Friday, April 23, 2010

The Funk Brothers

It's Friday, the sun is shining and Phil Hughes' people are about two or three more posts away from slapping me with a restraining order, so I thought a nice musical number or two or three would be appropriate. 

Here is Stevie Wonder playing "Don't You Feel It?," backed by the Funk Brothers, Motown's house band, who, legend has it, played on more number 1 songs than Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys combined. 


As YouTube commenter "bigmikerocks" notes, that sound you hear at the 13-second mark is the Motown sound delivered in one perfect drum roll. That was the Funk Brothers: Everything in it's right place. 

If you haven't checked out "In the Shadow of Motown," Paul Justman's remarkable documentary about the Funk Brothers and their unique sound, do so immediately. It is outstanding, simply amazing. I shut down everything to watch it whenever it airs, usually late at night on some obscure cable channel. Every scene includes an amazing story, followed by an equally amazing performance of a particular song by a modern artist. One example stands out. Backed by the surviving members of the Funk Brothers, Joan Osborne just kills "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" Her performance is, in a word, breathtaking. 

As for anecdotes, band member Jack Ashford, a tambourinist, recounts at one point how James Jamerson, arguably the world's greatest bassist, was rustled out of a bar, in the middle of a bender, at the bequest of Marvin Gaye, to lay down the bass line for Gaye's seminal "What's Going On?" Jamerson, who could barely stand up, decided to play his part prostrate on the studio floor. Here's an isolated track of the final result.



The entire documentary is filled with great stuff like that, including what I like to refer to as a Stevie Wonder story. Simply put, a Stevie Wonder story is a story about any widely regarded person, famous or not, who, according to the storyteller, is worthy of his reputation. In the documentary, pianist Joe Hunter explains how Little Stevie Wonder, then seriously just a kid, would hang around the studio asking questions about arrangement and chord progressions, things like that. Smiling broadly, Hunter goes on to explain how after a few more questions, it was clear to everyone Wonder didn't need the Funk Brothers' help. He was good to go. If you're lucky, you've either met or worked with someone like that. A friend of mine recently told me a well-known magazine editor is even better than advertised. A nice Stevie Wonder story. 

Because it's Friday and YouTube won't allow me to post any clips from the documentary, here's a perfect mix of "What's Going On?" and the Beatles' lovely "She's Leaving Home."


Like I said, everything in it's right place.

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