How does a proudly self-proclaimed “journeyman bassist” end up performing with 30-some Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees—including Sting, Elvis Costello, The Temptations, Solomon Burke, Ben E.King, Percy Sledge and Bo Diddley–not to mention a dream singer-songwriter trio consisting of Barry Mann, Lamont Dozier and Jimmy Webb?
“I’m not sure!” says Ivan “Funkboy” Bodley, who has also served as musical dirfector for Sam Moore, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Shirelles, The Crystals and The Tokens—all this after starting out in New York record company publicity.
“But everything with me is always word-of-mouth, with one personal referral leading to something else,” he quickly adds.
The Mann-Dozier-Holland show, dubbed The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, is a good case in point. Bodley met now close friend Jaime Babbitt, a backup singer, several years ago at a New Year’s Eve gig at an Italian restaurant in Queens.
“She and her significant other Fred Mollin were on tour and I was always on the road going here, there and everywhere,” Bodley recalls. “He was the music director on an Off-Broadway show they’d done, and she needed an acoustic bass player for a showcase, so they called me. That’s how you meet people: Fred co-produced ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ for his childhood friend Dan Hill—which Hill co-wrote with Barry Mann, and lo and behold, five years later I’m in a show with Barry, Lamont and Jimmy.”
But The Soundtrack Of Our Lives has even more of a personal connection with Bodley’s own life soundtrack in that as part of the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team, Dozier (along with brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr.) wrote dozens of classic Motown hits including The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving.”
“My area of specialty and whatever I aspired to in all my travels comes down to three areas—Motown, Memphis and Mardi Gras,” continues Bodley. “By that I mean [Motown session bass player] James Jamerson, [Memphis session and Booker T & The MGs’ bassist Donald] ‘Duck’ Dunn and [New Orleans funk band The Meters’ bassist] George Porter Jr. I listened to a million other guys and studied and emulated them, but those are the guys I listened to over and over again and whose parts I come back to.”
Bodley has played with half a dozen or so Motown artists over the years, “and at least that many Stax artists,” he adds—Stax being the historic Memphis r&b label where Dunn worked. “But you know the story: You play a thousand gigs and one pans out while the other 999 suck!”
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives looks to be that one in a thousand. Using an “unplugged” acoustic band format (“I play the big doghouse [acoustic upright] bass,” says Bodley), the program starts with a half-hour of songs and stories from Mann, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year along with his wife and writing partner Cynthia Weil (the pair responsible for classics including The Drifters’ “On Broadway” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’).” Jimmy Webb comes out for the next half-hour.
“He’s awesome, and makes you believe [Richard Harris’s Webb-composed hit] ‘MacArthur Park’!” says Bodley. “Then Lamont comes out and then the three come out and do their biggest hits together with the band [which also includes music producer Mollin]: Barry does the No. 1 airplay song of the 20th Century [‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’], and Jimmy wrote the No. 3 song–[Glen Campbell’s] ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’–and Lamont does [the Marvin Gaye hit] ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),’ and the whole audience knows all the words and it’s a giant party and an indescribable moment for a sideman being a fan of these guys and getting to play with them.”
But the moment requires a major adjustment for Bodley.
“I studied Jamerson heavily in terms of style and backing-up artists–his vernacular and vocabulary,” he says. “So now fast-forward to playing with Lamont in an unplugged situation on acoustic bass, where I have to transcribe the very muscular and busy Jamerson electric bass parts to upright in the wrong key because Lamont can’t sing in the same key as the Four Tops. So it’s a very physical challenge, even though Jamerson started as an upright player–[Martha & The Vandellas’] ‘Heat Wave’ and [Mary Wells’] ‘My Guy’ were all upright. But it’s also for me a pilgrimage coupled with a challenge wrapped up with the blessing of being able to play with a titan of pop music who changed the world. He really did. No kidding.”
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives showcased at January’s Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference at New York’s Hilton Hotel, and has a date booked in Dallas in September. Bodley, who last year released his third album as a bandleader in the soul-jazz Pigs Feet & Potted Meat, just returned from a gig in Niagara Falls with another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act, Little Anthony & The Imperials.
(The Examiner somehow remembers when Bodley was an executive assistant in the Epic Records publicity department in New York in the 1980s.)