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Motown Monday

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This is kind of a good news/bad news blog. We'll start off with the good news. Stu Miller, a fellow I know in Los Angeles has been spearheading a drive to get The Funk Brothers a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. You remember The Funk Brothers? Well, probably the best explanation I can give you is this:

The Funk Brothers in one form or another were the backbone of all those Motown hits I grew up with, and finally began to get their due with the release of the documentary "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown" 11 years ago.

Miller, who led an earlier effort to get The Funks a lifetime acheivement Grammy award, directed the project that raised the $25,000 that was needed to finance the project with the help of Valerie Simpson, Paul Shaffer (Letterman's band leader) and Ray Parker, Jr. (Radyo, "Ghostbusters"). Parker, with an undeclosed donation last month, put the effort over the top.

The sad part is there aren't many Funk Brothers left. I believe Joe Messina (guitar), Eddie Willis (guitar) and Jack Ashford (percussion) are all of the core group of musicians still alive. But to me it's no matter. These guys deserve the honor. Without the Funk Brothers, all those hits.....

.....just wouldn't be.

Now the bad news, and it comes in triplicate. The first and most recent has to do with The Miracles (yes, as in Smokey Robinson and the...). It was announced yesterday that founding member Bobby Rogers passed away after a long illness at the age of 73. Along with Claudette Rogers Robinson, Pete Moore and Ronnie White, they formed a tight harmony backing to Smokey's vocals. It's Rogers here singing the counter to Smokey's lead.

After Smokey went solo, Rogers held the group together, scoring a #1 hit with "Love Machine"....

.....and leading a touring group of Miracles off and on until illness forced him off the road a couple of years ago. Here's the group from a PBS special a couple of years ago.

That's Sidney Justin on lead (Bobby's the one with the glasses), who sounds remarkably like Smokey. Rodgers owned the name "The Miracles" and did a very good job of keeping the group "pure".

What has gone unnoticed was his songwriting. He teamed with Smokey to pen such tunes as "The Way You Do The Things You Do" (The Temptations), "Going To A-Go-Go" and a favorite of mine....

....The Contours' hit that gained new fame when J. Giles burned up "Full House Live" with their version. Bobby Rogers was a class act. Like any class act, he will be missed.

Also within a week, we lost 2 Temptations, as late last month, Damon Harris (62) and Richard Street (71) passed away. Both joined the group in the early '71 as they were transforming from the hitmakers of the '60's to a more topical sound that marked their early '70's hits. A lot of people forget that the Temptin' Temptations were not a "lead with backup" group, but more of a cooperative effort. It was never David Ruffin and The Temptations (a lesson Ruffin learned when he was fired), or Eddie Kendricks and the....or Dennis Edwards and was just The Temptations. Worked that way on record too, witness Street and Harris taking their turns on this gem (Harris is on lead).

Street replaced Paul Williams and stayed with The Temptations for 20 plus years. Harris, who was 20 when he joined the group, replaced Rickey Owens (who himself had replaced Eddie Kendricks) and lasted with the group for 5 years, through their last string of hits.

I am very happy to say that I have seen all 3 groups mentioned here (plus The Contours). The Miracles and The Temptations in Detroit, and The Funk Brothers in Seattle during a tour following the release of the documentary "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown". My thanks to them for being a soundtrack of my youth.

As a bit of an aside, the recent video of The Miracles comes from one of T. J. Lubinsky's "My Music" specials, which he produces and have been a staple of PBS fund drives since 1998. If you get the chance, watch them, and realise that it may be your last chance to see artists like Edwin Starr....

....Bobby Rogers, Davy Jones, Earl "Speedo" Carroll, Johnny Mistro and others who have passed since they taped one of T.J.'s specials. It's living history that's dying away at an alarming rate. Enjoy it while you can.