Those guys, those Funk Brothers and bad muthas, played on songs you know by heart, every Motown single and LP released in the 1960s and slightly beyond: "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and too many others to name without running of out room and breath. Yet for too long they've been unknown and unloved, strangers among those who consider their works as familiar as family.
By the time writer Nelson George got to Jamerson for a Musician magazine article in 1983, the bassist whose single-finger playing style reshaped the pop and R&B landscape had been interviewed only twice. He was justifiably angry and understandably bitter after years of toiling in anonymity -- not only in the studios of 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, the home of Motown, but in the shadows of Berry Gordy, who ransacked Detroit's bebop hangouts for its finest players and paid them just enough to force them to take outside gigs. Jamerson died shortly after the story appeared; four other Brothers have joined him since.
Were it not for Alan Slutsky, whose 1989 book and accompanying CDs provide the title for director Paul Justman's documentary about the Funk Brothers, they might have slipped through the cracks and into their graves. But, blessedly, these pioneers have been rescued from the dustbin of myth and history and given their own film, in which they play starring roles twice over -- once when recounting their tales for the camera and again when the band gets back together to recapitulate history using new voices.