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 The Funk Brothers

Joe Hunter Band

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left to right: Benny Benjamin, James Jamerson, Joe Hunter, Larry Veeder, Hank Crosby

Backing Stevie Wonder

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left to right: Paul, Riser, Herbie Williams, Robert White, Hank Crosby, James Jamerson

Earl Van Dyke

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left to right: Robert White, Danny Turner, Earl Van Dyke, Uriel Jones, James Jamerson

To Motown's stars, the four wooden steps leading down to Hitsville's basement were a bridge to a land of dreams. But to the studio musicians who shaped the Motown sound, the stairs were a gateway to a workplace, a cramped, smoke stained, dimly lit room they affectionately dubbed "The Snakepit."

For almost fourteen years on a daily and nightly basis, the musicians transformed that basement into a hit factory. They rolled masterpieces off the production line in an hour or less, trading friendly insults as they worked. Known as "Funk Brothers", they were utterly unknown.

Berry Gordy demanded assembly-line efficency. Sessions started at 10 o'clock and were over in the afternoon. Most of the time they were three hour sessions. Since they could call for a session seven days a week the Funk Brothers were always on call. They were paid $10 a song until everything was right.

In some of those three hour sessions there might be two or three producers depending on the number of songs. The Union rule was that you could cut no more than four songs at a session. However because the Funk Brothers were an in-house band the Union was never around. So they cut whatever needed to be done.

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At the Chit Chat Lounge 
(l to r: Robert White, Dan Turner, Earl Van Dyke, Uriel Jones, James Jamerson and DJ Martha Jean Steinberg)

When they weren't working at Studio A they could often times be found jamming at Millie's Chit Chat Lounge on 12th Street.

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Here are the names of those musicians, broken down into the three distinct periods of the Motown Sound.

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 intregal components of a world class studio band.

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Benny Benjamin
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Joe Messina
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Robert White

Keyboards - Joe Hunter, Earl Van Dyke, 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" Toney, Norris Patterson, Thomas "Beans" Bowles, Teddy Buckner, Ronnie Wakefield, Lefty Edwards, Eli Fontaine, Ernie Rodgers
Trombone - Bob Cousar, George Bohanon, Paul Riser

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James Jamerson
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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 unshakeable foundation for Motown's stars.

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Richard "Pistol" Allen
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Uriel Jones

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.


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.

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Earl Van Dyke
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Eddie Willis

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

Motown's West Coast Studio Band.

During the mid-Sixties Motown augmented its overwhelming Detroit recording schedule with a few west Coast sessions. In addition to accommodate complex touring schedules the company often flew tapes between Los Angeles and Detroit. The majority of the hits were still being recorded in Detroit, but by the late 60s the Los Angeles operation played an increasingly important role. The Jackson 5 sessions, in fact, were recorded almost entirely in Los Angeles.

Keyboards - Mike Rubini, Joe Sample, Clarence McDonald, Don Randi, Larry Knechtel
Guitars - Arthur Wright, David T. Walker, Thomas Tedesco, Louie Shelton, Adolph Green, Weldon T. Parks
Bass - Wilson Felder, Carol Kaye, Bill Pitman, Ron Brown
Drums - Earl Palmer, Ed Greene, Gene Pello, Paul Humphreys
Percussion - Gary Coleman, Bobbye Porter, King Errisson, Joe Clayton, Sandra Crouch, Jerry  Steinholtz, Emil Richards
Arrangers - Gene Page, James Carmichael, Arthur Wright, Gil Ashley

courtesy  Allan (Dr. Licks) Slutsky

James Jamerson was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000
James Jamerson
Standing In the Shadows of Motown: The Story of the Funk Brothers
Recording at Motown

Best Non-Fiction Film

002 New York Film Critics Circle 

2002 National Society of Film Critics

MIX Foundation 
2003 TEC Award


The Funk Brothers
Lifetime Achievement Award


Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance:"What's Going On," Chaka Khan & The Funk Brothers

Best Compilation Soundtrack Album

In 1959, Berry Gordy gathered the best musicians from Detroit's thriving jazz and blues scene to begin cutting songs for his new record company. Over a fourteen year period they were the heartbeat on "My Girl," "Bernadette," I Was Made to Love Her," and every other hit from Motown's Detroit era.

By the end of their phenomenal run, this unheralded group of musicians had played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined - which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers.

Forty-one years after they played their first note an a Motown record and three decades since they were all together, the Funk Brothers reunited back in Detroit to play their music and tell their unforgettable story in STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN.

With the tumultuous sixties as a backdrop, Motown's unsung heroes take the viewer on a compelling journey in time as they trace the evolution of The Motown Sound" from its origins in Detroit to its demise in Los Angeles during the seventies. Through the eyes of the riveting characters who ruled Hitsville's studio by day and the club scene of Detroit by night, we enter a world of unparalleled soul and emotion as the Funk Brothers revisit the sites of their musical roots, triumphs, and eventual heartbreak.

For more than four decades, from the dance floors of the world, to the Detroit riots of 1967, to the war in Vietnam, the music the Funk Brothers created has played a major role in the cultural fabric of all of our lives. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN finally puts some faces on that music and introduces these heroic musical figures to the world. website copyright 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Elliott Scott Productions, LLC


 the funk brothers

Stevie And The Funk Brothers 

stevie and the funk brothers

Funk Brothers comprised of:

Earl Van Dyke (b. 8th July 1930, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 18th September 1992, Harper Hospital, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. ..)

Johnny Griffith (b. 10th July 1936, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 10th November 2002, U.S.A.)

Pistol Allen (b. 12th August 1932, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A. d. 30th June 2002, William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan, U.S.A.)

Jamerson & Jones james jamerson and uriel jones

Uriel Jones (b. 13th June 1934, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 24th March 2009, Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center, Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.A.)

Eddie Willis (b. Edward Willis, 3rd June 1936, Grenada, Mississippi, U.S.A.)

Joseph E. Hunter (b. 19th November 1927, Jackson, Tennessee, U.S.A. d. 2nd February 2007, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)

Bob Babbit (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.)

Jack Ashford (b. 1934, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.)

James Jamerson james jamerson

James Lee Jamerson Jnr (b. 31st January 1936, Edisto Island, South Carolina, U.S.A. d. 2nd August 1983, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.)

William 'Benny' Benjamin (b. 15th July 1925, Mobile, Alabama, U.S.A. d. 20th April 1969, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)

Edward James 'Bongo' Brown (b. 13th September 1932, Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.A. d. 28th December 1984, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.)

White & Messina rob white and joe messina

Joe Messina (b. 1928, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A)

and Robert Willie White (b. 19th November 1936, Near Harrisburg, Pennysylvania, U.S.A. d. 27th October 1994, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.)

Formed in 1959 by Berry Gordy, the Funk Brothers were essential to the Motown Sound of the 1960's

The band played on more Number One hits than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis combined.

Keyboard player for Motown Records, Johnny Griffith, a classically trained musician, died on Sunday 10th November at age 66.

The Funk Brothers were considered the unsung heroes of the Motown label, playing on hundreds of hits such as the Supremes' 'Stop in the Name of Love' and Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard it through the Grapevine.'

Johnny Griffith toured with several major artists including Aretha FranklinSarah Vaughnand Dinah Washington.

He was a large contributor to the Motown sound and to the group of musicians who comprised the Funk Brothers.

The band defined the Motown sound of the 1960's, which fused gospel, soul and pop, included Stevie WonderSmokey Robinson and the Four Tops.

The Funk Brothers appeared on a Thursday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 2002, as part of the premiere for the launch of 'Standing in the Shadows of Motown,' a new film that recognizes the achievements of the Funk Brothers.

Johnny Griffith also played on several hit songs as a session musician including Jackie Wilson's '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher' and the Chi-Lites' 'Have You Seen Her,' among many others.

The rest of the group played backgrounds on the Motown songs:

'Ain't Too Proud To Beg', 'My Guy', 'For Once In My Life', 'Wonderful One', 'I Was Made To Love Her', 'The Way You Do The Things You Do', 'Dancing In The Street', 'Your Precious Love', 'I Can't Help Myself', 'My Cherie Amour', 'You Keep Me Hanging On', 'My Girl', 'Shop Around', 'Going To A Go-Go', 'Get Ready', 'Heatwave', 'How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You', 'Baby Love', 'Cloud Nine', 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', 'Bernadette', 'Mercy, Mercy Me', 'Signed, Sealed Delivered, I'm Yours', 'Where Did Our Love Go', 'What's Going On', 'Ooh, Baby Baby'.....the list is endless.

The Funk BrothersMotown's Hitsville Studio's

You can check the 'Standing In The Shadows Of Motown' Website, right here

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