As a member of the legendary Funk Brothers
, Eddie "Bongo" Brown
was the primary studio percussionist during the heyday of Motown Records, serving as a crucial element of some of the most enduring and transcendent soul music ever produced. Born in Clarksdale, MS, in 1932, Brown
was raised in Memphis, learning to play virtually every hand-held percussion instrument but particularly excelling on the bongos and congas. After relocating to Detroit, he worked the local nightclub circuit before joining the fledgling Motown label in 1962, infusing the nascent Motown sound with elements of Latin rhythms. Funk Brothers
bandleader Earl Van Dyke
once estimated Brown
played on "at least 97 percent of all the music that came out of Motown."
Remarkably, he couldn't even read music -- in the Funk Brothers
documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, keyboardist Joe Hunter
claimed that during sessions, Brown
simply replaced his sheet music with nudie magazines. As Motown's focus shifted from producer-driven singles to artist-driven LPs, Brown
left his indelible mark on classics like Marvin Gaye
's Let's Get It On
and Stevie Wonder
's Songs in the Key of Life
. When owner Berry Gordy Jr.
relocated the label from Detroit to Los Angeles, Brown
followed, in subsequent years touring with Gaye
and Liza Minnelli
. He died from a heart ailment on December 28, 1984, at the age of just 52.