Bob Babbitt, whose bass work can be heard on the majority of Motown hits of the late 60’s and early 70’s, passed away on Monday at a Nashville Hospice after suffering from brain cancer. He was 74.
Over the course of his career, Babbitt played on over 200 top 40 hits and received 25 gold and platinum records including Ball of Confusion and Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) by the Temptations, Signed, Sealed Delivered by Stevie Wonder and The Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Babbitt was trained as a classical bassist but strayed into R&B as a teenager, eventually trading in his upright bass for and electric. He moved to Detroit in 1961 and was working in construction when he joined the Royaltones, a group that had a few local hits and also included the young Dennis Coffey. Not only did they do their own recordings, but they joined Del Shannon as his backup group until 1965.
Bob also moonlighted as a studio bassist whose reputation grew to where he was working in most of the studios in the Detroit area, including playing on such hits as Little Town Flirt for Del Shannon, Love Makes the World Go Round by Dion Jackson and Cool Jerk for the Capitals.
In 1967, he finally broke into Motown when he was asked to sit in for Motown’s James Jamerson who was having personal problems. From then until 1972, he and Jamerson would be the main bassists for the label although Babbitt said he always felt he was in James’ shadow. Still, his bass was heard on some of the label’s greatest records.
Babbitt moved to New York in 1973 and started working with a long list of artists including Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Jim Croce, Gladys Knight & the Pips and the Spinners. Unfortunately, as the 80’s began, studio bassists were getting fewer jobs so he began touring with such artists as Herbie Mann eventually settling down in Nashville later in the decade where he would stay until moving back to his hometown of Philadelphia in 1993.
His partial discography below speaks volumes as to the greatness of his playing:
Little Town Flirt (Del Shannon)
Handy Man (Del Shannon)
Agent 00 Soul (Edwin Starr)
Cool Jerk (Capitols)
Love Makes the World Go Round (Dion Jackson)
Oh How Happy (Shades of Blue)
Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed (100 Proof)
Ball of Confusion (Temptations)
Band of Gold (Freda Payne)
Give Me Just a Little More Time (Chairman of the Board)
Indiana Wants Me (R. Dean Taylor)
Losing You (Rare Earth)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Stevie Wonder)
Tears of a Clown (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles)
War (Edwin Starr)
Westbound #9 (Flaming Embers)
If I Were Your Woman (Gladys Knight & the Pips)
What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye)
Mercy Mercy Me (Marvin Gaye)
Inner City Blues (Marvin Gaye)
Smiling Faces (Undisputed Truth)
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (Temptations)
Scorpio (Dennis Coffey)
I Got a Name (Jim Croce)
Midnight Train to Georgia (Gladys Knight & the Pips)
Touch Me in the Morning (Diana Ross)
Then Came You (Spinners)
Ease on Down the Road (Stephanie Mills)
Games People Play (Spinners)
Kiss and Say Goodbye (Manhattans)
Never Can Say Goodbye (Gloria Gaynor)
I Like Dreamin’ (Kenny Nolan)
Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely (Main Ingredient)
Rubber Band Man (Spinners)
After the Lovin’ (Engelbert Humperdinck)
You and Me (Alice Cooper)
Copacabana (Barry Manilow)
Mama Can’t Buy You Love (Elton John)
Speicial Lady (Ray, Goodman and Brown)