Benny Benjamin

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William "Benny" Benjamin (born July 25, 1925 in Birmingham – died April 20, 1969 in New York, New York) was the first drummer for the Motown studio band known as The Funk Brothers.

Benjamin played with big-band orchestras in the late 1940s and 1950s before he was brought to Motown Studios as a session drummer in 1958. Noted for his dynamic style, several Motown record producers, including Berry Gordy, refused to work on sessions unless Benjamin was the drummer and James Jamerson was the bassist. Among the Motown songs Benjamin performed the drum tracks for are early hits such as "Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong and "Do You Love Me" by The Contours; as well as later hits such as "Get Ready" by The Temptations, "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" by Stevie Wonder, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Gladys Knight & the Pips and "Going To A Go-Go" by The Miracles.

Benjamin was notorious for being late to work, and also for creating highly fabricated and humorous stories for why he was late. Once caught sleeping at his drumkit by a Motown producer, Benjamin snapped awake and began drumming and calling out "Papa-zita, papa-zita, papa-zita," earning him the nickname by which he was known to his fellow Funk Brothers.

Benjamin was influenced by the work of jazz drummers Buddy Rich and Tito Puente. He recorded with a studio set composed of Ludwig, Slingerland, Rogers and Gretsch components.

By the late-1960s, Benjamin struggled with heroin and alcohol addiction, and fellow Funk Brothers Uriel Jones and Richard "Pistol" Allen performed more of the drum tracks for the studio's releases. Benjamin died of a stroke at the age of 43. He was inducted into the "Sidemen" category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.


  • Gordy, Berry (1994) "To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown. New York: Warner Books
  • Simmonds, Jeremy (2008) The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1556527543
  • "Benny Benjamin." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 Aug 2009, 06:11 UTC. 30 Nov 2009 [1]

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