Bob Babbitt, who played in Motown Records’ house band Funk Brothers, died yesterday (July 17) in a Nashville hospice following a lengthy battle with brain cancer. He was 74.
Babbitt was born Robert Kreinar on November 26, 1937 in Pittsburgh, where he lived until moving to Detroit. He began playing bass in the late 1950s, and by 1966, had joined Stevie Wonder’s touring band. His stint with Wonder led him, in 1967, to the Funk Brothers, the nickname given to Motown Records’ band of session musicians. It was in that role that Babbitt did some of his most influential work, adding funky basslines to Wonder’s “Sign, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown” and the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” as well as parts of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album.
When Motown moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Babbitt stayed in east, playing for the likes of Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra and Bonnie Raitt. As Rolling Stone points out, Babbitt played on more than 200 Top 40 hits, from Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” to Elton John’s “Mama Can’t Buy You Love.”
Because Motown’s session musicians were largely uncredited, players like Babbitt flew under the radar. With the release of the 2002 film about the Funk Brothers, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Babbitt found himself getting his just due publicly. “He was one of the last of the breed of journeymen bass players who were total pros, could go in and crank out a hit, go to the next session and crank out another one,” Allan Slutsky, writer/producer of the film, told the Detroit News.
In recent years, Babbitt was presented with a 2004 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, traveled the world with the Funk Brothers, and backed Phil Collins on his 2010 album, Going Back. Just last year, he made an appearance on American Idol, performing during the show’s Motown tribute night.
- Jillian Mapes, CBS Local