'Funk Brothers' Bob Babbitt, 74, dies

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittburgh native Bob Babbitt, one of the greatest and most versatile bass players in popular music history, died Monday in Nashville at 74.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Babbitt had been diagnosed in early 2011 with an inoperable brain tumor. He was recently readmitted to the hospital after a year of home hospice care.

Babbitt's gymnastic, groove-rooted bass work bolsters classic recordings including Smokey Robinson's “Tears Of A Clown,” Stevie Wonder's “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” The Temptation's “Ball of Confusion,” Marvin Gaye's “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology),” Edwin Starr's “War,” Gladys Knight & The Pips' “Midnight Train To Georgia” and The Capitols' “Cool Jerk.”

He was known to thousands of fans as a bass player in the Motown session crew called “The Funk Brothers.” The Brothers were the subject of Grammy-winning film “Standing In The Shadows of Motown,” and Babbitt toured in the new century with surviving members of the group.

“Bob was a teddy bear of a guy,” said former Motown engineer Ed Wolfrum. “And he was an extraordinary musician -- a player's player.”

But the scope of his contributions went beyond Motown, as evidenced by the more than 25 gold records (none from Motown, which did not offer gold records to its musician employees) he kept in his home and by a discography that notes his work with remarkable array of artists. Elton John, George Clinton, Carlene Carter, Phil Collins, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Jim Croce, Frank Sinatra, Robert Palmer and hundreds of others hired Babbitt, whose playing was as versatile as it was recognizable.

Born Robert Kreinar, he took classical bass lessons as a child but was far more intrigued by the R&B music he heard on records and on the radio. He began playing in Pittsburgh-area clubs at 15, and he declined a college scholarship in favor of moving to Detroit to begin his professional music career in earnest.

He got his start on the Motor City music scene with the popular local band the Royaltones.

He soon found work in the studio and on the road with Del Shannon, and Detroit producers took notice of his ability to deliver quickly, correctly and soulfully in the studio.

He provided the signature rumble for “Cool Jerk,” and numerous other notable parts. But he did not work at the city's leading studio, Motown, for a time, because of the presence of combustible bass legend James Jamerson. But when Motown chief Berry Gordy purchased Golden World, the studio where Babbit had been working, he had an entry into the world of the Funk Brothers. His first Motown session was with Stevie Wonder, for whom he'd worked on the road.

As Jamerson's drinking increased, Babbitt got called for more and more sessions, establishing himself not as a replacement for Jamerson but as a viable alternative. His playing on Marvin Gaye's 1971 “What's Going On?” album is much-studied today, as is his solo on Dennis Coffey's “Scorpio.” Babbitt and former Motown drummer Andrew Smith worked as a rhythm section, and that duo tracked hits together including the Spinners' “Then Came You” and “Rubber Band Man,” each recorded in Philadelphia.

In 2007, he and the Funk Brothers were inducted into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame. And in June of 2012, Babbitt received a place on the Music City Walk of Fame.

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