The Funk Brothers Biography

The most successful group of studio musicians

Biography and Guitar Lessons

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough bass line

The Funk Brothers

Motown’s house band didn’t have an official name. Most of the time, they weren’t even credited on the albums.

When they performed with their bandleader, they went under the name Earl Van Dyke & the Soul Brothers. Apparently, Berry Gordy didn’t like the name Funk.

Made up of a core of fifteen studio musicians, they did, however, play on more #1 hits than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys put together.

The Funk Brothers were active during 1959 and 1972, when Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles.

Perhaps the greatest musician in the Funk Brothers was their bass player James Jamerson. His intricate bass lines are incredible melodies, many times more elaborate than the vocal melody.

A great example of Jamerson’s genius can be found in his Ain’t No Mountain High Enough bass line. Above is a video demonstrating this clearly using a visual representation.

It would be silly to list all the songs they played on, as you can see below, I’ve has recorded six of their songs, making them the most covered band on Spytunes!

The 2002 documentary Standing In The Shadows Of Motown was the first time they got any real recognition. It’s a great insight into the brutal life of being a musician in the 60s.

For example, their farewell gift in 1972 came in the form of a note on the door simply stating “No work today”.

Guitar Lessons

Can I Get A Witness – Step 2 (Free Preview)

To learn how to play this riff in an improvised way all over the neck, first work your way through all examples one by one.

Then start improvising.

Go to Can I Get A Witness step 2.

Get Ready – Step 2 (Free Preview)

First of all, you must try playing the riff in all positions. Not only will this teach you to play the riff better, but you’ll also manifest the Minor Pentatonic scale in your hands.

Moving a riff around like this is a much better idea than just practicing the scale up and down.

Go to Get Ready step 2.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Step 2 (Free Preview)

During the verse, the Ebm feels like the I chord of a blues.

Sure, the order and length of the chords are different from a standard blues, but the overall feel is there. It’s just that the I chord is now a Im chord.

Go to I Heard It Through The Grapevine step 2.

Jimmy Mack – Step 2 (Free Preview)

In this step, we learn the intro. The chords are extended and substituted to create more jazzy sounds.

First, learn all examples as the TAB says, then start improvising what shapes you play.

Go to Jimmy Mack step 2.

My Guy – Step 2 (Free Preview)

The more you change between the rhythms and positions, the better.

Right now, this is not about performing the song, this is practicing getting good at moving around the neck. First, we develop, then we refine.

Go to My Guy step 2.

You Can’t Hurry Love – Step 2 (Free Preview)

I want you to be able to play the chorus progression anywhere on the neck as this will make it more enjoyable playing the song.

You could in this way keep changing it every time you play it.

Go to You Can’t Hurry Love step 2.

Related Pages

Chords and Guitar Lessons

Can I Get A Witness is a fast blues format song in the key of Eb.

Over each chord in a blues, you quickly switch between three chords, creating an energetic riff.

Go to Can I Get A Witness chords and guitar lessons.


Ah listen everybody (everybody), especially you girls (especially you girls)
Is it right to be left alone by the one you love is never home
I love too hard, my friends sometimes say
But I believe, I believe, that a woman should be loved that way

Go to Can I Get A Witness lyrics.

Chords and Guitar Lessons

Get Ready is a song that moves from a repetitive Minor Pentatonic verse riff to a simple four-chord chorus progression.

When the solo comes along, we take the original sax and string ideas and put them on the guitar.

Go to Get Ready chords and guitar lessons.


I never met a girl who makes me feel the way that you do
(you’re alright)
Whenever I’m asked who makes my dreams real I say that you do
(you’re outta sight)

Go to Get Ready lyrics.

Chords and Guitar Lessons

I Heard It Through The Grapevine is a Motown classic with a very clever chord progression.

All chords are as if from the key of Eb with just one chord being different, the Eb is a minor.

Go to I Heard It Through The Grapevine chords and guitar lesson.


I bet you’re wonderin’ how I knew
‘Bout your plans to make me blue
With some other guy you knew before
Between the two of us guys you know I loved you more

Go to I Heard It Through The Grapevine lyrics.

Chords and Guitar Lessons

Jimmy Mack is a song written by Motown’s main songwriting team, Holland-Dozier-Holland. Penned especially for Martha Reeves and The Vandellas.

This song invites us to discuss how you can substitute instead of extending chords to create more interesting sounds.

Go to Jimmy Mack chords and guitar lessons.


Jimmy Mack, Jimmy. Oh, Jimmy Mack, when are you comin’ back
Jimmy Mack, Jimmy. Oh, Jimmy Mack, when are you comin’ back
My arms are missing you, my lips feel the same way too
I tried so hard to be true, like I promised I’d do

Go to Jimmy Mack lyrics.

Chords and Guitar Lessons

My Guy was an early Motown hit from Mary Wells who was the first female Motown star.

Using more jazz-influenced harmony and playing, when you learn this song you’ll get an introduction to “playing over changes” as the licks use new scales for each chord.

Go to My Guy chords and guitar lessons.


Nothing you could say could tear me away from my guy
Nothing you could do ’cause I’m stuck like glue to my guy
I’m sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter
Like birds of a feather, we stick together

Go to My Guy lyrics.

Chords and Guitar Lessons

You Can’t Hurry Love has a great chord progression using only chords from the key of Bb.

By starting some of the chords earlier than expected, You Can’t Hurry Love gets its famous bouncy feel.

Go to You Can’t Hurry Love chords and guitar lessons.


I need love, love, to ease my mind
I need to find, find, someone to call mine
But mama said
You can’t hurry love, no you just have to wait

Go to You Can’t Hurry Love lyrics.

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Including detailed, but bite-sized explanations on how the music theory of each song is applied to the neck.

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