Drummer Uriel Jones, Motown Funk Brother, Dies at 74
Uriel Jones, who died yesterday in Dearborn, MI from the effects of a heart attack, was the third, and last surviving drummer in the original in-house studio line-up of what became The Funk Brothers. Jones was preceded in death by Benny Benjamin, who died in 1969, and Richard “Pistol” Allen, who died six months before Standing in the Shadows of Motown, was released in 2002. These mostly black and white men who played jazz in the black club scene of the Fifties and Sixties were the uncredited and only lately appreciated session musicians who essentially created the Motown Sound coming out of Detroit, Michigan, the Motor City, or Motown. In 1973, after fourteen years, they were summarily dismissed when Berry Gordy brought the company to Los Angeles, CA.
Uriel Jones was born in 1934 in Detroit. In his early years he had a dual penchant for boxing and for music. His first instrument was the trombone, which he played in the high school band. However, when he would attempt to play after matches or practice bouts, his lips were too swollen and raw, said his widow June Jones, to the New York Times. Eventually, Jones decided he would switch to drums rather than seek a career in the ring. His primary influence was the drummer Art Blakey, among others.
Jones joined Motown in 1963, after touring with singer Marvin Gaye. His signature drumming can be heard on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Ain’t That Peculiar;” The Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears,” and “I Second That Emotion;” The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and “Cloud Nine,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life”, and both versions of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”–one with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and the other with Diana Ross.
Like all the other Funk Brothers, he became more well-known when he was featured in Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the documentary by Paul Justman, and the concerts that he performed in with the remaining Funk Brothers as well as in CDs with other Detroit musicians. The group also won two Grammy Awards. In retrospect, he did wish that Berry Gordy had treated his employees better, “but the way I look at it is, ‘What would my life had been like without Motown?’ I’d rather it had been with Motown.”
Uriel Jones is survived by his wife June, three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Of the surviving Funk Brothers of the golden years of Motown, only four now remain. They are Bob Babbitt, bassist, who took over from James Jamerson; Jack Ashford, tambourine; Joe Messina, guitarist; and Jack Brokensha, vibraphonist, who was known as ‘White Jack’ to discern him from Jack Ashford.
Long may they all live!
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