Joe Messina Funk Brothers Guitarist Passed Away At 93
Joe Messina of Funk Brothers and one of the original guitarists for Motown Records has died on Monday, April 4, at the age of 93.
The reports stated that Joe had died of natural causes linked to a kidney disease he had been battling for 12 years. The news was confirmed by Messina’s son, Joel on the The Detroit News.
Dubbed as the “white brother with soul” by his peers, Messina was born on December 13, 1928, in Detroit. He started playing guitar as a child and dropped out of high school to pursue a career as a jazz musician.
At a young age, he began performing in local clubs and founded the band, Joe Messina Orchestra. He then joined the house band for the daily children’s television program, The Soupy Sales Show, where he played alongside jazz legends such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
In 1959, Motown founder Berry Gordy recruited Messina to join his group of studio musicians and record at the label’s Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters. From then on, Messina has served as an official Funk Brother through 1972.
Throughout his career from the late ‘50s to the early ‘70s, Messina played on hit records by the likes of Martha & the Vandellas, Four Tops, The Temptations, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and The Supremes.
Despite playing in anonymity, Messina and his fellow Funk Brothers fellow regulars, Robert White and Eddie Willis have recorded more No. 1 hits than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley combined. In 2005, he told the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum:
“I never knew much about our songs anyway, because I recorded them, and when I left the studio I didn’t have a chance to play them again, so I didn’t know the songs.”
In 1972, Messina stopped working for Motown after the label moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. He also stopped playing guitar for the next 30 years and instead, turned to play the harmonica. The Funk Brothers went on tour in 2002 after being highlighted in the Standing in the Shadows of Motown documentary. The surviving band members received a Grammy Legend Award in 2004.
The Motown Museum paid tribute to Messina on Facebook, writing:
“It is with a heavy heart that Motown Museum announces the passing of one of Motown’s original Funk Brothers, Joe Messina.
“We remember Joe Messina for his prolific contributions to Motown Records and Motown Museum. In the museum’s first temporary exhibit called “The Magic Behind the Magic,” a tribute to the Funk Brothers, it was Joe who donated the first instrument, his famous guitar.
“Motown Museum sends our sincere condolences to the Messina family, and to Joe’s friends and fans around the world.”