Uriel “Possum” Jones, the last of the holy trinity of Motown drummers (along with William “Benny” Benjamin and Richard “Pistol” Allen), died Tuesday at the Oakwood Hospital in Detroit, where he’d been since a February heart attack. He was 74.
As part of the legendary group of Motown session musicians known as the Funk Brothers, Jones contributed to a range of classics, from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “I Second That Emotion” and “Tracks of My Tears” to Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life.” But he may have been most closely associated with the productions of Norman Whitfield, the architect of Motown’s “psychedelic soul” era. For Whitfield, Jones played on the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Ball of Confusion,” and, with Benny Benjamin, Gladys Knight & The Pips’ two-drummer version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” And then, of course, there’s the Tempts’ “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” with Jones’ immortal opening drumroll, chorus-introducing explosion, and stop-start flourishes throughout. Motown’s session credits are infamously muddled, so you can bet Jones played on dozens more uncredited landmarks.
It’s been reported that, as part of its Motown Week, American Idol will be showing clips from Jones’ appearance in 2002’s fascinating Funk Brothers documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Meanwhile, we’ll be thinking of him while we listen to this, over and over:
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