Like the Funk Brothers, Judge Victor Valdivia was an unsung talent in the Motown machine. You can read all about it in his new book, Guy Who Once Got Stevie Wonder a Cup of Coffee.
Motown's Legendary House Band
The documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown helped bring recognition upon the army of talented but anonymous studio musicians, known informally as the Funk Brothers, who helped bring Motown's songs to life. For most of the '60s, the Funk Brothers played on more No. 1 hits than any other musicians in history, yet they were all but unknown, even to the millions of Motown fans who eagerly purchased records with their music on them. The reasons for this obscurity were, in general, based on greed and ego. Motown founder Berry Gordy wanted his label to be built on singers he could control, rather than musicians he could not, and thus ensured that while singers like Diana Ross and Martha Reeves were stars, the Funk Brothers were never even identified by name on most of the records they played on. As a new breed of talented singer-songwriters like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder emerged at Motown in the late '60s, it became even harder for the musicians to earn recognition. By the time the label moved from Detroit to L.A. in the '70s, the Funk Brothers were no more, replaced by faceless L.A. studio hacks who were cheaper and more malleable than they were. Sadly, most of the band members slowly faded away into poverty over the years, so by the time the film was released in 2002, only a handful of the Funk Brothers were around to enjoy their newfound appreciation. The film's success, however, did give three of the surviving Brothers—bassist Bob Babbitt, drummer Uriel Jones, and guitarist Eddie Willis—an opportunity to assemble a new band, rehearse some of the classic Motown hits they originally played on, and play some concerts.
Live in Orlando was filmed on New Year's Eve 2005 at the Universal Amphitheater in Orlando. Babbitt, Jones and Willis were accompanied by a ten-piece band. Here is the set list:
• "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"
It would be churlish to begrudge these immensely talented veterans their long-overdue chance to reap the rewards and acclaim they so richly deserve. Unfortunately, Live in Orlando can only be described as superfluous. For one thing, the Brothers themselves are barely showcased during the concert. They neither get any solo spots nor are their musical contributions especially audible in the concert's audio mix. Other band members get solos and are easily heard, but the Brothers themselves play unobtrusively in the background. The result is of a competent but anonymous bar band playing some of your favorite Motown classics. It's somewhat validated because of the Brothers' presence, but the show makes them so easy to overlook that they may as well not be there.
It doesn't help that the other musicians are so unimaginative and dull. The remaining band members are capable but none of these versions will make you forget the originals at all. None of the band's three singers uncover new dimensions in these songs and the musicians never change or improve the original arrangements. Even the set list is uninspired, consisting entirely of hits with no new or obscure nuggets to discover. The concert is never unpleasant; classics like "Shotgun," "(Love is Like a) Heat Wave," and "(I Know) I'm Losing You" are always a joy to hear, even in rote recitations. It's just pointless, as there's nothing here that hasn't been heard many times before. Ultimately, apart from the chance to financially support some truly talented and deserving musical giants, there's not much reason to buy Live in Orlando.
The anamorphic 4:3 transfer and Dolby Stereo mix are satisfactory, although why Eagle Rock didn't spring for a 5.1 mix is a mystery. The extras consist of interviews with Babbitt (13:13), Jones (10:23), and Willis (15:25). These are actually more interesting than the concert itself, with some fascinating facts about what life at the Motown hit factory was like. They're the only reason that die-hard Motown buffs might find enough value to acquit Live in Orlando. Otherwise, anyone curious about the Funk Brothers would do better to seek out some vintage '60s Motown recordings to hear the original band at the peak of its powers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Interviews with Bob Babbitt, Uriel Jones, and Eddie Willis
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