February/March 2007 | Volume 58, Issue 1
Although the Wrecking Crew is widely considered the most prominent group of pop/rock studio musicians to come out of their day, other cities and other music styles had their own important session players.
In Motor City a disparate group of local session aces hired by the music impresario Berry Gordy became known as the Funk Brothers and, unbeknownst to the public, played virtually all the instruments on just about everything released by Motown Records. From Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around” to the Supremes’ “Love Child” to the Temptations’ “My Girl,” the Funk Brothers provided the backing on hundreds of hits: James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt on bass; Johnny Griffith, Earl Van Dyke, and Joe Hunter on keyboards; Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, and Robert White on guitar; William (“Benny”) Benjamin, Richard “Pistol” Allen, and Uriel Jones on drums; and Jack Ashford and Eddie (“Bongo”) Brown on percussion.
By the mid-1960s the locus of popular music had permanently shifted from Manhattan to Los Angeles. However, New York still managed to garner, at least for a while, its share of important recording sessions, with well-known artists like Roberta Flack, the 4 Seasons, Tom Jones, Fats Domino, the Rascals, Jackie Wilson, Dionne Warwick, and others cutting albums there. The most prominent players on these sessions regularly included Chuck Rainey and Anthony Jackson on bass; Paul Griffin, Artie Butler, and Richard Tee on keyboards; Al Caiola, Eric Gale, Vinnie Bell, and Carl Lynch on guitar; Grady Tate, Gary Chester, Bernard (“Pretty”) Purdie, Jimmy Johnson, and Donald McDonald on drums; and Ralph McDonald and Gordon (“Specs”) Powell on percussion.
Made famous in song by the Lovin’ Spoonful, Nashville had its so-called cats, better known in country-music circles as the A-Team. They played with everyone from Roy Orbison to Tammy Wynette to Patsy Cline—even with Bob Dylan on his Nashville Skyline album—and several have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. They included Bob Moore on bass; Hargus (“Pig”) Robbins and Floyd Cramer on keyboards; Ray Edenton, Hank (“Sugarfoot”) Garland, Harold Bradley, and Grady Martin on guitar; Buddy Harman on drums; Pete Drake on pedal steel; Charles McCoy on harmonica; Boots Randolph on sax; Tommy Jackson on fiddle; and the Jordanaires on backing vocals.
Sixties and seventies artists such as Elvis Presley, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Al Green, Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, and many others made Memphis, known as “Soulsville USA,” their recording base. The city’s first-call session players included Mike Leach, Tommy Cogbill, Jerry Scheff, Leroy Hodges, Duke Bardwell, Emory Gordy, Jr., and Donald (“Duck”) Dunn on bass; Bobby Woods, Charles Hodges, Booker T. Jones, Dan Penn, and Glen D. Hardin on keyboards; Steve Cropper, Mabon (“Teenie”) Hodges, John Wilkinson, and James Burton on guitar; Gene Crispian, Ronnie Tutt, Howard Grimes, and Al Jackson on drums; and the famous “Memphis Horns,” Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson.—K.H.