Hot Coffey In The D
Resonance Records 2016
Review by David Bowling
Dennis Coffey is one of those unappreciated gems that have inhabited the American music scene for the past six decades. He was a session guitarist at the age of 15 and during the 1960’s he was a member of the famous Motown studio band, The Funk Brothers. His guitar can be heard on dozens of hits for the label. Just listen to The Temptations “Ball Of Confusion” and “Psychedelic Shack” or Edwin Starr’s “War” for his cutting edge work.
During the early 1970’s he branched out as a solo artist and received some national commercial success. He has continued to record, play live, and as a session musician ever since.
While he played with the Funk Brothers during the day; in the evening he was a part of a trio that performed regularly at a number of Detroit clubs. Now a 1968 live performance at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge has been released as Hot Coffey In the D. Filling out the trio are organist and fellow Funk Brother Lyman Woodard, plus drummer Melvin Davis.
This performance occurred several years before his solo career as a rock/funk guitarist took off, which spanwed his most famous material. The trio’s set consisted of two originals and a number of cover tunes, which were performed from a jazz/funk perspective. There are seven songs spread out over an hour, which provides a lot of room to explore the melodies and improvise.
Hits of the day including an 11 minute “The Look Of Love,” an energetic version of Jim Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” and “Wade In The Water” tread the line between jazz and funk; fueled by Coffey’s jazz excursions. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” comes very close to the original.
The two original tunes, “Fuzz” and “The Big D” occupy opposite sides of the musical spectrum. The concert opening “Fuzz” is eight minutes of Coffey creating sounds through distortion that very few guitarists have been able to create. “The Big D” finds the trio settling into a laid back and comfortable groove.
His overall sound is not as hard as it would become several years later. What Hot Coffey In The D presents is a distinct developmental period of one of American music’s brilliant guitarists.