Funk Brothers

The Motown House Band


The Funk Brothers

Meshell Ndegeocello – You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me

Bootsy Collins – Do You Love Me

Gerald Levert featuring Tom Scott – Shotgun

1959-1962

The early Motown hits were blues based, a product of the uncluttered approach devised by the Motown staff songwriters and producers in tandem with local blues and R&B musicians. Most of the arrangements were done on the spot by the musicians, occasionally with a simple horns background added.

The earthly, down home piano playing of  Joe Hunter, Motown’s first bandleader, contributed a great deal to the success of hits like “Pride and Joy” and “Come Get These Memories.” Although he left in 1964, Hunter’s greatest achievement was bringing together the integral components of a world class studio band.

  • Keyboards – Joe Hunter, Popcorn Wylie
  • Guitars – Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Larry Veeder, Dave Hamilton
  • Bass – James Jamerson, Clarence Isabell
  • Drums – Benny Benjamin, Richard “Pistol” Allen, George McGregor, Clifford Mack
  • Percussion – Jack Ashford, Eddie “Bongo” Brown
  • Vibes – Jack Ashford, Dave Hamilton, James Gittens
  • Trumpets – Herbie Williams, John “Little John” Wilson, Marcus Belgrave, Russell Conway, Johnny Trudell
  • Saxophones– Hank Crosby, Andrew “Mike” Terry, Norris Patterson, Thomas “Beans” Bowles, Teddy Buckner, Ronnie Wakefield, Lefty Edwards, Eli Fontaine, Ernie Rodgers
  • Trombone – Bob Cousar, George Bohanon, Paul Riser

1964-1967

Motown’s resounding success was a powerful magnet to Detroit’s local jazz and club players, who brought with them a musical sophistication missing in the earliest recordings. Robert White’s and Eddie Willis’ signature guitar licks, the backbeat cooked up by guitarist Joe Messina and percussionist Jack Ashford, the heart stopping rhythmic locks by drummer Benny Benjamin and virtuoso bassist James Jamerson, the deft direction by bandleader and keyboardist Earl Van Dyke, provided the unshakable foundation for Motown’s stars.

Robert White and Joe Messina

Robert White and Joe Messina

  • Keyboards – Earl Van Dyke, Johnny Griffith, Johnny Gittens, Ted Sheely
  • Guitars – Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Marv Tarplin, Cornelius Grant
  • Bass – James Jamerson, Tony Newton
  • Drums – Benny Benjamin, Richard “Pistol” Allen, Uriel Jones, Frederick Waites
  • Percussion – Jack Ashford, Eddie “Bongo” Brown
  • Vibes– Jack Ashford, Jack Brokensha
  • Trumpet – Johnny Trudel, Herbie Williams, Floyd Jones, Maurice Davis, Billy Horner, Jon “Little John” Wilson, Russell Conway, Marcus Belgrave, Don Slaughter.
  • Trombone – George Bohanon, Jimmy Wilkens, Bob Cousar, Paul Riser, Don White, Carl Raetz, Patrick Lanier, Bill Johnson
  • Saxophone – Hank Crosby, Andrew “Mike” Terry, Thomas Beans” Bowles, Kasuka Malia, Teddy Buckner, Lefty Edwards, Eugene BeeBee” Moore, William “Wild Bill” Moore, Angelo Carlisi, Ernie Rodgers, Dan Turner, Bernie Peacock, Larry Nozero
  • Flute – Dayna Hartwick
  • Strings – Gordon Staples (concertmaster) and the Detroit Symphony Strings

1968-1972

During this era there was a new catalyst for change in the Motown sound. Producer Norman Whitfield’s psychedelic soul revolution ushered in the arrival of guitarist Dennis Coffey and Wah Wah Watson. Motown’s recording schedule increased bringing in other new players. The death of Benny Benjamin, along with James Jefferson’s advancing alcoholism, pushed talents like Uriel Jones and Bob Babbitt to the front. Still at Motowns core was the classic band led by Earl Van Dyke.

Ater a decade of hit making the Funk Brothers performed like a championship team; they thought their dynasty would last forever. But as Motown began to seek new horizons in Los Angeles, the musicians sensed the coming of an end to an era. Digging deep into their lifeblood, the many strains of Detroit’s rich musical traditions, they redefined the boundaries of pop music one last time with the historic Marvin Gaye What’s Going On sessions.

Within a year after the release of Gaye’s album, Motown moved permanently to Los Angeles, and the most prolific studio band in recording history closed shop.

  • Keyboards – Earl Van Dyke, Johnny Griffith
  • Guitars _ Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Dennis Coffey, Wah Wah Watson
  • Bass – James Jamerson,  Bob Babbit, Eddie Watkins
  • Drums – Richard “Pistol” Allen, Uriel Jones, Andrew Smith
  • Percussion – Jack Ashford, Eddie “Bongo” Brown
  • Vibes – Jack Ashford, Jack Brokensha
  • Trumpet – John Trudell, Russell Conway, Herbie Williams, Floyd Jones, John “Little John” Wilson, Maurice Davis, Marcus Belgrave, Billy Horner, Don Slaughter, Eddie Jones
  • Trombone –  Jimmy Wilkins, Bob Cousar, Paul Riser, Don White, Carl Raetz, Patricl Lanier, Paul Johnson
  • Saxophones – Hank Crosby, Kasuka Mafia,Teddy Buckner, Lefty Edwards,  Bernie Peacock, Thomas “Beans” Bowles,  Eugene “BeeBee”  Mooore, William “Wild Bill” Moore, Angelo Carlisi, Ernie Rodgers, Dan Turner, Eli Fontaine, Larry Nozero, Lanny Austin
  • Flute – Dayna Hartwick
  • Strings – Gordon Staples (concertmaster) and the Detroit Symphony Strings

Arrangers and producers throughout the Detroit era –  Paul Riser, Willie Shorter, Dave Van DePitte,  Wade Marcus, Johnny Allen, Gil Askey, Ernie Wilkins, Jerry Long, Hank Crosby, Slide Hampton, H.B. Barnum

See also our previous post about hittsville-u-s-a-motown-1959-1971

–o–

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3 responses to “Funk Brothers

  1. Pingback: Motown Museum | whatgoodcrafts

  2. 1959 – 62 you’ve listed Andrew ‘Mike’ Terry as ‘Toney’
    Don’t think Earl Van Dyke joined the band until after 1962 but you’ve identified him as being there in that period

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