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Funk Brothers's Blog

The Snake Pit

Posted on November 13, 2008 at 11:00pm 2 Comments

by Robert Dennis

In the 1960's an independent record company in Detroit, Michigan began creating and marketing hit records better and in larger volume than any record company in the world. The name of this record company was Motown. The recording techniques that were developed by Motown in the mid 60's were part of the formula for the company's success. Even today, many of the recording techniques used find…



  • 1.
    Fever In The Funkhouse

Standing In The Shadows..

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The Funk Brothers

Joe Hunter Band
funk1.jpg (3828 bytes) left to right: Benny Benjamin, James Jamerson, Joe Hunter, Larry Veeder, Hank Crosby
Backing Stevie Wonder
funk2.jpg (4949 bytes) left to right: Paul, Riser, Herbie Williams, Robert White, Hank Crosby, James Jamerson
Earl Van Dyke
funk3.jpg (4256 bytes) 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.

funkchitchat.jpg (371084 bytes) 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.

funkroom.jpg (21601 bytes) funbkroom2.jpg (26750 bytes)

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

1959-1962 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.

benjamin.jpg (7399 bytes) Benny Benjamin
messina.jpg (6735 bytes) Joe Messina
white.jpg (5786 bytes) 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

jamerson.jpg (3603 bytes) James Jamerson
funk_b1.jpg (1665 bytes) Earl Van Dyke

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.

pistol.jpg (6053 bytes) Richard "Pistol" Allen
urieljns.jpg (4378 bytes) 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.

vandyke.jpg (6239 bytes) Earl Van Dyke
willis.jpg (4146 bytes) 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 Who's who of the Funk Brothers Standing In the Shadows of Motown: The Story of the Funk Brothers Recording at Motown

Comment Wall (6 comments)

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At 1:57am on December 9, 2009, Edie Antoinette said…
Thanks Gloria. I'm pretty much a "mad scientist" as you can see...

At 1:51am on December 9, 2009, Gloria said…
Oh I just have do do some more exploring around this site!!! This is excellent!
At 1:26am on December 9, 2009, Edie Antoinette said…
Jamerson is cuttin up in that "Fever" cut...
At 1:22am on December 9, 2009, Edie Antoinette said…
I'm sorry it took me so long to acknowledge your comments Gene and Sole. Thank you both for taking the time to come by. I wanted to do something special for these masters.
At 1:49am on August 1, 2009, KnightD12 said…
Great post Edie. These guys are some of the best musicians there ever was. You could hear the first few notes of the song...and you knew that was them. Such a distinct and unique sound. They were wayyy overdo in gettin` their props.
I especially love that "My Girl" track. Such sweet music to my ears.
At 5:08pm on November 16, 2008, Shelley "SoleMann" King said…
This is tight, real tight....Well done and very informative. Glad to see these Brothers finally got their props after so many years...I love the fever in the funkhouse too....SMILE

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Spotlight | Maze

  1. play Maze — 03 Feel That You're Feelin'
  2. play Maze — 04 Somebody Else's Arms
  3. play Maze — 04 Southern Girl
  4. play Maze — Can't Get Over You
  5. play Maze — Golden Time Of Day
  6. play Norman Brown — Night Drive
  7. play Norman Brown — Feeling
  8. play Norman Brown — Still
  9. play Miles Davis — miles 1
  10. play miles 2
  11. play miles 3
  12. play miles 4
  13. play miles 5
  14. play Marvin Gaye — I Met A Little Girl
  15. play Santana — 01 Singing Winds, Crying Beasts
  16. play Santana — 02 Black Magic Woman-Gypsy Queen
  17. play Mongo — 02. Afro Blue

The history of the Butlers/Raw Soul is dense, but for all of us music nerds, that's normal. It is not totally clear what year the Butlers actually formed but they released their first single in 1963 on Liberty Records. That single was "She Tried To Kiss Me" and another single followed on Guyden entitled "Lovable Girl." After the Guyden single the Butlers took a break not recording another record until the single "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" was released on the Phila label in 1966. The group also backed Charles Earland and Jean Wells on one Phila single ("I Know She Loves Me"). 

As you might be noticing, the Butlers were doing a fair amount of recording but not achieving much success. The group's recordings sold regionally but never had the promotion to make an impact on the national scene. After the single with Phila, the Butlers moved to the Fairmount label (part of the Cameo-Parkway family) and released a handful of singles, some being reissued singles of the past. The Butlers were with Fairmount for 1966-67 and then moved to Sassy Records. Sassy released the group's greatest single (in my opinion) "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" b/w "If That's What You Wanted." A copy of that 45 sold for just under $500 last summer on eBay. Even though that isn't that much in the world of record collecting--it's still a hefty sum. The Butlers released another single on Sassy ("She's Gone" b/w "Love Is Good") that appears to be even 
harder to come by then the "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" single.


The true history become a bit blurred here as the AMG biography states that the Butlers last record was released on C.R.S. in 1974 (". However, between 1971 and that single, Frankie Beverly formed a group called Raw Soul and released a number of singles. Some of the songs recorded by Beverly during this period are "While I'm Alone," "Open Up Your Heart," (both on the Gregor label) and "Color Blind." "Color Blind" was released by the Eldorado label and rerecorded by Maze. Beverly's big break came when Marvin Gaye asked Raw Soul to back him on a tour. Gaye helped Beverly/Raw Soul get a contract at Capitol. Beverly decided to take the group in a different direction, a name change occurred, and Maze was created. 

The above isn't the most complete history of Beverly but hopefully someone will know a way to get in touch with the man or his management because a comprehensive pre-Maze history needs to be done on Frankie Beverly (his real name is Howard, by the way). Below you'll find every Frankie Beverly (pre-Maze) song available to me right now ("Color Blind" will be up soon). 

If you have a song that is not included below, shoot it over to funkinsoulman (at) and it will go up in the next Frankie Beverly post (later this week--highlighting Maze). Also, if you have any more information please share your knowledge. The Butlers material has been comp-ed sporadically (usually imports) but the entire Maze catalog has been reissued and is available. 

Enjoy.  "She Kissed Me" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967) 
 "I Want To Feel I'm Wanted" (not sure which label or year) "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" (Phila, 1966) "Because Of My Heart" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
 "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" (Sassy, 1967)
 "If That's What You Wanted" (Sassy, 1967)

Frankie Beverly is one of those cats that has lasting power. He started in the music business doing a tour with doo wop group the Silhouettes and then formed his own group called the Blenders. The Blenders never recorded a single, Beverly wouldn't appear on wax until forming the Butlers a few years later. Along with Beverly, the Butlers included Jack "Sonny" Nicholson, Joe Collins, John Fitch, and Talmadge Conway.

Beverly would later enjoy great success fronting Maze and Conway would become a
well-known penning Double Exposure's
"Ten Percent" and the Intruders' "Memories Are Here To Stay." 
 While Maze is a phenomenal group, Beverly's work before that group will always stand out as his best (imo).

The Butlers produced tunes that most Northern Soul fans would kill for and Raw Soul gave the funksters something to pursue. If, by chance, you know of a way to get in touch with Frankie Beverly or his management, please drop me an e-mail. It would be absolutely great to do an interview with him about his pre-Maze work. He's still playing out, most recently doing a New Year's Eve show in Atlanta.
:: Funkinsoulman ::

Power...Through Simplicity ♪♫♪



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