Joe Hunter, first Motown bandleader and 'Funk Brother' dies at 79
DETROIT - Joe Hunter was a Motown original. When Motown was first built in 1959, Berry Gordy hired the talented pianist Hunter as his first of a brand of musicians that would be deemed the Funk Brothers. Hunter also played a pivotal role in the development of Motown sound with his piano work becoming key equivalents to hit records by the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and Martha Reeves. Hunter, a longtime diabetic, reportedly died this afternoon at the age of 79. He won three Grammys due to his work with the Funk Brothers and recounted memories of Motown glory in the critically-acclaimed documentary, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown". He'll be sorely missed.
Try it, you'll like it/what the world needs now/is a little more love... - Marvin Gaye
Post by Diamond Girl on Feb 4, 2007 2:02:58 GMT -5
'Funk Brother' Joe Hunter, 79, dies Sat Feb 3, 3:54 PM ET
Joe Hunter, Motown's first bandleader and a three-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers, has died. He was 79.
Hunter was a diabetic, but the cause of his death on Friday was not immediately known, his son, Joe Hunter Jr., told The Detroit News.
Hunter was Motown legend Berry Gordy Jr.'s first hire. He backed up acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on piano in the late 1950s, as Gordy mustered a staff for what would become Motown Records. Hunter also served as Motown's first bandleader in the early days.
The Funk Brothers played backup on many Motown recordings. Hunter's piano work was an integral part of such songs as Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" and "Come and Get These Memories," and Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy." After Motown left Detroit in 1972, like many musicians, Hunter took what gigs he could.
When Philadelphia musician and historian Allan Slutsky set out to find all the Funk Brothers in the 1980s, he found Hunter playing for tips at the Troy Marriott.
After the documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" was released in 2002, the Funk Brothers' soundtrack album won two Grammy awards in 2003. In 2004, Hunter and the Funks were awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys, and the group toured for several years.
Post by Diamond Girl on Feb 4, 2007 2:07:12 GMT -5
Funk Brother Joe Hunter dies at 79 Posted 2/3/2007 10:32 AM ET DETROIT (AP) — Musician Joe Hunter, a three-time Grammy winner with the legendary Funk Brothers, has been found dead in his Detroit apartment. He was 79. Hunter was a diabetic but his cause of death was unknown, The Detroit News reported. His son said it appeared he was trying to take some medicine when he died on Friday.
Hunter had just returned from a European tour with fellow Funk Brother Jack Ashford.
Born in Jackson, Tenn., the raw, rootsy piano player moved to Detroit just before he turned 12.
Hunter was Berry Gordy Jr.'s first hire, to back up acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on piano in the late 1950s, as Gordy mustered a staff for what would become Motown Records. Hunter also served as Motown's first bandleader in the early days.
His piano work was an integral part of such songs as Martha and the Vandellas' Heat Wave and Come and Get These Memories, and Marvin Gaye's Pride and Joy, but after Motown left Detroit in 1972, like many musicians, Hunter took what gigs he could.
When Philadelphia musician/historian Allan Slutsky set out to find all the Funk Brothers in the 1980s, he found Hunter playing for tips at the Troy Marriott. Hotel guests had no idea who he was.
After the documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown was released in 2002, the Funk Brothers' soundtrack album won two Grammys in 2003. In 2004, Hunter and the Funks were awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys, and the group toured for several years.
Post by Diamond Girl on Feb 4, 2007 2:13:23 GMT -5
Joe Hunter: 1927-2007
Motown's first Funk Brother dies at age 79
Susan Whitall / The Detroit News
I t was a sad day for Motown fans Friday as three-time Grammy winner Joe Hunter of the Funk Brothers was found dead in his Detroit apartment. He was 79.
While the cause of death was unknown at press time, he was diabetic, and his son said it appeared he was trying to take some medicine when he died. Hunter, whose jovial personality and snappy dress sense delighted his fans, had just returned on Sunday from a European tour with fellow Funk Brother Jack Ashford.
Born in Jackson, Tenn., Hunter moved to Detroit just before his 12th birthday, although he never lost his Southern accent or charm. He was a raw, rootsy piano player who started out in the 1950s backing up acts such as Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, but he could play jazz or Professor Longhair and Fats Domino-style New Orleans piano as well.
Hunter was Berry Gordy Jr.'s first hire, to back up acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on piano in the late '50s, as Gordy mustered a staff for what would become Motown Records. Hunter also served as Motown's first bandleader in those very early days.
His soulful, bluesy piano is the first thing you hear on the Marvin Gaye song "Pride and Joy."
That piano work was an integral part of such songs as Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" and "Come and Get These Memories," but after Motown left Detroit in 1972, like many musicians, Hunter took what gigs he could.
"He was like a father to me and a buddy," said A.J. Sparks, who became alarmed when he hadn't heard from Hunter since his return from Europe. Sparks called Hunter's son, Joe Hunter Jr., who went in with Detroit police and found his father. "Please tell people that we need their prayers," Hunter Jr. said.
"He will be welcomed in heaven," said fellow Funk Brother Bob Babbitt.
"I just called his name today," said a stunned Martha Reeves on Friday.
"Joe was one of a kind," said Bert Dearing, owner of Bert's in the Marketplace and Bert's on Broadway. Hunter not only played his clubs, but Bert's in the Marketplace was a favorite hangout.
"If I couldn't find any other musicians, he was always willing to come and do a one-man show. He'd play blues, jazz he worked all my clubs."
Dearing said there will be a gathering of musicians, fans and friends for Hunter at Bert's in the Marketplace after funeral arrangements are set.
Bruce Resnikoff, president of Universal Music Enterprises, the parent label of Motown, issued a statement: "Joe Hunter's piano and stellar leadership helped birth the 'Motown Sound.' You can't miss Joe's piano on those great early hits. The first of the Funk Brothers, his terrific riffs and easy-going musicianship will live forever."
The glamour of Motown wore off quickly for Hunter after the '60s. When Philadelphia musician/historian Allan Slutsky set out to find all the Funk Brothers in the 1980s, he found Hunter playing for tips at the Troy Marriott. Hotel guests had no idea who he was.
"Joe was kind of a throwback character, an English country gentleman in an R&B blues body," said Slutsky, whose book and film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" chronicled the Funk Brothers' saga.
"He would come off with that backwoods thing, talking about corn 'likker'and stuff, but then he would quote Shakespeare," Slutsky added.
After the documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" was released in 2002, the Funk Brothers' soundtrack album won two Grammys in 2003. In 2004, Hunter and the Funks were awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys, and the group toured for several years.
Hunter's life wasn't all about rhythm and blues and Motown. He was a longtime supporter of the late Mother Waddles. His son confirmed that up to the end of his life, Hunter was on-call to go anywhere to play for the Mother Waddles mission.
While the Funk Brothers had splintered into several different groups in recent years, Hunter and his colleagues, who played in Motown's Studio A at 2648 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit, would never again be nameless players, the musical engine behind all the hits.
"It makes me really happy that I got to see Joe get his place in the sun and get a little bit of his dream," said Slutsky. "In the beginning of the movie, he said when the dust settled (from Motown), it was all over for him. That proved to be wrong. He got his dream in the last part of his life."
In addition to his son, Hunter is survived by a daughter, Michelle, and three grandchildren.
Post by Diamond Girl on Feb 4, 2007 23:33:20 GMT -5
First of Motown's Funk Brothers Published: 05 February 2007 Joseph Edward Hunter, pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader: born Jackson, Tennessee 19 November 1927; married 1957 Mabel Miller (one son, one daughter); died Detroit c 1February 2007.
In 2002, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the documentary directed by Paul Justman and based on the book by Allan Slutsky, rightly put the spotlight on the musicians who backed the Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Four Tops and dozens of other Motown artists on hundreds of sessions between 1959 and 1972. Nicknamed the Funk Brothers, the house band toiled away in Studio A, "the Snakepit", at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, were originally paid a flat $5 or $10 a session and later drew a monthly salary, but received no credit or royalties - though they put their stamp on "The Sound of Young America" as much as the star vocalists and songwriters and producers.
However, when the Motown founder and owner Berry Gordy Jnr moved the company lock, stock and barrel from its original "Hitsville USA" home in Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972, the session players who had featured on more hits than Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined were left high and dry and went back to the jazz clubs they had first come from.
"When the dust cleared, we realised it was all over and we were being left out of the dream," said the keyboard-player Joe Hunter in the documentary:
Well, I was always aware it would happen. The first day I talked to Berry about playing in Hitsville, he said he wanted to make some hit records, and, after he made those records, he wanted to get in the movies. So I knew that it wasn't going to last forever.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown helped Hunter, the guitarists Eddie Willis and Joe Messina, drummer Uriel Jones, bassist Bob Babbitt and percussionist Jack Ashford get belated recognition for their work at Motown as they told their story and recreated some of their classic recordings behind Chaka Khan, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper and Bootsy Collins.
The Funk Brothers won two Grammys for the soundtrack album in 2003, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, the year they played a triumphant concert at the Royal Festival Hall, where they were joined by Steve Winwood and Billy Preston.
Born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1927, Hunter grew up in a musical environment and watched his mother give piano lessons until he picked up enough tips to play on his own. He retained an interest in classical music throughout his career, naming Rachmaninov as an influence alongside Nat King Cole.
He moved to Detroit with his parents in his early teens, retained his Southern accent and manner, and played clarinet in the school band. Between 1949 and 1951, he studied law at the University of Detroit before going into the army as a general's house orderly. There, he played in bands with the jazz drummer Elvin Jones and Earl Van Dyke (keyboards), who later joined him at Motown.
When Hunter went back to Detroit in the mid-Fifties, he could play jazz like Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson or New Orleans boogie-woogie in the style of Professor Longhair or Fats Domino, but he still turned up in church to play organ on Sundays. He backed acts such as Cab Calloway and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and was spotted by Gordy at Little Sams, a Detroit club. Indeed, Turner was the first musician hired by Gordy and led the Motown studio band between 1958 and 1963, when he wasn't out on tour with Jackie Wilson, the artist his boss had written "Reet Petite" for before launching his own label.
At Motown, Hunter helped Gordy recruit local jazz musicians to the house band and rehearsed the singers before recording began. "When I first went there, we didn't have too many arrangers or anything. Guys came in with ideas and you put your ability to it, arranging and what not," said Hunter.
Playing a Steinway grand piano or a Hammond B-3 organ, Hunter made stellar contributions to early hits such as Marv Johnson's "Come to Me" (1959), "Way Over There" (1959) and "Shop Around" (1960) by the Miracles with Smokey Robinson, the much-covered "Money" by Barrett Strong (1960), the Contours' infectious million-seller "Do You Love Me" (1962), "Come and Get These Memories" and "Heatwave" by Martha and the Vandellas (1963) and "Pride and Joy" by Marvin Gaye (Hunter's bluesy intro is particularly memorable on the 1963 hit).
"I enjoyed playing on those things because I had the freedom of expression, to do what I wanted to do. It wasn't written for me. I added my own writing to them, for the arrangements," he recalled.
Hunter resigned from Motown in 1963 and freelanced as an arranger, pianist and bandleader with Jimmy Ruffin, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Junior Parker, Edwin Starr, Big Maybelle and Aretha Franklin. But, by the late Eighties, he was playing for tips in the lounge of the Troy Marriott hotel in Detroit. Encouraged by Slutsky's efforts to set the record straight about the Funk Brothers' contribution to the Motown sound, Hunter published an autobiography, Musicians, Motown and Myself: the dawn of a new sound (1996).
In 2005, prompted by the success of the documentary, the Soul-Tay-Shus label released a CD of Hunter's archive recordings with the Funk Brothers entitled The Hawk: rare & unreleased transitional Detroit R&B 1960-1963.
A snappy dresser with an easy-going disposition, Hunter enjoyed reading Plato and quoting Shakespeare as much as talking about his days at the dawn of the Motown hit factory. "People who choose music as their profession are blessed, if they can obtain a decent wage. Fortune and fame was never the name of my game," he said: "We were musicians backing people. At least I'm in history for doing something, accomplishing something. It was a lot of experience, it was fun. I'm not bitter about anything now. I never knew this day would come when we would get two Grammys. I'm proud to know I've lived long enough to receive that."
Post by Diamond Girl on Feb 8, 2007 18:16:44 GMT -5
Services set for Motown's Hunter
Susan Whitall / The Detroit News
Services for Joe Hunter, the jovial, popular pianist who accompanied artists such as Jackie Wilson and then was Motown's first Funk Brother, hired by Berry Gordy Jr. for his Motown Records studio band, were set by his family.
Hunter died last week; he was found in his Detroit apartment on Friday by his son, Joe Hunter Jr. The late Hunter had just returned from a brief European tour.
Viewing will be 4-8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Barksdale Funeral Home, 1120 E. State Fair St. in Detroit.
The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Little Rock Baptist Church, 9000 Woodward Ave. in Detroit.
A jam session featuring Hunter's many musician friends will take place Saturday after the funeral; a time and place will be announced soon.
You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or swhitall@det news.com.
"I don't consider myself as being a heckuva singer. I'm more of a stylist, if you will." Levi Stubbs, Jr.
Post by Diamond Girl on Feb 24, 2007 13:57:24 GMT -5
February 11, 2007
Motown brethren remember Funk Brother Joe Hunter
'If there is a Motown session in heaven, Joe is there'
Susan Whitall / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- Little Rock Baptist Church was brimming with music, musicians and more than a few tears as the Rev. Jim Holley presided over services for Funk Brother Joe Hunter today.
Hunter died Feb.2, at age 79.
Many of Hunter's Motown colleagues showed up to say goodbye to the pianist, known for his wit and kindness, in a church directly across the street from Northern High, where Hunter graduated in 1945.
"I need you to loosen up a little, I want you to all be Baptists," Holley quipped to the diverse group gathered at the church. "Joe Hunter enjoyed his life. I want you to loosen up and do it his way."
Among the Detroit contingent were producer Clay McMurray, James Jamerson's widow Annie; A.J. Sparks; Paul Riser; Johnny Allen; Ernest John, brother of Little Willie John; bassist Wendell Lucas, Bobby Rogers of the Miracles, Charles Davis of the Contours, Gino Washington, Marcus Belgrave, Raymond Tilmon of the Detroit Emeralds, Golden World singer J.J. Barnes, and Motown producer Hank Cosby's widow Pat.
Cal Street and Bertha Barbee McNeal of the Velvelettes drove in from Kalamazoo and Funk Brothers Bob Babbitt and Jack Ashford flew in from Nashville and Memphis respectively.
Paul Justman, the director of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," the documentary that brought the Funk Brothers out of the shadows as Motown's studio band, came the farthest, from Los Angeles. He sat next to his brother, Seth Justman, the keyboardist for the J. Geils Band, who'd flown in from Boston. Allan Slutsky, who wrote the book "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" and executive produced the documentary based on it, couldn't make it in from Philadelphia but sent his condolences.
Also there were Ejuana Taylor, who sang with Hunter in his last band and singer/songwriter Sir Mack "Mustang Sally" Rice and Sierra Hurtt-Akselrod, representing her father Phil Hurtt, producer of the last CD Hunter worked on, "Soulful Tale of Two Cities."
"He was great," said Paul Justman, of Hunter. "I don't know if people realize just how great."
In the church, gospel singer Sandra Feva sang a heartfelt "His Eye Is On The Sparrow," accompanied by Willie Wooten on piano.
Then Joseph Hunter III, son of Joseph Hunter Jr., Hunter's only son, set everybody back a step when he sang a stirring "I Need You Now" by Smokie Norful.
The young Hunter said he would prompt a look of contempt from granddad Joe when he sang a Chris Brown or Usher song.
"So I decided to sing something that he might like," the grandson said, before unleashing a vibrant, full-bodied voice that filled the cavernous church.
Hunter was also survived by a daughter Michelle, two other grandchildren, and his former wife, Mable Hunter.
Holley got into the spirit of things by referencing Motown songs that Hunter played on. The pastor talked about how Hunter's music brought together black and white, Christian and Jew to his church that day. But the funeral of a Funk Brother brought a unique problem.
"I have a difficult time saying 'funk' in the pulpit," said Holley, with a laugh. "But it is what it is."
Several friends spoke briefly about Hunter.
Street, of the Velvelettes, described how the almost-always affable pianist nonetheless had a great ability for putting someone in their place.
"I was trying to tell him how to play 'Needle in a Haystack' one time, and he said 'Excuse me miss, but I played on that song, you don't have to tell me anything.' "
Street added: "If there is a Motown session in heaven, Joe is there and all the Motowners are with him, singing. And I can't wait to join them
"But not too soon!" she added, prompting smiles and laughter.
Born in Jackson, Tennessee, Hunter moved with his family to Detroit in 1939. After graduating from Northern High School he did a stint in the Air Force, where he met future Funk Brother Earl Van Dyke. Hunter started gigging as a musician in the early '50s, backing up Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Jackie Wilson and other acts. He joined up with Motown in 1959.
"I remember Joe from seeing him in the clubs," said Duke Fakir of the Four Tops. "He was just the sweetest guy."
"Always a gentleman. Whenever I saw him he was in good spirits," said singer Spyder Turner.
"We go all the way back to Chappie's," Motown singer Frances Nero said, of the downriver club frequented by the Funks and Motown stars.
"Did you see what he's wearing? He's dressed like a showman," said his Funk Brothers colleague, bassist Babbitt. Just as in life, in death Hunter was debonair in a tuxedo, white gloves and patent leather, silver-tipped shoes.
Holley opined that Hunter would be stirring things up in heaven.
"He'll put a little hump into what's going on with the angels, just like he'd put a hump into his music. He added so much music and joy into this life."
Jam sessions were held in Hunter's honor both Friday and Saturday night at Bert's in the Marketplace.
You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or email@example.com.