" Paul Riser, Willie Shorter, Dave Van DePitte, Wade Marcus, Johnny Allen, Gil Askey, Ernie Wilkins, Jerry Long, Henry "Hank" Cosby, Slide Hampton, and H. B. Barnum
*"Los Angeles:" Gene Page, James Carmichael, and Arthur Wright


*cite visual | director=Justman, Paul | date=2002 | url= | title=Standing in the Shadows of Motown | medium=Motion picture | location=New York | distributor=Artisan Entertainment

External links

* [ "Standing in the Shadows of Motown WebQuest"]
* [ Official "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" website]
* [ Grammy Lifetime Achievement awards]
*amg|id=11:uiapqj7bojja|label=The Funk Brothers

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