Funk Brothers make much-anticipated appearance


They called it The Snake Pit.

It was the tiny room at the legendary Motown headquarters in Detroit where The Funk Brothers toiled in obscurity while providing the music for dozens of the label’s biggest hits between 1959 and 1972 — more No. 1 hits than the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis and the Beach Boys combined.

But, of course, now everybody knows about these session greats — thanks largely to Paul Justman’s 2002 documentary film, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown. Now headliners in their own right, The Funk Brothers make a much-anticipated appearance this Saturday at the 10th annual Southside Shuffle Port Credit Blues & Jazz Festival.

“It was great,” bass player Bob Babbitt says of those times in The Snake Pit. “It was not a real big place. The band was close and was tight together, and you could look the other people in the eye. I think that’s one of the reasons there was success. It just had a spiritual connection. You don’t find that all the time.”

While the singers of those songs found fame and fortune (The Temptations, The Supremes, Smoky Robinson, etc.), The Funk Brothers received a piecemeal payment of $10-$15 per session. But, Babbitt says, there was no real bitterness toward Motown owner Berry Gordy at the time.
“No, I don’t think so. I think the musicians were taken care of,” he said. “I don’t think anybody thought about it. We were just bringing up our families and were happy to work.

“(Afterwards), I went to the East Coast (New York and Philadelphia), and that’s when I knew the impact (our music) had … from some of the questions being asked by the musicians. “The thing that hurt was, there were no credits given on 90 per cent of the stuff. A lot of other people took credit for playing on those sessions. I couldn’t believe it. All the guys have stories.”

Three decades later, The Funk Brothers reunited for the filming of Standing In The Shadows Of Motown. The band was featured in concert, joined by star vocalists like Chaka Khan, Bootsy Collins and Montell Jordan. The soundtrack won them two 2002 Grammy Awards and in 2004 they were honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

There’s three of the original Funk Brothers left, and three have died since the movie, including singer Gerald Levert. The live band includes no less than a dozen members — three singers, two drummers, two guitarists, bass, keys and three horns. It’s the same band featured in their new DVD, Live In Orlando.
And they play all of those classics to draw from — Bernadette, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Shotgun, My Girl, Reach Out (I’ll Be There), You’ve Really Got Ahold On Me, etc., etc.

“We just have fun, and then they have fun,” Babbitt says of the band’s killer shows. “We bring the audience up, and they bring us up.
“One of the most rewarding things is when you see the younger people singing and dancing. And that’s one thing, music is like anything else, it’s an education. We’ve got so many different styles of music out there now — a lot of records don’t even have musicians on them. You hope it’s going to go back to the way it was.”

The Funk Brothers hit the Re/Max Main Stage in Memorial Park at 10 p.m., following Fathead at 7 p.m. and Charlie Musselwhite at 8:30 p.m.
Admission costs $20 or $40 for a weekend pass. For further ticket information, call the Festival hotline at 905-271-9449 or go online to

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