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Funk Brothers Not Resting on Motown Laurels


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Thought this was pretty cool...

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By John Benson

 

CLEVELAND (Billboard) - Thanks to the success of the 2002 documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," the Funk Brothers -- the unsung jazz and blues musicians who played on all the recordings during Motown's golden era -- have finally garnered recognition with the mainstream public.

 

 

 

Among the 13 members documented in director Paul Justman's critically acclaimed film, only six are still living: Jack Ashford, Joe Hunter, Eddie Willis, Uriel Jones, Bob Babbitt and Joe Messina. They have toured internationally, bringing the Motown sound to generations of fans. However Messina, a guitarist who went on to become a successful Detroit businessman after Motown decamped to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, has retired from the group to spend more time with his ailing wife.

 

"There was about 40 Funk Brothers, if you want to know the truth," says Ashford, the group's percussionist. "So that name Funk Brothers is really blown out of proportion when it's really the Motown musicians; the guys that really performed there."

 

Having toured in the past with Joan Osborne (news), Maxi Priest, Darlene Love and Bootsy Collins, the current Ashford and Hunter-led incarnation of the Funk Brothers isn't relying on mainstream names to garner attention.

 

"We had Ali 'Ollie' Woodson of the Temptations and we've had Freda Payne and Ron Isley," Ashford says. "But we're getting to the point where we don't need them because our background singers are strong enough to carry their own. We have Larry Johnson, who was touring with Mark Hayes. He's a tremendous front man and (keeps) growing."

 

The Funk Brothers will be touring later this month in New York, Cleveland and Glenside, Pa., with a full slate of shows expected throughout the year.

 

As for new recordings, Ashford plans on restarting his vintage label Ashford Records, which during its reign boasted a roster that included Lorraine Chandler and Eddie Parker. Ashford says the first release, due out sometime in 2005, may be a compilation featuring the Funk Brothers performing with various up-and-coming artists.

 

"We have to reinvent ourselves," Ashford says. "We can't live on our old history. Of course, people come out and pay homage and things like that but I'm not looking for homage. I'm looking for new fans. I'm looking for something new because I have a lot more to contribute to music other than what I did back then. Now we have the opportunity to do that, we're just moving forward because we have a lot of things to do and we have less time to do it in."

 

Reuters/Billboard

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