Drew Schultz’s artist recommendation: “If there’s one band that’s had the most influence on my life so far, it’s got to be The Funk Brothers. Although they’ve had some exposure because of the documentary film about them called Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, I believe that they’re still the largely-unsung heroes of R&B and Soul music. The Funk Brothers were the studio recording band that played the instruments on nearly every hit that Motown Records recorded during its Detroit era of 1959-1972. Regardless of the songwriters, singers, producers, or even sometimes record labels, The Funk Brothers are a common thread through countless hits by artists including the Four Tops, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Contours, Mary Wells, Junior Walker & The All Stars, The Isley Brothers, The Spinners, Jackie Wilson, The Dramatics, John Lee Hooker, and countless others. I could fill up this entire piece just by listing artists who they recorded for. The actual song titles could probably fill a library.
Although the name originally referred to a core group of the Motown session players, today The Funk Brothers name has evolved to include the jaw-dropping roster of musicians that made up the regular rhythm section in the Hitsville studios in Detroit. They really packed that studio too. Once you start listening closely to many of these iconic hits, you can hear that they recorded with two drummers, two hand percussionists, three guitarists, two keyboard players, and bass guitar, all BEFORE adding horns, strings, and singers. They made each instrument fit in like a puzzle piece. For example, check out the guitar work on some of these hits and you’ll see that while Eddie Willis might be chanking up high on his axe, Robert White is strumming a rhythm line, and Joe Messina is playing a single-note line lower on the instrument that weaves in and out of the other patterns. Each player had a role, and they rarely deviated from that role. Because of this, The Funk Brothers had this interlocking percussive sound that is way more nuanced than most folks realize.”
Not familiar with The Funk Brothers? Drew suggests you start here: “If I could recommend one specific album to find that will get you into The Funk Brothers, I’d say you’ve got to find the deluxe edition of the Standing In the Shadows of Motown soundtrack. Hear some of the live performances from The Funk Brothers’ triumphant reunion. Check out Bob Babbit’s slick eighth note triplet bass walkdown in (Love Is Like A) Heatwave. Hear drummers Uriel Jones and Richard “Pistol” Allen meld together seamlessly as they both play kit on I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Listen to the mind blowingly intricate bass line that James Jamerson played on the Four Tops hit song Bernadette. Hear the crowd go wild as the announcer goes down the list of members from the “greatest hit machine in music history;” bassists James Jamerson and Bob Babbit, drummers Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, and Richard “Pistol” Allen, percussionists Eddie “Bongo” Brown and Jack Ashford, guitarists Robert White, Joe Messina, and Eddie Willis, keyboardists Joe Hunter, Earl Van Dyke, and Johnny Griffith. All of this is only on the first disc!
The second disc of this deluxe CD set might be solely responsible for teaching me how to write and arrange soul music. The bonus content consists of remixes of the original instrumental tracks that The Funk Brothers recorded for Motown. During the songs, instruments will fade in and out of the mix so you can hear how this immense cast of players made their parts fit together in the overall picture. You can hear how the three guitars didn’t get in the way, how the two drummers made things lock in, and how each ostinato rhythm section pattern becomes a hook all by itself. I’ve been trying to emulate that feel and that spirit ever since I started writing. Whenever I’ve felt down or needed music to pick up my spirits, I reach for Motown music. Having dug into Standing In The Shadows, I now know that I’m really reaching for The Funk Brothers.”
About our guest author, Drew Schultz: The nickname “Kid Motown” couldn’t be more appropriate for percussionist Drew Schultz. Drew began playing the drums at the age of 13 and specifically keyed into the Motown sound for inspiration. He studied music at NYU and began performing in his teens with his idols, The Four Tops, and later with The Temptations, The Dramatics, Aretha Franklin and Martha Reeves. Earlier this year, Schultz released an album of 16 originals called Back to Class which features performances from The Four Tops, Dennis Coffey, James Jamerson Jr. and Melvin Davis. Now, Schulz is back with a new single that features Eddie Willis of the original Funk Brothers (see the great video for Take It Slow featuring Eddie below). Beyond the album and single being chock full of soul greatness, there’s another reason to check out these tunes: 50% of the profits will go to benefit the music programs at the Detroit Public Schools. Please support this fantastic cause and buy the music that will reward you with smiles for days to come.
Be sure to check:
* The Back To School YouTube Channel
* Buy the Back to Class CD
* More coverage of the Back to School Project on the Blue Bird Reviews website (thanks so much for introducing us to Drew, Bluebird!)