Bob Babbitt, bassist for the legendary Motown house band Funk Brothers, has died, aged 74.
As a member of the hit-machine studio group, Babbitt provided the bedrock for such classic singles as Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown, Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered and laid down the groove on Motown’s all-time biggest selling album, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. He also played on tracks by The Temptations, Gloria Gaynor, Gladys Knight and The Jackson Five.
After leaving Motown, Babbitt continued to work with some of the biggest artists of the day including Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John and Barry Manilow.
Over his incredible career the popular and much loved bassist amassed 25 gold and platinum records. In 2004 he was presented with a Grammy for lifetime achievement after playing on more than 200 Top 40 hits.
Talking to the Detroit Free Press, former Motown engineer Ed Wolfrum said: “Bob was a teddy bear of a guy, and he was an extraordinary musician – a player’s player.”
He was well known among musicians yet only gained wider recognition after featuring in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which told the story of Funk Brothers and their impact on popular music.
The film’s writer and producer, Allan Slutsky, told The Detroit News: “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.”
Born Robert Kreinar in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1937, Babbitt became part of Stevie Wonder’s band in 1966 after freelancing around Detroit. A year later he joined Funk Brothers.
Although a resident of Nashville for 26 years, in 2003 he said that his hectic touring schedule meant that he got little work as a session player in the studios of his hometown. “I couldn’t get producers on the phone,” he told The Tennesseeman at the time.
Babbitt is survived by his wife, Ann Kreinar, and their children, Carolyn, Joseph and Karen, as well as a musical legacy that in the future may never be matched.
You can hear Bob talk about his playing, career and equipment in his own words in the video below:
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What’s your favourite Bob Babbitt track?