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Sunday, February 04, 2007

One Less Funk Brother

I have a strong affection for Motown, which provided a rich soundtrack for my youth. Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Marvelettes, the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Jackson 5, and many others were on the Detroit oldies station constantly growing up.

Most people never heard of the Funk Brothers, a nickname given to the musicians who played on all those tracks from 1959 until 1972. They were by trade jazz and blues men, who made some extra cash playing on Motown records.

When you consider that they played "on more number-one records than the Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys combined," it is a tragedy that they made so little. After Motown relocated to Los Angeles in the 70s, most of the musicians were let go. Motown was changing and the artists who helped craft the unmistakable sound were simply forgotten.

That was until Alan Slutsky wrote a non-fiction book about the Motown musicians and Paul Justman created a documentary based on the book: "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." The movie reunited the Funk Brothers and brought them back into the public consciousness. Finally the world met the artists who helped create some of the world's most notable pieces.

The story of Motown from the perspective of the Funk Brothers is one of triumph, tragedy, and hope. I can't help, but relate it to the city of Detroit, which has still has not recovered from the race riots decades a go. At one time Detroit was one of the biggest and most important American cities, and it was simply forgotten.

Joe Hunter, one of the original Funk Brothers was forgotten. Prior to the documentary, he was playing piano in a Marriott for tips. Most of the hotel guests had no idea who he was.

Justman's documentary changed everything. It brought vindication and fame to Hunter and his Funk Brothers. Hunter won a Life Time Achievement award from the Grammys and the film soundtrack won 2 more Grammys. The Funk Brothers reunited and went out on several successful sold out tours. The Funk Brothers after 30 years of neglect were finally on top of the world.

The Funk Brothers show their funky awards.

Sadly, there is one less Funk Brother in the world. Joe Hunter died a few days ago, but the memories of Joe, and his contribution to the world of music live on. His piano work can notably be heard on "Heat Wave," "Pride and Joy," and "Come and Get These Memories."

Joe Hunter: The last couple of years brought much happiness.

I highly recommend watching "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." It's a well executed film filled with a lot of human spirit. Each of the musicians is an interesting individual in their own right and they have a lot to say about the 60s, race relations, Detroit, their own background, and the music business.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown: A

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