The Motown Sound: the sound that absolutely defined the tone of popular music of the 1960s. Headquartered in Detroit, and founded as Tamla Records in 1959, Motown was a chart-topping hit powerhouse. According to lore, “Hitsville USA” was open 22 hours a day, 7 days a week. Artists on the label, including The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, just to name a few, would tour extensively, return to the studio for a few weeks to record an entirely new record, and hit the road again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Despite the undeniable talent of the label’s singers, the unsung heroes that are the reason Motown's timbre is so sacred are a group of studio musicians known as the Funk Brothers.
Consisting of 13 official members, musical messiahs such as bass player James Jamerson and band leader Earl Van Dyke, crafted musical history with each note. Punching in each day, the Funk Brothers layed down every single instrumental track for Motown’s greatest hits, including but not limited to I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Reach Out and I’ll Be There, as well as Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.
Though started in 1959, the Funk Brothers were never given explicit credit for their work until the 1971 release of Marvin Gaye’s seminal What’s Going On. The name The Funk Brothers was never even a formal title, for the founder of Motown, Berry Gordy Jr. hated the word “funk” for its seemingly rudimentary ring. The moniker, however, supposedly came from Benny Benjamin, one of the group’s two drummers, as the group was leaving a recording session. Benjamin turned to his bandmates as they were packing up and proclaimed “Y’all are the Funk Brothers,” and the name stuck.
Though they split in 1972 following Motown’s move from Detroit to Los Angeles, it is safe to say that the group’s ingenious recording techniques, such as having multiple drummers play on the same track, absolutely defined the Motown Sound.
This week, dig into the sound of The Funk Brothers on our newest August Aux GNRE playlist.