Funk Brother Eddie Willis Dead at 82
Eddie “Chank” Willis, guitarist with the Motown studio group the Funk Brothers, died at the age of 82 yesterday, his family announced.
The musician, who earned his nickname from his playing style, had suffered ill health for many years, and had walked with the aid of a stick since contracting polio as a child.
Willis can be heard on dozens of Motown tracks, starting with Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me” in 1959 and including songs by the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and many others. He left the label in 1972 but continued to work, notably appearing on Phil Collins’ 2010 Motown covers album Going Home.
Listen to Eddie Willis Play on the Supremes' 'You Keep Me Hangin' On'
“He was the funkster, Eddie was," fellow Funk Brother Dennis Coffey told Billboard. “He was an amazing guitar player. He had that Southern thing. He'd always come up with some funky lines. We did many sessions together and he was just an all-around nice guy. I never heard him get angry at anybody about anything. He just came in and did his job."
Willis was the subject of a benefit concert in 2015 after it was reported that he’d lost ownership of his Mississippi home, along with his guitars, and was surviving on disability payments and social security. “Motown let me down ... but this amazing thing these people are doing makes me feel blessed,” he told the New York Daily News at the time. “We wasn't on paper, we wasn't being taken care of like we were told. There's a lot of us that got left in the shadows."
“He knew that he was loved,” his daughter, Terez Willis, told the Detroit Free Press. “He knew that a lot of people in the industry loved him. That's what he talked about when I saw him two weeks ago.”
Willis is survived by his wife, five children and several grandchildren.