Enough With Politics… I Want To Sing With the Funk Brothers!

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I am politically oversaturated. I’ve written about it, read about it, thrown a sock at it when necessary (that would be TV after a minute or two of GOP debates), and I’m as sick of it as a regretful glutton following a hotdog eating contest (pull any pun out of there you’d like). It’s everywhere, in every conversation, the cover of every magazine, and so deeply embedded in the ethers that we’re never gonna get it out of our clothes. So I’m just not talking about it today, at least not in this article (don’t ask about my Facebook page!). I want to talk about something that actually inspires me:

The Funk Brothers

Don’t know who they are? Yeah…too many people don’t. Let’s see what we can do to remedy that.

I do a fairly vigorous power walk most days of the week and I typically have my Ipod going as a much needed pacer. I’ve put together a playlist for this purpose that is quite impressive; mostly dance, funk, and R&B, all with a wide range of pulsating, bass heavy beats to keep me going when I’d rather sit down and sip Snapple. Much of what comprises this playlist is Motown, glorious Motown; older, newer and all of it expertly and artfully played by the amazing Funk Brothers. Every time I listen to this collection that motivates me no matter how I’m feeling or what dusty thoughts are roiling through my head, I get a rush of appreciation and think to myself: “I love these guys!”…which is immediately followed by, “I want to sing with the Funk Brothers!” As I pound my way up the next incline I ponder all the many ways in which I can make that happen.

I have no clue. Really, none.

But regardless, this meditation keeps me going during the more trying portions of my walk and always leads to the impulse that follows: to shine a little light on these musicians who’ve kept me company since childhood and are still doing their part to move me in all the ways I can be moved, particularly as I dance-walk to their beat in a quest to stave off encroaching decrepitude (talk about longtime companions!).

So shine a little light I will.

There was an incredible and very illuminating documentary that came out about ten years ago called Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a film that told the story of the Funk Brothers, that cadre of expert, journeymen musicians who created the iconic and electrifying sound that became known as “the Motown Sound.” This from their website:

With the tumultuous sixties as a backdrop, Motown’s unsung heroes take the viewer on a compelling journey in time as they trace the evolution of The Motown Sound from its origins in Detroit to its demise in Los Angeles during the seventies. Through the eyes of the riveting characters who ruled Hitsville’s studio by day and the club scene of Detroit by night, we enter a world of unparalleled soul and emotion as the Funk Brothers revisit the sites of their musical roots, triumphs, and eventual heartbreak.

The first weekend the movie was out I sat in a huge Hollywood theater with my friend Tina, tapping my foot to the beat of a song that was already playing in my head, and as the lights came down and that pulsating riff from “Standing in the Shadows of Love” filled the room, the rush was overwhelming as we all danced in our seats in communal exhilaration. But beyond incomparable music, the film is a brilliant and touching story about these unsung musicians who made their unforgettable contribution for little money and less recognition, essentially kept in the background until…well, until this film came out. You know that inimitable tambourine heard in most Motown songs? The Funk Brothers. The particular drum beat, the signature bass lines and those guitar riffs you’d know in your sleep? Yep, the Funk Brothers. I want you to read this description of the film on Amazon.com (which I’ve linked here for your convenient ordering!):

Detroit, Michigan, 1959. Berry Gordy gathers the best musicians from the city’s thriving jazz and blues scene for his new record company: Motown. For the next 14 years these players are the heartbeat on “My Girl,” “Baby Love,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “Bernadette,” “I Was Made To Love Her,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Dancing In The Street,” and every other hit from Motown’s Detroit era. By the end of their phenomenal run, the unheralded group of musicians plays on more Number One hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles combined, making them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They call themselves the Funk Brothers. But no one knows their names…this is their story.

And it’s a killer story. Truly. I’ve watched the film countless times, gifted the DVD to friends and family who share a passion for this seminal chapter in music; appreciated all the fine performances of the contemporary artists who appear in the film, but mostly I hold an enduring Standing Ovation for these talented, humble and underappreciated men.

And did I mention I want to sing with them?

The wonderful Joan Osborne performed in the film and did a stellar job as the blue-eyed (brown-eyed?) soul songstress doing proud justice to those kickass R&B classics. I have nothing but fandom for her as an artist and think her version of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” is definitive and chill inducing. But that was a while ago, Joan, and no begrudging your heartfelt and memorable contribution, this really is one of those Bucket Listy things I’ve kept afloat since then and we all know time’s a’flyin’ so forgive the nudge from a sister singer and please clear the stage!

Ack…I don’t mean that, Joan. In fact, let me know when you’re on any stage in my part of the world and I’ll be one of the fans out there mouthing the words to all your songs.

And maybe direct appeal is a better approach anyway.

Um, Funk Brothers…may I call you Funk Brothers? If you’re coming out to the West Coast anytime soon and you’d like to mix it up with a little local talent, my schedule’s pretty open these days so don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m a quick study – hell, know most of your songs already – and just got my voice all in shape for a gig that fell through so I’m good to go. And say, I’ll even fly out to wherever you are; Virgin America just posted some cheap flights and I’ve got plenty of points to throw around. I’m not famous, I’m not that young (but you appreciate that, right?) and it’s unlikely most of my ’80’s mailing list would overcome their stated geezerdom to get out of the house for a gig. But I’ve still got a few fans who are mobile, I’ve developed some newer, younger ones (which is convenient when you need to fill seats past a 9:30 bedtime), I’m told I’ve still got some hip quotient left, and would social-media this baby right into the….well, I’ll just do what I can, promise.

Until then, know you’ve got a fan and booster out here who’s grateful for the music that has had me dancing my entire life, from childhood right up to the other day when that last mile felt insurmountable until “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” kicked in and you did just that – kept me hangin’ on.

So, thanks, Funk Brothers, seriously. And keep in mind that I’d be happy to bring mixed nuts or something sweet to rehearsal…

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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31 thoughts on “Enough With Politics… I Want To Sing With the Funk Brothers!

  1. Lane Aldridge

    Great article–how cool it would be if they would agree to this! Really, really cool! You and your great voice would do them justice.

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    1. LDW

      Thank you, my friend…I had fun even writing the article! Every time I get into this train of thought (on those walks I talk about), I roll the idea around in my head and it just makes fabulous sense…oh how wonderful imagination is! xxoo LDW

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  2. Cris

    sistah, sist! loved the documentary – also seen it multiple times. I also get compulsively in Motown you-tube jags when the spirit moves me.

    My music-to-go machine includes Marvin, Stevie, Diana, Rufus, Temps & Tops, Gladys – solid chunks of glorious thumping old-school soul. I believe the weather is going to be ideal again tomorrow, so perhaps a walk with the camera and Buster is on the agenda.

    Like you, I was getting toxified by politics – work a government desk all day and obsess out threats to my uterus all night after watching the national news. Breathe, breathe.

    You’ve set my playlist for my morning coffee & wakeup – that’s what friends are for. xxoo

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    1. LDW

      It is one of the best, saddest, and most exhilarating stories about the music biz, from my perspective. Perhaps it’s my deep affinity for the music, but there’s something so resonating about the idea of these talented men being so behind the curtain that stokes my desire to holler about them. As wonderful as the singers were (and you know I LOVE them!) and even the songwriters, the Funk Brothers took the most basic of ideas and literally birthed the sounds we all know and love. They’re the ones who came up with those signatures. In today’s world, they’d have agents and the like demanding their royalties! All I can say is, I’m glad they at least got the attention they have from this doc.

      And yes, politics. Ugh. The beat goes on. And on and on and on! 🙂 xxoo L.

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    1. LDW

      Yep…she’s one of the best. Wish she got more attention in this day and age of other blue-eyed soul-singing gals like Adele and Duffy. But at least we vets are still cheering from the seats!

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    1. LDW

      Yeah, come on now, give it a try! Nothing gets you moving quite like the OJs or the Supremes! It’s a flavor you’re likely to develop by the end of the first mile! LDW

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  3. Mark Bryson

    Yes, when the political machinery on hyperdrive gets to be a little too much, music is the perfect antidote! I know you’ll forward me the tour itinerary. Can you get me a backstage pass? 🙂

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    1. LDW

      Ah, Mark, if only that were doable! But if there ever IS an itinerary, you’ll be the first to know (and I’ll see what I can do about a backstage pass! 🙂 LDW

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  4. Hi Lorraine, I can only say I was blown away to receive your message on my blog. I have never been contacted by the photographer of a picture I have found on google, and it makes me all the more thankful that I am in the habit of acknowledging my sources wherever possible (If not always seeking direct permission.) I will add a link to that post which will direct readers to your page. I also manage a communal poetry blog, where we meet and share ideas and link our latest work. Do take a look if you are interested. (http://withrealtoads.blogspot.com/). I do weekly features of Indie photographers.

    I wanted to write a poem using Backgammon as a motif, so I searched via google and looked through lots of pictures. Something about your composition, and the textures really spoke to me. I kept the picture for quite sometime until I felt I knew what I wanted to say. As a poet, I can only thank you for your generosity and understanding in finding your work on some random person’s blog 🙂

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  5. I can hear the Motown playing in my head now, Lorraine! Oh, I’d love to see you sing with The Funk Brothers.

    I need to join the party (that would not be the GOP), and get on the band wagon -listening to good tunes.

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    1. LDW

      Oh yeah…the Motown bandwagon is one of the best to jump on, that’s for sure! Check out this doc when you can. It’s not only touching, it’s a GREAT time! Thanks, Jennifer! xxoo LDW

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  6. You’re passion and honesty never fails to delight me. And your voice…that voice. I was inspired to make a movie just to showcase that voice. Never stop imagining, my friend, and please… dear God, never stop singing. Last but not least…don’t anyone (unless you’re in good physical shape) go on a power walk with Lorraine. I’m still recovering.

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    1. LDW

      Awwww…Pate…so nice. And that movie we made together remains one of the most exciting and hopeful chapters of my life. I promise I will never stop singing, even if it’s just that awful song I typically sing when I’m doing the dishes! 🙂 As for power walking, you were a good sport and we’ll take it easier next time, promise! 🙂 xxoo LDW

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  7. Breana N

    This is the right blog for anyone who likes reading smart stuff about lots of different things. A person realizes pretty quickly you’ve got a lot to say, you say it funny, and it’s hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). Of course nothing to argue about on this one! As a person who has also loved Motown since childhood, you definitely put a new spin on music thats been written about for years. I’ve seen SITSOM but now I want to see it again. Great stuff, just great!

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    1. LDW

      Thanks, Breana! Appreciate your comments on the blog and am delighted you’re going to take another look at Standing in the Shadows of Motown (had to sort out that SITSOM…!). It deserves all the looks it can get. Drop in again any time! LDW

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  8. Can’t say I’m all that into funk or actually being funky…but you’re article almost sells me on the whole funky concept, so perhaps in the future I’ll slide on down and check out funky-town, but in the meantime I’m gonna get my groove on with a little Pink Floyd. 🙂

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    1. LDW

      Well, see, we’ve got a slight difference in our funk quotient. I have great respect for the Pink, but somehow they just don’t get me going quite like the funkmeisters I’ve loved my whole life. But you also gotta know I loved Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and The James Gang, so I’m pretty openminded, right?? You go enjoy. When the urge to get down comes down, you go find yourself a little Funk Bros! LDW

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  9. M. Peete

    Really enjoy your writing. And like you, the Funk Brothers have been favorites for a long time. I saw that doc a long time ago. Seems like I should give it another look. Thanks.

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    1. LDW

      Thanks, M. And you should. It holds up beautifully and it’ll get you dancing just like it did back then! LDW

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  10. I thought this blog was superb and everything that you referenced to was quite relevant to the cause of supporting great artists. Cheers.

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  11. Elly Casteel

    Music always changes my mood and pretty much makes my day. I can understand breaking from politics for a while to listen to some cool tunes! Enjoyed this post and think I’ll have to check out the Funk Brothers myself!

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    1. LDW

      Hey, Elly: Glad you enjoyed the piece. And we certainly DO share an affinity for the power of music. And certainly do check out the Funk Brothers. They’re amazing and will likely do a lot to make your day! Take care. LDW

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