Master of the groove…

Dennis Coffey – One Night at Morey’s: 1968 – Omnivore Records OVCD 284 – 60:31

(Dennis Coffey – electric guitar; Lyman Woodard – organ; Melvin Davis – drums)

Fans of funky guitar, in the know, are well aware of the legacy of guitar ace, Dennis Coffey. From the 1950s well into the 1970s, Coffey was everywhere. He was active all over Detroit, and was featured in the Funk Brothers sessions, backing on many of the Motown hits, such as “Just My Imagination,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Cloud Nine,” and numerous others. Just like the Wrecking Crew in California, who provided the rhythm section for southern California recorded hits, the Funk Brothers provided the catchy hooks for the Motown vocalists. Dennis Coffey was right in the middle providing the guitar groove.

When Coffey was not in the recording studios, he had a weekly trio gig for several years with organist, Lyman Woodard, and drummer, Melvin Davis. Much like Booker T and the MGs in Memphis, this trio could lay into the groove on pop and soul classics. Psychedelic riffs were also part of their repertoire. The trio had a once weekly residency at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge in Detroit. Omnivore Records has obtained permission to issue some  previously unissued tracks from 1968. They are a mixture of classic tunes as well as two originals from Coffey. What they all have in common is a devotion to a locked in groove provided by a trio that meshes together, driven by guitar riffs with wah-wah effects, bass heavy Hammond B-3 organ, and a drummer that cut his teeth with The Temptations and Smokey Robinson. No rehearsals were needed. Just plug in and play.

Their sound still sounds fresh today, fifty years later. “I’m a Midnight Mover” from Bobby Womack has a repetitive guitar groove embellished with the organ escalating the atmosphere. “Eleanor Rigby” is re-imagined into a 13 plus minute jam. Like the other two extended numbers, “Cissy Strut” and “Burning Spear,” the trio gets locked in with interplay and there is a trance-like vibe, much like the Grateful Dead and Phish could elicit in concert. Nothing complicated here, just guitar driven soulful energy, spurred on by an insistent organ providing grease, and a rock steady drummer. Felix Cavalliere’s “Groovin” adds some easy going pop respite. The trio’s versatility is demonstrated by a sweet cover of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce.”

It’s easy to see why Dennis Coffey’s work has been sampled through the years, as its appeal crosses over with rock, soul, and funk audiences. It sounds as fresh today as it was, in creating a feel good energy, fifty years ago.

I’m a Midnight Mover, Eleanor Rigby, Cissy Strut, Groovin’, Burning Spear, It’s Your Thing/Union Station, Mindbender, Big City Lights, Billie’s Bounce

—Jeff Krow