Motown guitarist Eddie Willis was one-third of the guitar trio that was part of the classic Motown studio band dubbed the Funk Brothers. Willis, along with Joe Messina and Robert White, created the catchy guitar-laced rhythmic interplay heard on a slew of '60s/'70s hits from the then Detroit-based independent label. Some Motown hits that feature Willis are Friendship Train by Gladys Knight and the Pips (number two R&B, number 17 pop, late 1969) and Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amour (number four R&B, number four pop, summer 1969) and playing in unison (doubling) an octave lower than White's telegraph-like line on the Supremes' Keep Me Hangin' On (number one R&B for four weeks, number one pop for two weeks, late 1966). A self-taught guitarist, Willis had moved to Detroit from Mississippi in the early '50s. He was fresh out of high school when Motown's first recording star, Marv Johnson (Come to Me), brought him into the fledgling label started by songwriter/producer Berry Gordy. Gordy had written and co-written the early hits of Jackie Wilson (Reet Petite, To Be Loved [number seven R&B, February 1958], Lonely Teardrops [number one R&B, number seven pop, October 1958], That's Why I Love You So [number two R&B, March 1959]). It was Willis or Messina who usually played the backbeat, a key ingredient of the Motown sound that was later used in reggae music ("chunk...chunk"). When Motown moved to Los Angeles, the label began using top L.A. session musicians (including members of the Crusaders), though Willis and the Funk Brothers would occasionally be sent tapes from L.A. by Motown to overdub their parts. But with the death of Funk Brothers' drummer Benny Benjamin, the migration of James Jamerson to L.A., and the retirement of Messina from the music business, the classic studio band faded into history. Willis toured with the Four Tops and still recorded around Detroit, most notably with producer Don Davis (Rated X-Traordinaire-Best of Johnnie Taylor from Sony Legacy, Albert King's Albert King:The Ultimate Collection from Rhino, and David Ruffin's '80s Warner Bros. LPs). ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi

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An Anonymous Legend - Eddie "Chank" Willis | Mississippi Roads | MPB
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