In Encinitas, California one finds The Self-Realization Fellowship Temple – a beautiful structure where one goes to find God. If anyone was there on December 27, 2003, they were unfortunately in the wrong place. God could be found that night about a mile down the road in Solana Beach at a place called the Belly Up Tavern. A few hundred fortunate Californians were sharing a moment of transcendence with the Funk Brothers, the legendary Motown musicians, who were entertaining that night.
The Funk Brothers are cool. Not ironic cool. Not retro cool. Just simply, confidently cool. Decked out in matching red jackets and black shirts (keyboardist Joe Hunter also sporting blue suede shoes), they rocked and rocked and rocked some more. They were joined by additional vocalists and musicians from Philadelphia (the hometown of Alan Slutsky, the producer behind the book/movie/tour), a horn section from Southern California, and the vocals of Joan Osborne and Darius Rucker. A worshipful, packed house lent a high-spirited energy that threatened to explode before the first note was played.
“That’s not music!” is a phrase most of us heard growing up. And we knew deep down that the Dave Clark Five was not the equal of Sinatra. Paul Revere and The Raiders were not in the same league as Dinah Washington or Benny Goodman. But humans did not lose musical skills in 1945 and some of this newer stuff was going to last, we just didn’t know which music it would be. Motown has lasted. Sorry Mom, and sorry to all of you jazz purists, but for me it doesn’t get any better than watching Joan Osborne sing “Heat Wave” or “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” with the Funk Brothers behind her. As a child of the 60s, it’s my preference over Dinah or Billie. It needs to be mentioned that the vocals of two relative unknowns, Carla Benson and John Ingram, were outstanding. If one has the nerve to sing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” he better, like John Ingram, be up to it. Few are.
The wonderful subtext to this is the story of incredibly talented Detroit session musicians earning $10 a song for years while producing more #1 hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined, disappearing into obscurity and poverty before being rediscovered and resuscitated by the indefatigable Alan Slutsky. Watching the face of guitarist Joe Messina smiling throughout the entire set was alone worth the price of admission. Their tour is just beginning. Perhaps there are disagreements over money or personality that will surface as time passes. But for one magical night in Solana Beach, these wondrously talented men brought their glorious music to some of the many faithful. I’m a believer.