Joe Messina, the prolific guitarist whose work with the Funk Brothers can be heard on an array of Motown classics, died Monday, April 4, the Detroit Free Press reports. He was 93 years old.
Messina died at his home in Northville, Michigan after a long battle with kidney disease. Despite his long illness, Messina’s son Joel said not only did his father live alone until a month ago, but he still frequently invites other musicians over to play.
“As one of the original Funk Brothers, Joe Messina leaves a lasting legacy as one of the creators of Motown sound,” said Robin Terry, CEO and President of the Motown Museum. Free press. “A powerful talent, he was personally recruited by Berry Gordy and had a huge impact during the label’s most formative years. We are thinking of his family and his fans, and will continue to celebrate his musical contributions for generations to come. »
Born and raised in Detroit, Messina began his career as a jazz guitarist in his hometown, doing live and studio gigs, commercial work, and appearing regularly on television. He was part of the house band at ABC Television Studios in Detroit, while starring in the popular Detroit-based television show, The Soupy sales fair; these concerts gave Messina the chance to play with jazz legends like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.
Messina was one of many musicians Gordy recruited from the Detroit jazz scene when he started Motown in the late ’50s and needed to put together a house band (he was also one of a handful of white musicians in a radically integrated group during C’est l’heure).
Messina was one of three guitarists the Funk Brothers had on hand during Motown’s heyday – Robert White and Eddie Willis being the other two – and he specialized in giving songs a simple yet distinctive rhythmic backbeat. His constant guitar work can be heard augmenting bass and drum work on such hits as “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Four Tops and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” from The Temptations?
Messina has played on records by virtually every major Motown band, from Diana Ross and the Supremes to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles to Stevie Wonder. Plus, his work is all over what is arguably the label’s most important release, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic, What’s going on. (In addition to all his Motown work, like Billboard notes, Messina pioneered an alternative playing technique known as the interval study method, which used diatonic and chromatic scales.)
After more than a decade of success with Motown, Messina not only stepped back from the label, but also from the guitar, after Gordy moved Motown’s headquarters from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972. Messina instead focused on running various local business ventures, taking care of his wife. , and play the harmonica too.
In the early 2000s, Messina and the Funk Brothers reunited, first around the documentary Standing in the shadow of Motown, then for a few years on the road together. the Standing in the shadow of Motown The soundtrack won Messina a Grammy Award in 2003, while two years later the Recording Academy honored the Funk Brothers with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In a 2005 interview with the Musicians Hall of Fame, Messina discussed his guitar career in general and the work he did with Motown. He admitted that when he first joined the Funk Brothers, he thought gigging was just a steady job and steady paycheck. “Of all the jobs I’ve had, I thought this would be the least important,” he said. “Of course it took care of business… I thought it was my money music. Motown was for fun, it was work. And it ended up being good.