Dennis Coffey’s credits are too numerous to mention. As a session guitarist, he brought a rock edge to numerous Motown hits including The Temptations’ psychedelic soul favorites like “Cloud Nine” and “Ball of Confusion.” As a producer, he helmed Gallery’s soft-pop hit “Nice to Be with You” and “Sugar Man” Sixto Rodriguez’s acclaimed debut album. As a solo artist, he charted with the instrumental “Scorpio,” and crafted guitar-driven disco soul at Westbound Records. Now, the Resonance Records label (recently responsible for excavating Bill Evans’ Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest from the vaults) is presenting a previously unheard side of Dennis Coffey with the release of Hot Coffey in the D, a super-charged slice of funky jazz taped in 1968 at a Motor City club.
Hot Coffey, consisting entirely of previously unreleased music recorded live at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, finds the Funk Brother as member of the late organist Lyman Woodard’s trio; the group was rounded out by drummer Melvin Davis. The trio’s greasy brand of instrumental soul was imbued with a freeform jazz spirit and plenty of room for solos, evident from the opening track: the Coffey/Woodard/Davis original “Fuzz.” Coffey’s fuzztone and wah-wah pedal bring a rock sound to the forefront. The trio also is heard on one other original in the set here: the energetic, rousing and loose “The Big D.”
A tight, percolating groove brings a new, uptempo feel to an extended rendition of Jimmy Webb’s perennial “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” then a recent hit for Glen Campbell. Coffey’s guitar states the yearning melody in a cool, persuasive fashion of which Wes Montgomery would have been proud, but the group’s improvisations, anchored by Davis’ aggressive drums, give the declaration a glistening new shine. Woodard’s moody Hammond B-3 sets the tone for an even lengthier take on Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look of Love.” Coffey’s guitar deftly glides over the contours of Bacharach’s slinky and seductive melody while Davis at first subtly drives the rhythm; the three coalesce to jam and take the ballad in previously unexplored directions. Montgomery’s influence on Coffey is most apparent as he tackled the richly romantic Webb and Bacharach melodies.
The trio’s pure jazz chops got a workout, too, on a fine, faithful interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” then a recent composition of the pianist’s. The traditional spiritual “Wade in the Water” is probably most closely associated with the keyboard/bass/drums Ramsey Lewis Trio; Coffey and co. make it their own in a taut, driving style with plenty of fervor. Davis gets a well-deserved solo here, too.
The most impressive cover might be “Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over),” a No. 9 R&B/No. 57 Pop hit for Ruby Andrews in 1967. Coffey’s edgy yet melodic guitar and Woodard’s church-meets-gin joint B3, are deliciously attuned as they play off one another on the Jo Armstead/Milton Middlebrook tune with increasing spirit and zest. (Coffey reveals in the liner notes that he may have played on Andrews’ original recording, also cut in Detroit.)
The music on Hot Coffey was captured for Coffey and his production partner Mike Theodore in 1968 by engineer Brian Dombrowski. He used a half-inch, four-track machine, and subsequently mixed the four tracks down to quarter-inch stereo tape. As restored by George Klabin and Fran Gala and presented by Resonance, these recordings sound fresh, crisp and clean – a notch above a typical live recording. (Note that audience noise isn’t present on all tracks.) These recordings have been packaged in Resonance’s expectedly lavish fashion. Hot Coffey, housed in a colorful digipak featuring artwork by The Simpsons illustrator/cartoonist Bill Morrison, boasts a wonderful 56-page booklet presenting a full chronicle of the Detroit club scene circa 1968. Zev Feldman contributes an introduction, while his co-producer Kevin Goins offers an essay on the album as well as lengthy and fascinating interviews with Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, and Melvin Davis. An interview with R&B great Bettye LaVette conducted by Zak Shelby-Szyszko is also here (LaVette offers, “Dennis Coffey, Lyman Woodard and Melvin Davis! All of them have been my musical director at one point or another!”) along with Zev Feldman’s chat with Sussex Records’ Clarence Avant, a close associate of Coffey and Theodore.
Hot Coffey in the D captures a fertile and musically inventive period of time for the remarkable Detroit musicians who operated in Motown’s orbit. One of the most funky and soulful albums in Resonance’s catalogue, it makes for a fine addition to the label’s library of rare and previously unreleased jazz.
- By the Time I Get to Phoenix
- The Look of Love
- Maiden Voyage
- The Big D
- Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)
- Wade in the Water
All tracks recorded in 1968 and previously unreleased.