DETROIT (AP) — Uriel Jones, a drummer whose versatile, passionate beat fueled classic Motown
hits, has died following complications from a heart attack. He was 74.
Jones — who died Tuesday, according to sister-in-law Leslie Coleman — was part of the Funk Brothers, the house band on Motown recordings.
He played on numerous tracks, including "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" performed by the Temptations, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin, and versions of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Paul Riser, a Motown arranger-musician, said Jones had a distinctive, driving sound that drew inspiration from his days as a boxer. Yet, Riser said, Jones also could play with restraint when the song called for it.
"There was a pulse in his playing ... that nobody else had," said Riser, who co-wrote "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted." ''He loved music for the sake of music. He loved when it came out good and he hated when it came out bad."
Riser said Jones often played with the surviving Funk Brothers, who were the focus of an acclaimed 2002 documentary film called "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." That film brought the players belated recognition in the wider world that largely escaped them in Motown's 1960s
and early '70s heyday.
Riser said he spoke last week with Jones, who was excited about "getting busy again" since being hospitalized with an early February heart attack.
"He expressed to me he missed his first Funk Brothers gig (last month)," Riser said. "I could sense the disappointment in his voice. There was an energy he exuded to get back in the band and get going again."
Jones was one of many Motown musicians who went to the former studio in the Motown Historical Museum on Jan. 12 to help kick off a year of festivities marking the label's 50th anniversary.
Abdul "Duke" Fakir, the lone surviving original member of the Four Tops, used the occasion to praise Jones and his fellow Funk Brothers.
"When they'd finish a song, we, the Four Tops, had a nice phrase," Fakir said. "We'd say, 'Wow, another red carpet to ride on.'"
In an interview with The Associated Press after the ceremony, Jones said the cramped studio where most of Motown's early songs were created deserved as much credit as the players.
"This room is alive," he said. "As far as the musicians are concerned ... we had to have eye contact with one another because we fed off one another. The place just created its own sound."
Coleman described her brother-in-law — who's survived by his wife, June, and three children — as a man of humor and humility.
"He was a father to the fatherless, a brother to the brotherless," she said. "He had a love for people."