Grammy Winning Producer, Musician, & Author
Allan Slutsky 2013
Standing In The Shadows of Motown ~ Allan Slutsky
Originally a funk and rock guitar player, he delved into traditional folk, blues, and bluegrass music while attending Temple University in the early ‘70s. A two year stint on the road during which he had to turn down an offer from Southern Soul icon Wayne Cochrane convinced him he needed more musical training. Graduating from Berklee College of Music several years later with a degree in guitar performance and arranging, Allan soon became a pioneer in the guitar-tab publishing industry with his “Doctor Licks” transcription series.
(L to R) Bootsy Collins, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow, Joan Osborne, Allan Slutsky, and Rob Hyman
May 2004 Allan Slutsky (Standing in the Shadows of Motown), and Walk of Fame Dave Appell, Joe Tarsia, Earl Young, Jerry Blavat, Kenny Gamble, Willa Ward Royster, Al Martino. Walk of Fame: S. Broad Street Philly
In The Press
- Library of Congress - As part of 'I Hear America Singing" New Documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" To Be Previewed at Library of Congress December 14, 2001 As part of "I Hear America Singing," a major initiative to celebrate this nation's rich musical heritage, the Music Division of the Library of Congress will present a preview showing of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," a new documentary film from the Rimshot LLC production company.
- Washington Post To Allan Slutsky: Tell us about the movie, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" and what does the title mean?
- Berklee Today Alumni Profile - Allan Slutsky '78 Out of the Shadows by Matthew S. Robinson
- Wikipedia Allan Slutsky Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards Winners
- Standing in the Shadows Rotton Tomatoes
- BBC BlogCritic Out from the Shadows of Motown 5/21/03
- BBC BlogCritic Out from the Shadows of Motown - Page 6 5/21/03
- Allan Slutsky credited Gerald Veasley as a key contributor to his classic book/CD set, "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown - The Life and Music Of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson".
- Background information about James Jamerson
- Allan Slutsky - Standing In The Shadows of Motown 2003
Begin This Way
Allan Slutsky 2013 Standing In The Shadows of Motown Live!
Summary: The Jewish News recently spoke with author, producer, music supervisor Allan Slutsky about his dedication to the project, his partnership with producer/director Paul Justman and producer Sandy Passman, his own musical experience and his Jewish background.
JN: What first sparked your interest in Motown music?
AS: This has been a 35-year odyssey. I'm 50 now. In the '60s, when I was 15 years old, I was in a group called The Majestics. I was the lone white, Jewish guy in an all-black band, which was kind of crazy at the time because all my friends were into rock, you know, Hendrix and The Who.
And I was a soul man. I used to play these clubs deep in the heart of Philly's black neighborhoods. [Motown] is the music that I played. This was the music of my youth.
JN: Most people have never heard of the Funk Brothers. What initially drew you to their story? How were you first introduced to these virtually anonymous musicians?
AS: I'm a professional musician. I went to Berklee [College of Music] in Boston and I had a company called Dr. Licks Publications, which I started in the early '80s. I transcribed guitar solos note for note from famous guitarists and I would sell these to a publisher named Hal Leonard.
I decided to write a book called The Art of Playing Rhythm and Blues. It was a survey of the most famous R&B scenes of the '60s; Chicago, New Orleans, Philly, Motown.
When I started researching [the Motown section of the book], and started transcribing in particular James Jamerson, the [Motown] bass player — those bass lines! — I went out of my mind. Listen to this stuff. I had never listened to it with that critical of an ear when I was younger.
The book [Standing in the Shadows of Motown] started when I was in Chicago at [a music industry trade show]. I had the idea to try to find Jamerson's widow since Chicago's right next to Detroit.
So I went to Detroit and called the musicians union. They gave me her number. I hooked up with her to discuss the possibility of doing a book. She started taking me around to all the other members of the Funk Brothers who were telling me all these incredible stories about James.
JN: At that point, did you realize what a big project it would turn into?
AS: Well, I thought, “Man, there's a little bit more here than a book.” Also, I had never written a real book. I had always written technical books. But I got obsessed with the story.
And next thing I knew — three years later — I had spent about 10,000 hours and $60,000-some writing the book.
The book came with two CDs. And on the CDs I had enticed everyone from Paul McCartney on down — every major bass player in the world — into playing excerpts from James Jamerson and talking about him and the influence that he had on their careers.
JN: Did you suspect at that point that this would be an important contribution to music history?
AS: I didn't know what I had done. It was like an act of desperation. It was crazy. I was totally dead.
And the next thing I know, the book wins the Rolling Stone-Ralph J. Gleason Award for Book of the Year in 1989. I was floored.
There's an old saying: “A little bit of success can be a dangerous thing.” I guess I got a swelled head. I hadn't taken myself seriously until I won that award. Then I thought, “There's a movie in this.”
That set me up for 11 years of searching for funding on a full-time basis. It wasn't part time. Every day I would work on it from six to 12 hours.
JN: It took that long to drum up interest or support?
AS: I made over 1,000 pitches during those years. We got close a few times. But I was a pretty angry guy.
Do you know the story about how Schindler's List got made? There was a tailor in L.A., and he would pitch the story to every movie type who came into his place. [No one was interested] until one day Steven Spielberg walked in.
Obviously, Motown is not at the level of the Holocaust, but I knew I had an unbelievable story and I couldn't get anyone to listen to me. From hanging out in South Philly, I got a bit of what they call “Italian Alzheimer's disease”: You forget everything but a grudge. So I used anger as a motivating force.
The level of disrespect shown to these guys!
These guys created such monumental stuff and nobody would give them a break.
JN: At what point did it start to seem possible that the film would actually get made?
AS: Well, I had momentary doubts going into the ninth and 10th years. After I won the award, I got a certain amount of legitimacy. So for six years or so, I was given carte blanche to run around.
But after about the sixth year, I became like the crazy aunt in the attic. It was like, “Oh, there's Slutsky talking about his stupid film again.” And nobody ever thought it would happen.
What I've learned in the journey is that it's a miracle any independent films happen. Everything works against you.
JN: When you finally got around to filming these musicians, what surprised you the most?
AS: The musicianship. My biggest fear was whether or not the guys could still play. Half the band's in their 70s. But when they actually sat down, they were incredible. They're my heroes.
Uriel Jones needed quintuple bypass, which he didn't tell me at the time. [Bassist] “Pistol” Allen [who passed away in the summer of 2002] was dying of cancer and he didn't tell me about that either. One of the guys had lifelong polio, which was hitting him harder in his old age. There were various infirmities: high blood pressure, diabetes.
You could just see that they had made a conscious decision to get their story out. They refused to give in. And that was the most amazing thing to me.
JN: There's a moment in the film when the Funk Brothers go to England and unexpectedly receive the star treatment. They're considered icons there. But in the U.S., they're almost completely unknown. What does that say about Americans as consumers of pop culture?
AS: If you want to see total adulation, go to [the Web site] soulfuldetroit.com.
In England, there's a club called the Northern Soul Movement. It's an obsessive group of approximately 20,000 record collectors whose only interest is obscure Detroit music and Motown.
[The Funk Brothers] are worshipped. Motown was always bigger in England than it was here.
JN: Do you have a favorite moment in the film?
AS: I have a couple. One of them is in the end. We're doing “Ain't No Mountain High Enough,” and the choir comes in. There's a shot where you see both drummers. It's just before the credits roll.
And you see “Pistol” Allen, who is no longer with us, and you see the look on his face. And the look says, “I've waited my entire life for this moment and it's here.”
He was dying of lung cancer, and his face radiates the most incredible joy you can imagine. It's as if you can tell in that moment he knows he might be dying, but he's going to be remembered. That one hit me the hardest.
JN: In addition to writing the book and being one of the film's producers, you also transcribed and adapted the musical arrangements and played guitar in the film. How did all these roles overlap?
AS: We all had a gazillion jobs. It being an independent film, I was holding down about 12 different jobs. For me, the musical part was logical because I had transcribed every one of these Motown songs. I knew every note.
I had to re-teach these guys what they had played 40 years before. Forty years later, they're different musicians. But nobody's interested in what they play like now.
It's kind of arrogant to think that I'm going to teach these masters. But the way that they had always approached their music, it was like disposable music.
They each went in, played, got a paycheck and split. They didn't sit there — like this white Jewish kid — to obsess on every note. They played it, and it was on to the next tune.
JN: Tell me more about your Jewish background. Do you think that being Jewish influenced you in your drive to tell this story?
AS: That's something I've given a lot of thought to over the years. From a very young age I worked with my father. I was always around black people way more than the average white kid was.
In Philly, there were always a lot of Jewish businessmen working in the ghetto. They had variety stores, clothing stores. My father was in the cigarette-vending business.
The mob controlled all the “good” neighborhoods. My father, being an independent, had to go into the worst parts of the city to do his business. The mob didn't want any part of that. It was too dangerous.
But there was a history in my family of a lot of interaction with African-Americans. My grandparents were very, very religious. And my father was always willing to help people out. In the Jewish religion, it's called tzedakah.
I don't think that I was consciously thinking about that, but it was the way I was raised. My parents did a good job on that end.
JN: So, in a way, the film itself is tzedakah?
AS: I think so. Really, the film has to make a $10-million profit just for me to break even. I knew I probably wasn't going to make money on this. It was more an affair of the heart.
Whether I have a Don Quixote complex or what, I took it upon myself to help [the Funk Brothers] get their dream.
JN: Was that also the case for your partners?
AS: Definitely. [Director/Producer] Paul Justman and [Producer] Sandy Passman were heroes. Paul was in this about 11 years; Sandy, six years. That's a long time for people to hang in there and fight against overwhelming odds. I can't say enough about them.
As far as the Jewish connection between me, Paul and Sandy: When we were trying to come up with a management name, we would sometimes kid around and jokingly call ourselves “Three Jews Management” or — you know the old Louis Jordan song “Five Guys Named Moe”? — we thought about calling ourselves “Three Guys Named Moishe.”
JN: How about your musical training? Did being Jewish influence you there, too?
AS: In addition to everything else I've done, I've probably played 2,000 Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs. I've played these songs over, and over, and over, and over.
Every bar mitzvah band has its obligatory Motown medley. It's all part of my background.
JN: It must mean a lot to you to have your dedication to the Funk Brothers' story pay off.
AS: Exactly. The only musical phenomenon of the last 40 years that was as big as the Beatles is Motown. And every single story from Motown has been told and retold and exploited over and over.
Berry Gordy borrowing $500 dollars — you've heard that story a million times. This was the first new story.
Suddenly, we pop up and say, “Guess what, fellas, you didn't know 50 percent of the story.”
The way the Motown story has been marketed all along — it's the Temps, it's the Supremes, it's Stevie, it's Marvin. To me, the Motown story is the story of a dozen musicians and a cast of revolving vocalists.
That's the Motown story to me. But, then again, I'm a musician.
JN: So did the film live up to your expectations? Did you achieve your goal?
AS: My belief with this film was all we had to do was not screw it up. We had the greatest story in the world. We just had to let [the Funk Brothers] tell their story the way they remembered it and get the hell out of the way. And that's basically what we did.
In a couple places they get some braggadocio; they're strutting their stuff. Well, they're entitled to it. They stood in supermarkets with their music playing overhead and people in the checkout lines are snapping their fingers or singing to it. And these people don't know they're standing next to the guy who played on it.
They've had enough years of aggravation, and anonymity, and obscurity. It takes its toll. The fact that they're finally getting their due now is a great thing.
If this film gets them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Jamerson already got in last year — or if maybe the soundtrack wins them a Grammy, it'll be a good thing. It'll be a mitzvah.