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Joe Messina, Motown Funk Brothers Guitarist Dies at 93

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Joe Messina was by all accounts, together with his personal, a soft-spoken man who was happiest whereas taking part in his guitar. However as one in all Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers studio band, Messina spoke loudly with the instrument, on hits by practically each act throughout Motown’s golden age.

“Joe was a brilliant participant, a jazz participant. He beloved to work,” Dennis Coffey, one other of the Funk Brothers’ guitarists, informed Billboard about Messina, who died on Monday [April 4] on the age of 93 within the Detroit suburb of Northville after battling kidney illness. 

“Joe was the perfect sight reader within the guitar part,” continued Coffey, including that Messina’s most well-liked instrument, a Fender Telecaster, “was uncommon for jazz gamers” who sometimes most well-liked “the large bins.” However the Telecaster allowed Messina to distinguish himself withom a corps that additionally included Robert White and Eddie “Chank” Willis, bringing a clear sound to his equivalent to Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing within the Avenue,” the 4 Tops’ “I Can’t Assist Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” in addition to recordings by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Surprise, the Temptations, the 4 Tops, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and others. 

Messina can also be credited with creating the Interval Examine Technique, a taking part in approach utilizing diatonic and chromatic scales.

Throughout a 2005 interview with the Musicians Corridor of Fame & Museum, Messina shared that due to Motown’s quick and livid recording tempo, he “by no means knew a lot about our sounds… I recorded them and once we left the studio I didn’t have an opportunity to play them once more, so I didn’t know the songs.” When the Funk Brothers got here to prominence once more with the 2002 documentary Standing within the Shadows of Motown and went on tour after its launch, “they might say, ‘We’re gonna play such and such a music.’ I’d say, ‘How does it go?’ ’trigger I had no thought,’” Messina stated.

Born in Detroit, Messina took up guitar as a youth, taking part in his father’s Gibson L7. He dropped out of highschool to play music, performing in space golf equipment and main his personal Joe Messina Orchestra. He was additionally a part of the home band for the televised Soupy Gross sales Present. “Individuals know (Messina) due to Motown, however as a jazz participant he was throughout it within the 50s and 60s,” stated fellow guitarist Steve Shepard, a buddy and frequent taking part in companion for the previous 35 years. “Joe was a man each musician aspires to be — any tune, any key, any tempo. Between his expertise and his ear he discovered his place to suit into something.”

Motown founder Berry Gordy recruited Messina, together with different jazz musicians, from the town’s jazz golf equipment — in Messina’s case on the 20 Grand in 1959. Messina recalled that Gordy provided him $10 per music — $5 greater than what he was paying different musicians — and Messina countered with a $10 per hour fee. It wound up costing Gordy an excessive amount of cash to retain Messina at one level, however he introduced the guitarist again when Motown started paying union charges, placing him and different Funk Brothers on wage, with an unique contract. 

“I thought of it simply one other job, however I did have enjoyable,” Messina recalled. “I bear in mind… they informed us we had a No. 1 hit music. It didn’t imply a lot to me ’trigger it was only a job. I had no concept that it could symbolize something apart from it could earn cash for the corporate.”

When Motown relocated to Los Angeles in 1972 Messina selected to remain in Detroit and gave up taking part in guitar for 30 years, taking on harmonica for a change of tempo. He additionally centered on enterprise endeavors, together with a jewellery retailer and automobile wash, in addition to caring for his spouse, who had a number of sclerosis. His curiosity was rekindled by the Standing within the Shadows of Motown venture, which resulted in two Grammy Awards — for the movie’s soundtrack and a Lifetime Achievement Award for the Funk Brothers — in addition to a star on the Hollywood Corridor of Fame in 2013. Messina performed with the group for 2 years — together with on his first tour ever — however most well-liked a quieter life again in Detroit. He continued to play at occasional jam periods in native golf equipment and informally with different gamers through the years. 

“The testomony is here’s a man in his 90s and guys half his age, skilled guys, had been exhibiting up at his home on daily basis, to not sit by his rocking chair, however to play with him — and he was kicking their asses!,” Shepard stated. “And by no means did I expertise a session the place Joe stated, ‘I’m drained. Let’s cease, guys.’ Joe was at all times the final man standing. He was at all times able to hold taking part in.”

The Motown Museum paid tribute to Messina, noting that he was the primary Funk Brother to donate an instrument to its “The Magic Behind the Music” exhibit. “Amongst different issues, Joe was recognized for conserving the backbeat, heard in lots of Motown hit songs,” the Museum wrote in an announcement. “We bear in mind Joe Messing for his prolific contributions to the Motown Sound.”

Messina is survived by a son, Joel, and daughter Janice Coppa, in addition to 4 grandsons and 6 great-grandchildren. Memorial preparations are pending. 


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