Joe Messina, Motown Funk Brothers Guitarist, Dies at 93

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Joe Messina, an iconic guitarist and a bandmate of the Motown music group, the Funk Brothers, reportedly dies at the age of 93.

According to Billboard, Joe Messina died on Monday (April 4th) in the Detroit suburb of Northville after battling kidney disease. Speaking about the guitarist, Dennis Coffey, a fellow bandmate of The Funk Brothers, shared with the media outlet, “Joe was a super player. A jazz player. Joe was the best sight-reader in the guitar section.”

Coffey goes on to further explain that Joe Messina’s Fender Telecaster was considered unusual for jazz players. This is due to the fact that most jazz players prefer big boxes. However, the Telecaster helped Messina stand out. 

Joe Messina was part of the Funk Brothers from 1959 until 1972. Among the Motown group’s hits are “My Girl,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Baby Love,” and “I Was Made to Love Her.”

There are 13 Funk Brothers. Each was identified in the 2002 documentary film, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.” They were also identified by NARAS for the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, the Funk Brothers were inducted into the Musician Hall of Fame and Museum. 

Fellow guitarist, friend, and playing partner, Steve Shepard further spoke about Joe Messina. “People know [Messina] because of Motown. But as a jazz player, he was all over it in the 50s and 60s. Joe was a guy every musician aspires to be. Any tune, any key, any tempo. Between his experience and his ear, he found his place to fit into anything.”

Joe Messina Spoke About Motown’s ‘Fast and Furious’ Recording Pace 

Billboard also reports that in a 2005 interview with the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, Joe Messina spoke about how Motown has a fast and furious recording back. “[I] never knew much about our sound. I recorded them. And when we left the studio, I didn’t have a chance to play them again. So I didn’t know the songs.” 

Also in the documentary, Joe Messina explained, “They would say, ‘We’re gonna play such and such a song.’ I’d say, ‘How does it go? ‘Cause I had no idea.’”

When asked about joining the Funk Brothers, Joe Messina shared, “I considered it just another job. But I did have fun. I remember they told us we had a No.1 hit song. It didn’t mean much to me ‘cause it was just a job. I had no idea that it would represent anything. Other than it would make money for the company.”

Shepard then added that despite his age, Joe Messina never slowed down. “Never did I experience a session where Joe said, ‘I’m tired. Let’s stop, guys.’ Joe was always the last man standing. He was always ready to keep playing.”