The Funk Brothers played on more number 1 singles than any other band in history. Sadly, their status as sidemen for Motown Records largely consigned these unsung pioneers to the forgotten corners of the annals of popular music, although a 2002 documentary Standing In The Shadows Of Motown went some way to redressing the balance.
They were instrumental in fashioning the trademark Motown sound, a fact the astute Berry Gordy (Motown owner) realized by keeping most of the musicians under contract for the period between 1959 and 1972 when the company was based in Detroit.
In what was called Hitsville USA, the Funk Brothers worked with all the leading stars of America's premier black music label, a role call including such giants as the Miracles, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Supremes. Sequestered in the tiny Studio A (the Snakepit), the musicians spent all day recording the instrumental backing for releases by Motown artists, who they rarely ever saw because vocals were added at different sessions. Paid at the rate of $10 a song, the Funk Brothers were given no credit on album covers (save Gaye's 1971 masterpiece “What's Going On”) and rarely toured with the big stars.
When Motown relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles the Funk Brothers were left behind by the now waning company. Several members found work on the local club circuit while others gave up music and settled into an altogether different routine of day jobs and raising families.