Joe Messina

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Guitarist Joe Messina was one of the Funk Brothers as Motown's studio band of the '60s and '70s. Anchored by innovative bassist James Jamerson, keyboardist Earl Van Dyke, and drummer Benny Benjamin, the…
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Guitarist Joe Messina was one of the Funk Brothers as Motown's studio band of the '60s and '70s. Anchored by innovative bassist James Jamerson, keyboardist Earl Van Dyke, and drummer Benny Benjamin, the group also included guitarists Robert White and Eddie Willis, and later "replacement" drummers Uriel Jones and Richard "Pistol" Allen. The band, along with Motown's talented crew of songwriters, singers, arrangers, producers, and engineers, all under the tutelage of Berry Gordy, helped to shape "The Sound of Young America" (the label's '60s/early-'70s slogan). One of the most prolific soul/pop rhythm sections ever, the Funk Brothers recorded pop music history in the small basement of a Detroit house that was converted into a recording studio named "the Snakepit." Like Jamerson, Van Dyke, and Benjamin, Messina started playing jazz at Detroit nightclubs in addition to local TV and radio work. Coming to what would become Motown in 1960, Messina had the highly sought after skill of being a good sight reader and played fluent guitar lines. He was often used when an arranger wanted someone to double Jamerson's bass lines, as on Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Your Precious Love" (number two R&B for five weeks, number five pop in fall 1967). The guitarist was also proficient on keeping the backbeat, a key ingredient of the Motown sound that was later used in reggae music ("chunk... chunk"). For example, listen to the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (number one R&B for eight weeks in spring 1966). Messina created his guitar parts while bouncing ideas off of White and Willis when producers would ask the band to add the right groove to a song. Often recording with all the singers, and on some sessions members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the band and everyone has to be tight because everything was recorded live in one take; one mistake and the recording tape would have to be rewound and everyone would have to start all over again. Motown didn't began overdubbing (having the ability to replace an individually recorded musical part) until the mid-'60s. This led to Messina et al. becoming a tight rhythm section. A few years after Motown moved its base from Detroit to Los Angeles, Joe Messina retired from the music business and opened up a couple of businesses. He's featured on the CD portion of the classic book/CD set of Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson" by Allan "Dr. Licks" Slutsky from Milwaukee, WI.