Bob Babbitt was one of the greatest and most recorded bass players in the history of popular music. Over 100 million copies of records that feature Bob’s bass have been sold. He performed on over 200 top 40 hits earning 25 gold records and several platinum awards. Babbitt laid down a melodic rhythmic groove that gave soul to hundreds of all time classic pop records. Bob was a versatile bassist whose work ranged from R&B, rock, jazz, pop, country, and folk. In the R&B genre Babbitt recorded and performed with The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight, Diane Ross, Ashford & Simpson, The Spinners, Phyllis Hyman, Mary Wells, the O'Jays, Sister Sledge, and Major Harris. He rocked with Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Robert Palmer, Alice Cooper, Peter Frampton, Joe Cocker, Nils Lofgren, Steven Bishop, the Euclid Beach Band, and Yoko Ono. In Jazz and blues Babbitt worked with Dextor Gordon, Herbie Mann, Stanley Turrentine, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Taj Mahal, John Mayall, and Bonnie Raitt. Bob performed on the country and folk recordings of Shania Twain, Carlene Carter, Louise Mandrell,Tracy Nelson, Joan Baez, and Tom Rush. Babbitt was at the top of the pops working with Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warrick , Engelbert Humperdinc, Laura Nyro, Brenda Lee, Frankie Vallie, Del Shannon, Jim Croce, and Barry Manilow.
In Detroit during the 1960s Bob Babbitt played on dozens of hits recorded in the Motown and Golden World Studios as a member of the legendary Funk Brothers studio band. His signature sound is heard on the Capitols’ “Cool Jerk,” Smokey Robinson’s “The Tears of a Clown” and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours”, Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train To Georgia”, Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In The Morning”, and War" by Edwin Starr. Babbitt is featured on Motown biggest selling album Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” album. As part of the Philadelphia soul scene in the 1970s Babbitt played on the Spinners hits “Then Came You” and “Rubberband Man”. Working in New York he was heard on Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye”. Robert Palmer’s “Every Kind Of People”, and Barry Manilow’s “Ready To Take A Chance”.
Bob Babbitt was well known for decades among musicians but was little known to popular music fans. The Funk Brothers were often un-credited on Motown recordings. The Funk Brothers were bassist James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt, guitarists Robert White and Joe Messina, keyboardists Joe Hunter and Earl Van Dyke, and drummers Benny Benjamin, Richard Allen and Uriel Jones. Bob Babbitt and his fellow Funk Brothers gained national recognition for their outstanding contribution in the Grammy winning film about the Funk Brothers, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown”. Bob Babbitt toured with the surviving members of Funk Brothers and Joanne Osborne.
Among Bass players Bob’ 90 second solo on the Denis Coffey single “Scopio” is a standard. It is a difficult solo that bassists strive to learn to prove their mastery of the bass.
Bob Babbitt and the Funk Brothers were inducted into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007. The Music City Walk of Fame honored Bob Babbitt with a star in June of 2012. He is the only session instrumentalist to be honored by the Walk of Fame. Bob Babbitt as a member of the Funk Brothers was was given a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2004.
“Bob was a teddy bear of a guy and he was an extraordinary musician -- a player’s player.” - former Motown engineer Ed Wolfrum
“It’s probably safe to say that every minute of every day, 365 days a year, Bob Babbitt’s bass is pumping out of some radio station somewhere.” Rick Suchow - Bass Guitar Magazine (Jan, 2010)
"Bob Babbitt changed the world with four strings and a groove," -bass player Dave Pomeroy, president of the Nashville Musicians Association, inducting Babbitt into the Walk of Fame
Learning the Classics and R&B in Pittsburgh
Babbitt, was born Robert Kreinar in Pittsburgh on November 26, 1937. He grew up in the Mt. Washington and Beltzhoover neighborhoods and graduated from South Hills High School. His father immigrated to America from Hungary and found work as bricklayer. Bob earliest music influences were his parent’s gypsy music and classical music. Both of his parents sang in gypsy bands and their gypsy music was constantly heard on the family radio and record player.
Bob learned the upright bass in elementary school and played in his elementary school orchestra. He took private classical bass lessons for two years from a female bass player who was the main bass player at the Pennsylvania College for Woman. Bob then studied for three years with the principle bassist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Anthony Bianco. During his three high school years from 1953 to 1955 Bob played classical upright bass in the Pittsburgh Symphony Jr. which featured the top Pittsburgh area high school musicians. Bob sites his early influences as Pittsburgh bassist Ray Brown and Charles Mingus.Bob was frequently asked to sit in with Hungarian gypsy groups at Hungarians clubs that he went to with his family (2). His first paying job as musician was with a gypsy band.
As a teen Bob turned to rhythm-and-blues playing influenced by Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk" and Red Prysock's "Hand Clappin'". He spent a lot of time playing along to listening to R&B songs played on Pittsburgh radio by Porky Chedwick and Mary Dee and others. At age 15 Bob began performing in Pittsburgh area nightclubs. He began by sitting in with a group led by a black sax player in a club and began working weekends with them. He switched from upright bass to a louder and easier to transport electric bass guitar at age 17. He bought a '60 Jazz Bass and used the 1-2-4 classical fingering system until he learned to use his 3rd finger.
Bob’s father died when he was a high school senior. His family moved from Mount Washington to the Glen Hazel projects. The University of Pittsburgh offered him a music scholarship but he turned it down. Instead he took a job to help support his mother. But it was hard to find a good paying job without a skill and he did not want to work in the steel mills. His uncle in Michigan urged him to move to saying he could earn much more money in Detroit. Bob hopped a Greyhound bus to Motown in late 1957 or early 1958. (1)
Making the Groove in Motown
Detroit had a lively club scene, a growing recording business, and an up and coming new R&B sound. Bob worked construction during the day and played the clubs at night. In Detroit Bob picked up the nick name Bobo that morphed into Babo, Bobbitt, and finally into "Babbitt". People he met for the first time thought it was his real name. With all of his musicians friends calling him "Babbittt", he took it as his stage name (3).
Bob Babbitt heard a band called the Royaltones rehearsing in a Detroit club one day and introduced himself. He brought in his upright bass to play with them. They hired Bob to record with them on 24 songs released between 1961 and 1964. Led by the saxophone of George Katsakis the Royaltones played instrumental rock n roll. Eight of the Royaltones' songs hit the Billboard charts including their 1961 top ten hit "Flamingo Express." Bob became a member of the Royaltones in 1962. Singer Del Shannon hired the Royaltones as his band and toured and recorded with them through 1964. Bob played on Del Shannon's 1962 hit "Little Town Flirt." After the Royaltones broke up in 1964 Babbitt became a studio musician.
As his reputation in Detroit grew Babbitt found steady work in 1966 as a session bass player at Golden World Studio, United Sound, Terashirma, and every other consequential studio in the Detroit area except Motown. He worked seven to eight recording sessions every week. During this time he recorded the signature bass line on the Capitols hit single “Cool Jerk”. He also played on the classic R&B tunes "I Just Wanna Testify" by the Parliaments and "Love Makes the World Go Round" by Dion Jackson. Babbitt played on his first Motown recording in 1967. After touring with Steve Wonder. Wonder brought Babbitt to to Motown to record with him. Bob 'We Can Work It Out.' and the classic ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered' .
At Golden World Studio Bobbit worked with several of Motown’s moonlighting session players including keyboardists Joe Hunter and Johnny Griffith, guitarist Eddie Willis, drummer Benny Benjamin, and Rock Hall of Fame bassist James Jamerson. As Motown’s popularity grew more musicians were needed to work recording sessions. When bassist James Jefferson became unreliable due to alcoholism Babbitt was brought in as a replacement. As he proved himself Babbitt was accepted into the inner circle of the Funk Brothers. Babbitt worked steadily at Motown from 1967 through1972 and was undercontract to Motown from 1970 to1972. The contract prevented him from becoming a member of Jeff Beck’s band. Prevented from working for other studios and bands Babbitt tried to supplement his income working as a professional wrestler for six months. In 1972 Babbitt recorded with Marvin Gaye on one of Motown’s biggest selling records the classic “What's Goin' On." In interviews Babbitt said they the arranger Dave Van dePitte let him write his own base lines on the songs "'Mercy Mercy Me' and 'Inner City Blues'.
From Motown to New York and Phiily
Motown’s Detroit Hitsville Studio closed in 1972 when Barry Gordon moved Motown to Los Angeles. The Funk Brothers learned they were out of work when they read a note on the locked doors of the studio. Babbitt moved to New York in 1973 and began working with producer Arif Mardin. He recorded with Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. Babbitt and former Motown drummer Andrew Smith became one of the hottest rhythm sections in New York. They were sought out to record with Stephanie Mills, Jim Croce, and Bonnie Raitt to Engelbert Humperdink and Frank Sinatra. Philadelphia International Records also sought the services of Bobbitt and Andrew Smith. Working with producer Thorn Bell they recorded the Spinners classics “Then Came You," "Games People Play," and "Rubber Band Man." By the late 1970’s Bob Babbitt was working constantly with many artists in many different styles. He recorded 3 complete albums in three weeks working with the Spinners L.A., Alice Cooper in Toronto, and Frank Sinatra in New York. Babbitt became a jazz player in the early '80s touring and recording with flutist Herbie Mann and fellow Pittsburgher saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.
Music City Years
When studio work in New York slowed down Bob moved in June of 1986 to the next hot recording center Nashville. Music City became his home for the next 26 years. During this period Babbitt worked recording sessions with Shania Twain, Carlene Carter, Tracy Nelson, Vanessa Williams, Elton John, Robert Palmer, Lee Atwater, Jimmy McGriff, Bobby Rydell and others. In between recording dates he with toured with Brenda Lee, Robert, Palmer, Joan Baez and others.
Bob and the Funk Brother came to national attention in 2002 with the release of the film “Standing In The Shadows”. The film showed that the Funk Brothers and Bob Babbitt were the heart and soul of the Motown sound. The film was based on based Allan Slutsky's Funk Brothers book. The film highlighted that the Funk Brothers "played on more number-one hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys Combined”. The brothers toured the country with special guest Joan Osborne on lead vocals. They performed at the 2004 Grammy Awards where they received the Lifetime Achievement Award. With recognition of the contributions of the Funk Brothers Bob received more offers for recording sessions and gigs. Phil Collins flew him to London to record the “Going Back” album in 2010.
Honored in Pittsburgh
Babbitt was honored in Pittsburgh on July 23, 2008 where he received a Lifetime Achievement award from Duquense University. The City of Pittsburgh declared July 23 Bob Babbitt Day and the mayor presented Bob with the official proclamation. To celebrate the occasion he performed in concert with B.E. Taylor, Jeff Jimerson, Hermie Granati, guitarist Jimmy Bruno and other Pittsburgh musicians. Babbitt was honored again on October 31, 2009 when he performed in concert at the August Wilson Center’s "A Pittsburgh Tribute to Motown Records' 50th Anniversary." With his classical and gypsy music roots that he learned in Pittsburgh along with his great talent and creativity he made music history.
In early 2011 Babbitt was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He passed away in Nashville at age 74 on July 16, 2012.