By Stacy M. Brown
Eddie “Chank” Willis, a member of the famed Motown session group known as “The Funk Brothers,” died at his home in Gore Springs, Mississippi.
The 82-year-old was part of a team of musicians who helped create some of the most memorable hits in music history.
“His guitar playing was heard worldwide on countless Motown Records classics, including the Marvelettes’ ‘Please Mr. Postman,’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made to Love Her,’ and ‘My Cherie Amour,’” the Recording Academy said in a statement.
With the Funk Brothers, Willis earned two Grammys at the 45th ceremony in 2003 – Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for ‘What’s Going On’ with Chaka Khan and Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media for “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”
In 2004, the Funk Brothers’ incredible accomplishments were recognized with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Willis played electric guitar and occasional electric sitar for the Funk Brothers during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Among other recordings Willis performed on are “The Way You Do the Things You Do” by The Temptations and “You Keep Me Hanging On” by The Supremes.
Influences for Willis include Chet Atkins, Wes Montgomery, and Albert King. He played a Gibson Firebird guitar on most his early 1960s work, later moving on to use a Gibson ES-335. On recordings such as The Supremes’ “No Matter What Sign You Are,” Willis performed on a Coral sitar.
In his 2003 memoir Motown: The View from The Bottom, Willis’ fellow Funk Brother Jack Ashford wrote: “Joe Messina, Eddie Willis and Robert White always held down the guitar section. If all three were not on a session, two would definitely be there.
“How could three guitarists not get in each other’s way and still be effective? The producer would have the arrangements prepared but the three would organize their parts and play them so flawlessly it would be like they were smoothly fused together.” Willis will be remembered as a highly regarded session player who helped craft the signature Motown Sound. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and loved ones during this difficult time, the Recording Academy said in a statement.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help pay for the funeral of one of Motown’s unsung legends.
According to the GoFundMe page, he’s known for his signature style of muted guitar riffs which added a distinctive tone or “color” to the beat, often timed with the snare, of the hundreds of hit songs recorded at Hitsville U.S.A. for Motown artists.
For more information, visit https://www.gofundme.com/eddie-quotchankquot-willis-memorial-fund
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