For guitarist Dennis Coffey, music was no mere day job. While plying his trade each day as a member of the Funk Brothers, laying down funky licks on some of Detroit’s finest records, Coffey was spending his evenings at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge as one-third of organist Lyman Woodard’s instrumental trio. With Woodard and drummer Melvin Davis, Coffey treated patrons to sizzling renditions of the day’s hits as well as original songs. One of the trio’s 1968 sets was issued last year on Resonance Records as Hot Coffey in the D; now, Omnivore Records has issued another set as One Night at Morey’s: 1968 (OVCD-284). Attesting to the invention and freeform spirit of Coffey and co., no tracks are shared between the two releases. Jazz, funk, R&B and soul were all part of the Lyman Woodard Trio’s musical brew, as captured on tape by Coffey and his production partner Mike Theodore.
A greasy groove on Wilson Pickett’s “I’m a Midnight Mover” opens this 9-song collection, and it’s just one of the electric covers here. Woodard’s pensive B-3 coils through the epic, 13-minute workout on The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” with Coffey bringing the searing licks and Davis the fast and furious rhythmic underpinning. The familiar melody doesn’t even get stated until almost the 3-minute mark before the trio transforms the haunting ballad from baroque chamber pop to an uptempo explosion of soulful rock. From Liverpool to New Orleans, the group also reinterpreted the Meters’ swaggering instrumental “Cissy Strut,” and gave a tougher edge to The Young Rascals’ sunny, breezy “Groovin'” while still honoring the spirit and intention of the original.
With Charlie Parker’s lithe “Billie’s Bounce,” the group delivered a cool, soul-jazz spin on bebop. Woodard’s fleet performance on the keys complemented Coffey’s subtle, rather than incendiary, guitar. Davis’ drums begin the funk-drenched “Burning Spear,” and the Richard Evans song (first recorded in 1967 by the aptly-named Soulful Strings) allows for his flashiest, lengthiest drum solo in a track that crackles with fiery energy and urgency.
Coffey’s scorching, hypnotic guitar takes center stage on a medley of The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and “Union Station,” one of the trio’s three original songs here. Coffey and Theodore penned the rhythmic and funky “Mindbender” while the trio jointly wrote the loose ode to “Big City Lights,” its beat evoking a brightly-lit nightscape.
Today, Dennis Coffey still plays every Tuesday night at Detroit’s Northern Lights Lounge, his musical home for almost a decade. Sometimes he even picks up the same Gibson Byrdland guitar which he purchased in 1963 and can be heard on One Night at Morey’s. That’s just one of the nuggets he shares of his time at Morey Baker’s in the new interview with Bill Kopp which fills the eight-page booklet here. Sound quality as mastered by Michael Graves from the original live tape is solid and well-defined. To borrow from one of the countless hits adorned with Coffey’s guitar, One Night at Morey’s should transport you straight to Cloud Nine.