Bob Babbitt, the Motown studio bassist who played on hits including Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown” and the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” died yesterday in Nashville after suffering complications from brain cancer, his spokesperson confirmed to Rolling Stone. He was 74.
Born on November 26th, 1937, Babbitt grew up in Pittsburgh before moving to Detroit, where he began playing bass in the late Fifties. He joined Stevie Wonder’s touring band in 1966. One year later, Babbitt was invited to join Motown’s house band the Funk Brothers, after Motown bassist James Jamerson broke his hand. In his new role, Babbitt added thick, funky basslines to hits by the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder’s “Sign, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” and “We Can Work it Out,” and half of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 LP, What’s Going On.
After leaving Motown in 1972, Babbitt recorded with a diverse group of acts, including Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt and Frank Sinatra. He scored 25 gold and platinum records in his career and played on more than 200 Top 40 hits, ranging from Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” to Elton John’s Mama Can’t Buy You Love.”
More recently, Babbitt was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and he played on Phil Collins’ 2010 album, Going Back.