Some unsung heroes of pop music get long-overdue recognition in Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a heartfelt documentary directed by Paul Justman. They called themselves the Funk Brothers, a talented group of a dozen or so musicians who were recruited by Berry Gordy from the jazz and blues clubs of Detroit to record the musical tracks for Gordy's Motown label.
Although they worked in relative anonymity, these studio musicians were responsible for a staggering number of soul and R&B hits. The Funk Brothers backed up the Supremes, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and a host of other Motown luminaries, only to be all but abandoned when the label moved to L.A. in the early 1970s.
Standing in the Shadows allows the surviving Funk Brothers to tell their own story, and they tell it well, anchored by the sheer charm of keyboardist Joe Hunter and percussionist Jack "Black Jack" Ashford. Together, they paint a vivid picture of the close-knit musical collaboration that churned out hit after hit in Motown's Studio A (a basement room known affectionately as "the snake pit").
But even more time is spent profiling those Funk Brothers who are now "here in spirit," notably drummer Benny "Papa Zita" Benjamin, keyboardist Earl "Chunk of Funk" Van Dyke, and, at the center of it all, the legendary bassist James Jamerson.