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Dennis Coffey is an American original. Only in America (and specifically, only in Detroit) could one man play guitar with a group of legends as diverse as Del Shannon, The Temptations, and George Clinton and Funkadelic. However, the list of iconic artists, producers and writers Dennis has worked with the world over only scratches the surface of what the man has done and the contributions he’s made to the canon of popular music.
On November 25th 2016 (Record Day) Dennis released a new vinyl album and CD on January 13th, 2017 on Resonance Records "Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge." Never-before issued recordings from this legendary Motown guitarist, Dennis Coffey, captured live at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge in Detroit in 1968. Today, Dennis preforms every Tuesday night at the Northern Lights Lounge with Pat Smillie.
Coffey learned to play guitar at the age of thirteen, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula town of Copper City. In 1955, as a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Detroit's Mackenzie High School, Dennis played his first record session - backing Vic Gallon in "I'm Gone", on the Gondola record label. In the early 1960s he joined The Royaltones who had had hits with "Poor Boy" in 1958 and "Flamingo Express" in 1961. The Royaltones played sessions with other artists including Del Shannon.
By the late 1960s as a member of the Funk Brothers studio band, Coffey played on dozens of recordings for Motown Records, and introduced a hard rock guitar sound to Motown record producer Norman Whitfield's recordings, including distortion, Echoplex tape-loop delay, and wah-wah; most notably heard on "Cloud Nine", "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" and "Psychedelic Shack" by The Temptations. He played on numerous other hit records of the era including number one singles like Edwin Starr's "War" and Diana Ross & The Supremes "Someday We'll Be Together" and Freda Payne's number three hit (number one in the UK) "Band of Gold".
In 1971, Coffey recorded "Scorpio" which was a million selling instrumental single that peaked in the US at number nine on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart and at number six on the Billboard Hot 100.] The instrumental track featured the former Motown "funk brother", Bob Babbitt on bass. On January 8, 1972 Coffey became the first white artist to perform on the television show Soul Train, playing "Scorpio". "Scorpio" received a gold disc awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America on December 9, 1971. The follow-up in 1972 was "Taurus", both credited to Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band. Since then, he has recorded several solo albums, most of them for the Sussex and Westbound labels. While at Sussex Records Coffey arranged and produced along with Mike Theodore the million selling "Nice To Be With You" by the group, Gallery. In addition, Coffey scored the blaxploitation film, Black Belt Jones (1974).
Coffey was interviewed in the 2002 film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which told the story of Funk Brothers and explained that he had sold his Fender Stratocaster to buy a Gibson Firebird after he heard Eddie Willis of Funk Brothers play it during a Motown session. In 2004, he published a memoir, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars. In 2008, he co-produced the Carl Dixon sessions at Studio A, Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Four tracks were recorded featuring some of the Funk Brothers including Uriel Jones, Bob Babbitt, Coffey and Ray Monette, plus other distinguished Detroit session musicians. Spyder Turner, Pree and Gayle Butts were vocalists on the session. The session was arranged by David J. Van De Pitte.
On April 26, 2011 (April 25 outside the US) Coffey released his self-titled album, consisting of new songs and new versions of songs which originally featured Coffey's distinctive guitar work. Promotion for the album is set to include an international tour, kicking off with several appearances at SXSW. Singer-songwriter Kendra Morris accompanied him on tour, performing backing vocals. Dennis was a constant performer in his hometown Detroit. He performed at the Detroit Jazz Concert, the Concert of Colors promoted by Don Was and recorded on the Blue Note label. His performances at the Legendary Bakers Keyboard Lounge and other are venues included notable; Steve Adams, Drew Schultz, Danny Tyrell and others.
In 2012, Coffey was interviewed on the PBS program History Detectives, about the authenticity of an old Ampeg B-15 amplifier with the stenciled name of fellow Funk Brothers member bassist James Jamerson. Along with Mike Theodore, Coffey discovered the folk-rock singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who is the subject of the 2012 Oscar-winning film Searching for Sugar Man in which Coffey appears. Coffey played lead guitar on Rodriguez's first album Cold Fact (1970).
|Year||Album||Chart positions||Record label|
|Billboard 200||Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums|
|1969||Hair and Thangs||—||—||Maverick Records|
|1971||Evolution (Dennis Coffey album)||36||13||Sussex Records|
|1972||Goin' for Myself||90||37|
|1975||Gettin' It On||—||—||Carrere|
|1976||Back Home||—||—||Westbound Records|
|1976||Finger Lickin' Good||147||31|
|1978||A Sweet Taste of Sin||—||—|
|1989||Under the Moonlight||—||—||Orpheus Records|
|1990||Motor City Magic||—||—||TSR|
|2006||Rise of the Phoenix||—||—||N/A|
|2011||Dennis Coffey||—||—||Strut Records|
|2016||Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge||—||—||Resonance Records|
|"—" denotes the album failed to chart|
|Billboard Hot 100|US Pop Singles||Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs|US Black Singles||Hot Dance Club Play|US Disco Singles|
|1969||"It's Your Thing/River Rouge"||—||—||—|
|1972||"Getting It On"||93||—||—|
|1972||"Ride, Sally, Ride"||93||43||—|
|1975||"Getting It On '75"||—||75||—|
|1976||"Finger Lickin' Good"||—||—||14|
|1977||"Our Love Goes On Forever"||—||94||—|
|1977||"Wings of Fire/Free Spirit"||—||—||11|
|"—" denotes the single failed to chart|
- Guitars, Bars, and Motown Superstars (University of Michigan Press, 2004)
- Dennis Coffey in-depth interview by Pete Lewis, 'Blues & Soul' May 2011
- The Story Of Motown's Greatest Guitarist JAN 2017