Classic Hits & Oldies

Guitarist Joe Messina, a member of famed Motown session band The Funk Brothers, dead at 93

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Guitarist Joe Messina, an original member of Motown’s famous collective of session musicians The Funk Brothers, died Monday, April 4, in Northville, Michigan, at age 93, the Detroit Free Press reports.

According to the newspaper, Messina passed away at his son Joel’s home after a 12-year battle with kidney disease.

Messina, who played with The Funk Brothers from 1959 until 1972, was featured on an impressive list of hits by artists including The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and many more.

During his Motown tenure, Messina was part of a three-guitar attack alongside Robert White and Eddie Willis at the Detroit record label’s Studio A.

A tribute posted on the Motown Museum’s Facebook page notes, “As he was a part of the label’s earliest days, Joe became one of the principal guitarists, whose talents helped to develop and shape the world-renowned Motown Sound.”

Messina decided to remain in the Detroit area when Motown relocated to Los Angles in 1972. He was featured prominently in the 2002 Funk Brothers documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and was one of 13 members of the collective to be honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

The Funk Brothers also were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013.

Joel Messina tells the Free Press that his father was proud but modest regarding his musical achievements with Motown.

“He never bragged about any of that,” says Joel.

Meanwhile, Motown arranger and Funk Brothers trombonist Paul Riser tells the newspaper, “[Joe] was the warmest human being — always a smile, always a good word, always a sunny disposition. He was anchored and assured, just a great spirit with music.”

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