Standing in the Shadows of Motown : An Interview with the Funk Brothers (Jack Ashford, Percussion; Joe Hunter, Keyboards. And Uriel Jones, Drummer)
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Interviewed by Wilson Morales
(Jack Ashford, Percussion; Joe Hunter, Keyboards. And Uriel Jones, Drummer)
In an interview with blackfilm.com, 3 of the living 6 members spoke about the fruition of finally getting the world respect they so rightly deserve.
WM: How does it feel to finally get the world recognition for the work that you did on Motown Records?
Jack: Weíre still in a state of euphoria. Unbelievable. Itís great.
Uriel: I feel pretty good.
Joe: Itís very big for us.
WM: What kept you going as a group to get this film made?
Jack: By us not expecting it to happen, itís a surprise. But of course, weíre thankful that it happened. We had our doubts in the beginning because it 11 years to happen. We promised our fallen comrades and ourselves that we would do our best if it did come to fruition. To keep their names up front also.
Joe: You said exactly what was in my head.
Uriel: He said the same.
WM: This film basically says that Motown didnít give you the recognition you so rightly deserved. Have you heard of any gripes from their camp?
Joe: Yes, I have. I heard that a lot of piano players and drummers claim they were also members of the Funk Brothers and that they should have been included in the film. They were there during the beginning like these brothers here, Uriel Jones and Jack Ashford. That was the opinions of a lot of musicians all the way down to California. A bongo player from California claimed that she was a Funk Brother.
Jack: We havenít had any feedback. Berry Gordon sent a letter congratulating us for our success in doing
this. But as far as some of the other artists and everything, he may have gone to some individually and talked with them. But I always say that we never received a Christmas card in all these years.
WM: Who owns the rights to the tunes that you created for so many hits?
Jack: Motown, and the writers and the publishers that were involved. Now that publishing rules have changed the copyright goes back to the original owners when they reach a certain age. We donít have anything to do with that. We were just the performers. We have nothing to do with the rights and we have no legal rights or claim to it even though a lot of the songs ended up being our creation. Sometimes the arrangement of a song was done when we were finished working on it. That tells you there what was happening.
WM: What was the catalyst that led you to get this film made?
Uriel: It was Alan Slusky. He had visions that he can take the Funk Brothers and do with something with it on a count that he had wrote a book about the base players and the book did so well that he figured he could take further than that. Thatís when he got in contact with the other members and it took him 16 years to come where we are today.
Joe: When it comes to the Funk Brothers themselves coming to Motown, it comes under different directions. I had to bring some from the beginning. Jack and Uriel both came in through Marvin Gaye. Everyone came in through different paths until we all got together.
WM: Can you describe the feeling of going back to studio where it all got started?
Jack: It brought back lots of memories from the days when we worked there, back in the 60s and 70s. The room hasnít changed as much. It looks the same as when we played our last session. You could still hear the voices of Earl and James (Jameson). It was a very weird feeling. Very hard to describe, but itís like super deja-vu. Thatís what it was.
WM: How does it feel when you hear your creation being used today by artists today or when you someone like Sean ďP. DiddyĒ Combs use samples of the songs you help create?
Uriel: Itís a different feeling than it was before. Before it gave you an empty feeling because you couldnít challenge it and say that it was you. Someone else would say it was him or her. But now, once our faces and our names are put with the music, itís a different story. Now when I hear my tune played another song, I could say that it was me who created it and I got proof. Before I couldnít say that, now I got bragging rights and that means something.
Joe: We had a guy in Chicago studio say that he was me. I was introduced to him before he heard my name and then when me who I was and I said, ďIím Joe Hunter from Motown, the same as youĒ, he said froze a bit. He apologized for using my name and said he that he used it to get a job with Chess Records.
Jack: In regards to Sean Combs thing, the scope of that I donít know if you can put a dollar value on that because he built an empire that didnít cost that much. Whatever we went through to create the Motown sound, whatever Berry Gordon went through, the artists themselves, as well as the marketing and development behind it, and then another person comes in and samples it and makes twenty times of what you got off it, itís something to think about. Iíd be liar to sit here and say that it didnít bother me at all. Times have really change. Because of his ability to do that and the acceptance from the people, I wonder where will all that go? Is there an end to that type of a thing or is it the beginning of something else. If he could do that and it didnít take talent to do that, then whatís next. Put out a record that is 3 minutes of silence and say thatís a hit?
WM: What kept you going throughout the years from the Funk Brothers stop working for Motown to where you are now?
Jack: Trying to forget about it and go on with my life. You canít run away from the Motown sound because every 15 minutes somewhere in the planet someone is playing something that we did. Now thatís a little hard to deal with because weíre not getting paid for our work which still is going on today. So you forget about the pay and think about the honor of contributing something to the
Joe: I kept on working in the music field. I worked with different groups like Big Mabel up in New York, Jackie Wilson, and people I had known before they became famous. Lots of jobs were offered and I took some and rejected some as well. I worked at different places until I got back with these guys. It was a big challenge as to whether I could still play the Motown stuff because Uriel still had the beat and my beat was my foot, stomping the floor and playing the piano.
Uriel: When things like that come up, you try not to let it get you down. You just have to forget about it and shift gears and go to another level, and thatís what I did. I stayed pretty busy around the cities, playing music and doing some carpentry work, but I survived. When Motown first left, it made a big difference as to how I lived. But I had to make changes and live with it. Iíve been luck.
TO BE CONTINUED...