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Standing In the Shadows of Motown February 18, 2009

Posted by Wheneva Whateva in I Heart Music, Pass the Popcorn.
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“To be acknowledged at this time in our lives after all these years is unbelievable for me as an individual and also for the rest of the Funk Brothers…You’d have thought with all those great records back in the day, it would have happened for us but it didn’t.  But better late than never.  This is the high point of our careers.”  –Bob Babbitt, Funk Brothers’ bassist

shadowsmotownEveryone can name Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Temptations, but few knew the band that played on those records.  Motown’s Berry Gordy gathered the best musicians in Detroit to serve as the house band for Motown Records, but was not credited on the albums until 1971.  These unsung heroes became known as the Funk Brothers.  As the opening narration states, “They played on more number one records than the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined.” The film brings the musicians all together for the first time in 30 years for a show and to tell their story.  The film plays like one big jam session with a mix of first-hand storytelling and contemporary artists accompanying the band on Motown’s biggest hits.

This movie evolved from Allan Sluthsky’s book  Standing In the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson. Sluthsky is a musician himself and labored for years to find the funding for the film project.  It’s evident that the Brothers are truly happy to be together again and have their story made known to the world.  One amazing scene takes us through the layering technique of The Temptations’ “Ain’t to Proud to Beg.”  The drum starts, then the bass, throw in the guitar, and finally the tambourine, and you have the classic Motown sound.  As the Motown execs loosened the production grip the Funk Brothers moved into their psychedelic phase, especially on The Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” album.  Then abruptly Motown moved its operations to Los Angeles leaving the Funk Brothers without their main source of income.  Some followed the company there, but the sound was never the same without the collective group.

Starring the Funk Brothers: Richard Allen, Jack Ashford, Bob Babbitt, Johnny Griffith, Joe Hunter, Uriel Jones, Joe Messina, Eddie Willis
With Gerald Levert, Chaka Khan, Joan Osborne, Meshell Ndegeocello, Boosty Collins, Ben Harper
Narrated by Andre Braugher

Directed by Paul Justman

See also: Motown 50 & Xtra Xtra: Motown