Dennis Coffey, Dennis Coffey

Posted on May 10, 2011 by

Artist: Dennis CoffeyTitle: Dennis Coffey
Label: Strut 075
Release Date: April 26, 2011

Passive listeners of the radio in the early 70s may remember Dennis Coffey for his top ten hit, “Scorpio,” (#6, 1971) or the zodiacal follow-up, “Taurus” (#18, 1972). If you were growing up in Detroit, his guitar graced Darrell Banks’ Revilot release, “Open the Door To Your Heart” and Edwin Starr’s Ric-Tic release “S.O.S (Stop her On Sight).” And like Starr, Coffey also graduated to the Motown label, becoming a member of the legendary Funk Brothers, adding the licks to Starr’s smash single, “War.” Coffey also backed the Temptations on their hits, “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball of Confusion” and “Cloud Nine” among others. He can also be heard on Diana Ross and the Supreme’s fitting finale, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Outside of Motown, it’s Coffey on the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and on Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold.” And if you happened to see the movie, Black Belt Jones, that was Coffey providing the soundtrack. And to skip to another musical generation, Coffey has been sampled by Grandmaster Flash, the Geto Boys, House of Pain, LL Cool J, Moby, Mos Def, the Fugees, Young MC, Public Enemy and Queen Latifah among others. I’m sorry to report that his book, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars, was not selected for Oprah’s Book Club. What’s a guy gotta do?

Coffey, now at the ripe age of 70 releases a brand new album of covers and new material. Along his side are practitioners of the new school, featuring members of Orgone, Kings Go Forth and Big Chief, as well as Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs and Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras. Collins and Nagy sound the most comfortable, singing on the Funkadelic cover, “I Bet You.” Their approach fits nicely in the groove, doesn’t sound forced, nor do they attempt to take over the session. It’s the highlight among the covers on the CD. Mayer Hawthorne’s take on Parliament’s “All Your Goodies Are Gone” isn’t bad, but it only makes me want to hear the original again, whereas Collins & Nagy leave me satisfied. I prefer the instrumental version of the cover of Wilson Pickett’s, “Don’t Knock My Love” over Orgone’s Fanny Franklin’s stab at it. I give her credit for having the guts to cover such a classic. She sounds like she’s channeling Betty Lavette and she keeps it brief at 2:18, not trying to extend it with vocal gymnastics, showing respect for the number. But the instrumental version is more of the psychedelic soul that exemplifies Coffey best. It is his album.

The opening track, “7th Galaxy,” a new Coffey original, is right on. There’s wah-wah’s, distortion, Echoplex tape delays and a killer conga break. All that’s missing is the movie of pimps and black private dicks on the big screen. “Miss Millie,” another instrumental is a collaboration with Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth. It’s the best I’ve heard from King’s Go Forth, rising to the occasion of playing along side one of their more obvious influences. “Knockabout” is based around a fuzzy riff, with a great B-3 break and wah-wah solo, the echo-effected voices singing non-sense syllables sound like the Ray Conniff singers landed on the wrong planet. Whereas the few lines provided by Hershel Boone in “Plutonius” work well in a spacey-funky way.

“Only Good for Conversation” is a little overwrought for my tastes, with distorted power chords and Paolo Nutini sounding more like he should be singing in front of Vanilla Fudge or Iron Butterfly. It’s a cold fact that I wasn’t familiar with the original version by Rodriguez. I prefer Coffey’s less bombastic performace on the original as well as Rodriguez vocals, taking more of a Ginger Baker approach of walking through the song.

The album is an homage to Detroit. Coffey’s choice of covers from his past and from the Motor City culture, compliment his new originals as well as the new purveyors of the genre. He stands tall amongst youngsters, schooling them a bit and making a fine record at the same time.

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