Remembering Funk Brother Eddie "Chank" Willis, Veteran Motown Guitarist

Eddie "Chank" Willis, one of the original members of Motown Record's backing band the Funk Brothers, died Monday at the age of 82.

His guitar was one of the foundational elements of the Motown Sound—with his percussive attack rooting and enlivening the rhythm on many timeless tracks, from Motown's earliest days through its biggest successes. So notable was his style that it gave him his nickname.

As a child growing up around Grenada, Mississippi, he was able to catch the Memphis radio station WDIA, and was enchanted by the blues and country artists he was able to hear. He taught himself how to play on his family's guitar while listening intently to the radio.

"I just loved everything that I could get a hold of. It just seemed like I was becoming possessed, man, with music," he told Mississippi Public Broadcasting in 2014.

After moving to Detroit at 14, he soon fell in playing with his first band. After just a few years of gigging, he met Barry Gordy. His first recording session turned out to be Tamla/Motown's first release: Marv Johnson's "Come To Me." From 1959 forward to 1972, he played on the label's hit records from The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and many more.

While Willis, like the other members of the Funk Brothers, didn't get paid royalties and was often unlisted on album liner notes, Chank, along with guitarists Joe Messina and Robert White, bassist James Jamerson, drummer Benny Benjamin, percussionist Jack Ashford, and other Motown players have since found wide recognition among musicians and knowledgeable fans.

"I never thought I was that important to anybody," Willis told the crowd at a tribute concert thrown in his honor in 2013. "I have played a lot of music in the U.S. and all over, everywhere in the U.S. and beyond, and I have had a damn good life."

Below, take a listen to some of his indelible work.

Diana Ross & The Supremes - "Stop! In the Name of Love"

The Marvelettes - "Please Mr. Postman"

Mary Wells - "My Guy"

The Temptations - "Just My Imagination"

Marvin Gaye - "Let's Get It On"
comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

iOS app store button
Android play store button