RIP Bob Babbitt…Great Funk Brother Bass Player

Bob Babbit’s base line on Scorpio is legendary…dig it!

Standing in the shadows of Motown…

In the Snake Pit…

The Detroit News

July 17, 2012

Funk Brother Bob Babbitt a ‘total pro’

Experienced bass player contributed to numerous memorable Motown hits

  • By SUSAN WHITALL
  • / The Detroit News

Bob Babbitt, a bass player for Motown’s studio band the Funk Brothers, died Monday morning in a Nashville hospice, according to his son, Joe Kreinar. Babbitt was 74.

The veteran musician, born Robert Kreinar in Pittsburgh, had been battling brain cancer for some time.

“He was a tough man — strong,” said his son, Joe. “He could take pain. Right now I miss him deeply, and it’s only been a few hours.”

Although Babbitt’s musicianship was always known to other players, his fame spread to a broader audience after the release of the 2002 film about the Funk Brothers, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”

“Funk Brothers” was the nickname that Motown’s studio rhythm players gave themselves. They weren’t credited on any Motown recordings by design because the instrumentation was so vital to the “Sound of Young America” that Berry Gordy Jr. was afraid that his competitors would hire them away.

Even in that heady company, Babbitt was known for being able to sit down, plug in and hit an unstoppable groove.

“He was one of the last of the breed of journeymen bass players who were total pros, could go in and crank out a hit, go to the next session and crank out another one,” said Allan Slutsky, writer and producer of “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”

Setting the bar high

Babbitt had a big impact on the Detroit scene well before Motown. He had family living in Michigan and his wife, Ann, was from Dearborn, so it was an easy decision to spend most of his time here as a young working musician.

That’s him on several Del Shannon songs, including “Little Town Flirt,” “I Go to Pieces” and “Handyman.” The thrum of his bass can be heard on other seminal Detroit hits such as “Cool Jerk” by the Capitols,” “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” by Deon Jackson, “War” and “S.O.S. Stop Her on Sight” by Edwin Starr.

Babbitt’s bass solo on “Scorpio,” the 1971 international smash by Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band, propels the song along so memorably, that, as Detroit bass player Ralphe Armstrong once said, every bass player in Detroit had to be able to play it or they couldn’t get a gig.

“His bass solo on ‘Scorpio’ has not been equaled, when you get right down to it,” Coffey said. “That set the bar pretty high for bass players.”

Babbitt started spending more time at Motown in the late ’60s, when there was so much work, the label’s famous bassist James Jamerson couldn’t keep up with it.

It was Babbitt’s bass providing the funky bottom on Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye, among many others.

Move to Nashville

After Gordy packed up and took Motown to Los Angeles in 1972, Babbitt continued to work in Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, cutting some memorable sides for Thom Bell with the Spinners (“Rubberband Man” and “Then Came You.”)

When he moved to Nashville, things quieted down a bit.

As Babbitt told The Detroit News in 2002, many established studio musicians in Nashville had been falsely claiming to be Motown sidemen for years. By the time he arrived and gave his legit Motown credentials, nobody believed him. The release of “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” was his vindication.

“Now, with this film, everybody will know who we are, and what we did,” Babbitt said.

After the release of the film, he and the Funk Brothers won two Grammys and toured in the United States and Europe. In 2010, Phil Collins flew Babbitt and the Funks to Europe to record an album, “Going Back.”

In March 2011, Babbitt appeared on “American Idol,” playing “You’re All I Need To Get By” behind Jacob Lusk.

He was stoic about his fight with brain cancer. Coffey is happy he talked to his old friend about six weeks ago. “We talked about the old days,” Coffey said. “I said ‘Man, I always bring you up for that solo on ‘Scorpio.'”

In addition to his son, Babbitt is survived by his wife, Ann, and two daughters. Memorials are in the works for Nashville and Detroit.

swhitall@detnews.com

twitter.com/swhitall

 

Bob Babbit plays bass on all these hits…WOW

SOS-Edwin Starr

Love makes the world go round-Deon Jackson

Listen to both Bob Babbitt and Dennis Coffey on the great Temps hit…Ball of confusion

Rare Earth
I’m losing you

The Spinners
Rubberband Man

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