Bob Babbitt, Funk Brothers bassist, dies
5:06 PM, July 16, 2012
Motown bass player Bob Babbitt, whose work lit up a host of hits in the ’60s and ’70s, died this morning in Nashville, friends said. He was 74.
Babbitt had been diagnosed in early 2011 with an inoperable brain tumor. He was recently readmitted to the hospital after a year of home hospice care.
“Bob was a teddy bear of a guy,” said former Motown engineer Ed Wolfrum. “And he was an extraordinary musician — a player’s player.”
At Motown Records in the late ’60s, Babbitt’s thick, fluid bass lines drove the groove on songs by the Temptations (Ball of Confusion), Stevie Wonder (Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours), Rare Earth (Losing You), Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (The Tears of a Clown) and many others.
Like his fellow members of Motown’s renowned Funk Brothers studio band, he often moonlighted for other Detroit labels and studios, including United Sound and Golden World, performing on tunes such as the Capitols’ Cool Jerk, the Parliaments’ (I Wanna) Testify, and Freda Payne’s Band of Gold.
Babbitt, a Pittsburgh native who moved to Detroit as a teenager in the late ’50s, got his start on the Motor City music scene playing clubs with the popular local band the Royaltones.
His signature bass line came in 1971 — a stellar solo on the pioneering funk-rock song Scorpio with Dennis Coffey, himself a former Royaltone and Funk Brother.
“Bob had that big, fat sound,” Coffey said today. “The highlight of his career, in my mind, was that solo. It set a bass standard. You didn’t hear bass solos on records, let alone a hit record. Guys were freaking out trying to duplicate it. That was the benchmark for a bass player: You had to be able to play that Scorpio solo.'”
REST IN PEACE BOB, and thank you for the music we’ll enjoy forever.