Faith in the Funk

'Motown' fete hails sound's unsung artists

HOLLYWOOD — Like the old Motown hit says, it takes two, baby.

On Tuesday, the Funk Brothers arrived in two forms — on film and in concert — and they left no doubt as to their monumental contribution to the label’s soul music.

“Standing in the Shadow of Motown,” Artisan’s docu on the little-known musicians who played on the Detroit label’s records, unspooled at the Egyptian. Then, after the screening, the players took the stage down the street at Hollywood’s Knitting Factory.

Gerald Levert, who appears in the film’s recently shot concert sequences, also made it to the Knit to sing “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and, with the assistance of songwriter-turned-Temptation Ron Tyson and Ollie Woodson, a Four Top, he rocked through the Junior Walker hit “Shotgun.”

As in the film, the Funk Brothers reminisced about the crazy times in and out of Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio between 1958 and 1971, offering several tips of the cap to the late, esteemed bassist James Jamerson. Stories about shooting craps and fighting with Marvin Gaye, using musicians as spies and sneaking off to Chi to record with Jackie Wilson kept the packed house in stitches between dead-on perfs of Motown classics. The energetic set list included “Stop! In the Name of Love” with Mary Wilson and an “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” duet between Rick James and Teena Marie. Funk Brothers performing at the Artisan/NARAS event were Joe Hunter, Joe Messina, Eddie Willis, Uriel Jones, Johnny Griffith, Jack Ashford and Bob Babbitt. Pic producer Allan Slutsky, a guitarist, augmented the band along with a five-piece horn section and three backup singers. Comedian Sinbad emcee’d.

Director Paul Justman and Hip-O Records senior VP Pat Lawrence attended, as did Artisan’s Bob Cooper, Amorette Jones, Richard Saperstein, Steve Beeks and Jeff Fink.

Universal Music’s Hip-O/Motown label will release the soundtrack on Sept. 24; pic opens Nov. 15.

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