Greatest Misses

On a freezing February night in 1986, Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to the Earth. We had dinner in the oven when The Mrs. suggested we go out to see it, so I said we should go later. Except we didn’t, not that night or any other night. And since Halley’s Comet isn’t due back until the summer of 2061, I’ll probably never see it now. Of all the big events I’ve missed, that one tops the list. But here’s Number Two on my list of Greatest Misses: A few years back, the Funk Brothers played Summerfest in Milwaukee, and I missed that, too.

The Funk Brothers, of course, are the studio musicians who played at Motown during its golden era. They were profiled in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which finally gave them the wider recognition they’d been receiving from music geeks for many a year. With the death of drummer Uriel Jones earlier this week, the number of Brothers continues to shrink. There were more Brothers than the film profiled—biographer Allan Slutsky lists upwards of 50—but Jones was one of the three longest-tenured drummers of the bunch, playing from 1963 to 1972. He’s most famously heard on the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and some sources say he played on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” as well.

What made Standing in the Shadows of Motown so touching was seeing the joy it gave the Brothers, many of whom had left the music biz behind years before, to be treated like stars at last. Uriel Jones was one of them. After Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles, he stayed behind and did some session work, most notably on Dennis Coffey’s 1971 hit “Scorpio,” but then Jones, who was only 37 years old in 1971, decided to find something else to do with his life. He eventually opened a home-remodeling business.

An edition of the Funk Brothers is still playing, although bassist Bob Babbitt and guitarist Eddie Willis are the only actual Brothers involved. They were in Milwaukee again late last month with Ray Parker Jr., who was briefly a session musician at Motown himself. But the odds that more than a couple of them will ever play together again are growing slimmer by the day.

And if there’s a show (or some other one-shot historical event) you’re sorry you missed, please note it in the comments below.

“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”/The Funk Brothers (bootleg)

5 thoughts on “Greatest Misses

  1. For a few years, my biggest whiff was not going out to see the Olympic torch as it passed through Columbia, Missouri, in 1984. I’m not sure what I was doing that day, but I regretted my inaction almost immediately. Amazingly, in 1996, the Olympic torch’s route brought it along a street a half-block from my apartment. I made sure I saw that one.

  2. There was a long period when I rarely saw shows, spending my dollars on seeing sports instead. I’m sure I missed plenty of swell stuff. Since I got over that, I’ve been fortunate to see lots of great shows.

    But there are three misses at the top of my list. I should have gone to see Johnny Cash, James Brown and Aretha Franklin when I had a chance.

  3. My great miss was not a concert, but a sporting event. I had tickets to Game 4 of the 1982 AL Championship Series. Fortunately, I still have the tickets. It’s a great reminder to a special season.

  4. I was offered an interview with June Carter Cash and, feeling that I had nowhere near the knowledge of her and the Carter Family to do her justice, I passed. She died a matter of weeks later.

    As for the Funk Brothers, a friend’s band was working with percussionist Jack Ashford and I did speak with him in order to write their band bio. Mostly, I simply listened – very gracious fellow.

  5. I skipped the local Stevie Ray Vaughan concert in the summer of ’89.
    See, I’d just gotten my first teenage job (washing dishes at Perkins) and was all serious about it … I was scheduled to work that night and didn’t want to take it off.
    So my dad and brother went and were awesomely impressed.

    I said I’d see him next year … but of course he died the next year, w/o making it back to my neck of the woods.
    I’m not a huge, huge SRV fan, but if I had it to do over again, I would definitely let someone else wash the dishes.

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