Bob Babbitt, 1937-2012
Bob Babbitt in the late 2000s (above) and during the 1960s (below), when he became one of Motown’s A-list bassists.
Fender is saddened by the passing of a great musician and a dear friend, Bob Babbitt, 74, who lost his battle with cancer on July 16 in Nashville, Tenn.
Babbitt’s impeccable bass guitar work as a member of Motown’s “Funk Brothers” session-ace house band expertly underpinned dozens of hits during the label’s heyday, and he remained a busy and revered session veteran over a career that spanned five decades. Late in life, as one of the longer-surviving Funk Brothers, Babbitt received the kind of individual recognition that eluded many Motown session musicians during the 1960s and afterward, winning him elder-statesman status among musicians who prize his understated yet powerful and exquisitely phrased contributions to bass playing.
Certainly, few bassists except Motown label mate James Jamerson played on as many hits. A 6-foot-2-inch bassist with an offensive lineman’s frame, Babbitt earned 25 gold and platinum records and played on more than 200 top 40 singles. Even a brief survey of songs Babbitt played on as a Funk Brother and as a venerable post-Motown studio pro presents an impressive list of enduring classics—“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (Stevie Wonder), “The Tears of a Clown” (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles), “Mercy Mercy Me” (Marvin Gaye), “Ball of Confusion” (the Temptations), “I Got a Name” (Jim Croce) and “Midnight Train to Georgia” (Gladys Knight & the Pips) and many others.
Born Robert Kreinar in Pittsburgh on Nov. 26, 1937, Babbitt was heavily influenced by the gypsy music often heard in his home, and he received classical training on upright bass while very young. He became an accomplished nightclub bassist while still in his teens, and he moved to Detroit after turning down a music scholarship in 1961. Gigging and recording constantly all over the city’s growing music scene, Babbitt’s bass prowess eventually brought him to Motown later in the 1960s, where he and Jamerson were the A-list bassists.
Post-Motown in the 1970s, Babbitt kept busy in New York and Philadelphia, where he worked with artists including Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Jim Croce, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frank Sinatra and Gladys Knight & the Pips, and the Spinners. He moved to Nashville in the mid-1980s and continued to work as busily as ever. Babbitt’s name became much more widely known after he featured prominently in acclaimed 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary about the largely un-credited studio musicians who played on Motown Records recordings from 1959 to 1972.