Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Coffey’

Stuck In My Head: Feelin’ Alright

9 March 2011

I always thought that the plate spinners who showed up during the entertainment section of late night talk shows were a great metaphor for personal happiness. Total happiness is when all those plates are spinning. Got a good job that you like? That’s one plate spinning. In a great relationship? There’s another. If something really factors into your overall happiness, it’s a plate to spin. Most people can keep a couple of plates spinning, but there are usually a few others that are wobbling and threatening to crash to the ground. Life is tough that way. The car needs a new clutch – wobble. An uncle dies – wobble. That tax bill is higher than expected – wobble. Any number of things can start those plates a’wobblin’.

Over the last 6 months, I finally seem to have all my plates spinning. I love my job, I’m happily married, and life is good. I work in one of the best cities in the world, with interesting people who appreciate what I do. I keep finding incredible LPs that I’d never considered owning. Last week I picked up Rare Earth’s 1969 album Get Ready, with no expectations whatsoever. The P told me a while back that this Detroit band had backed Rodriguez on his cult classic album Cold Fact, so I’d been on the lookout for their records. I found Get Ready in the bargain bin, and it was worth every nickel I paid. Their version of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’ (popularized by Traffic) is worth the price of admission alone.

‘Feelin’ Alright’ features a wokka wokka rhythm and dirty Detroit guitar sound in the mold of Dennis Coffey. Mid-song, guitarist Rod Richards coolly says “Yeah, excuse me while I play my axe…”, before launching into the kind of solo that will have Hendrix fans drooling. Holy guitar strings! John Small of WKNR-FM Detroit dropped some classic liner notes on this one, including: “What explains Rare Earth’s charisma? Appearance – for one. Each cat stands handsomely tall as if from a fashion rack at Carnaby.” ‘Feelin’ Alright’ stands tall too – it’s the sound of all my plates spinning at top speed…

Listen: Feelin’ Alright

Weekend Playlist

29 March 2010

“If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are.” ~ Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper)


Fujiya & Miyagi | Lightbulbs


Alejandro Escovedo | A Man Under The Influence


Mazzy Star | So Tonight That I Might See


Jimi Hendrix | Valleys Of Neptune


Bob Marley | Natural Mystic


Fila Brazillia | Brazilification


Big Star | #1 Record


Bob Dylan | Oh Mercy


Alice Cooper | From The Inside


The Blue Nile | A Walk Across The Rooftops


Funkadelic | America Eats Its Young


The Beatles | Let It Be


Linda Ronstadt | Heart Like A Wheel


Gil Scott-Heron | Pieces Of A Man


Tim Buckley | Greetings From L.A.


Dan Auerbach | Keep It Hid


Chet Atkins & Les Paul | Chester & Lester


Various Artists | O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack


Dennis Coffey | Hair & Thangs


Luis Gasca | Luis Gasca


Wynton Marsalis | Marsalis Standard Time


Beastie Boys | Licensed To Ill


The Beach Boys | The Beach Boys Love You

Buried Treasure: Big City Funk

12 December 2008

[Today: A Motown session guitarist makes raw funk in his off hours...]

Dennis Coffey | Big City Funk

While in his early twenties, Dennis Coffey was simultaneously offered a touring job with jazz organist Groove Holmes, and a job as session musician for Motown. In order to stay close to his Detroit home, Coffey accepted the Motown gig, and became one of the famous Funk Brothers. This legendary collective of studio musicians provided the music for Motown’s hitmakers of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and Coffey played guitar on sessions for a wide variety of Motown musicians, including The Temptations, The Supremes, The Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye. His website claims that he “has played on over 100 million-selling albums.”

But during his off hours, Coffey was busy creating a series of blistering instrumental funk albums for the Sussex label. These albums (including classic and collectible titles such as Evolution, Instant Coffey, and Goin’ For Myself) feature wah-wah heavy jams that layer Coffey’s guitars nearly to infinity. Big City Funk compiles the best of his Sussex recordings from 1971 to 1974, and everything here (including the Top Ten hit ‘Scorpio’) sounds like the streets of Detroit in the early 70s – in other words, muscle cars, pimp fedoras, garbage in the streets, and all the trimmings.

Because Coffey’s music is full of spectacular breakbeats (the part of the song where the music gives way for the rhythm section to play unaccompanied) these songs have been sampled by a vast range of artists, including Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Moby, Roni Size, and Rage Against The Machine.

Coffey wanted to make music for Blaxploitation films, and to that end he left Sussex in ’74 to work on the soundtrack for the movie Black Belt Jones. But to my ear, he was making music for imaginary Blaxploitation flicks long before he was getting paid to do so.

Listen: Scorpio

Funky Five Spot

17 February 2008

After an epic game of phone tag, I finally got my old friend Aldo on the phone the other day for a little catch up. In addition to running down the fortunes of some of our high school classmates, he hit me up with the inevitable “What’ve you been listening to lately?” We spiraled off onto some other tangents before we got to my recent playlist, and the question ended up unanswered. So Aldo, if you’re out there reading this, here are five funky albums I’ve been playing way too much lately:

Dennis Coffey - album
Dennis Coffey * Big City Funk: Original Old School Breaks & Heavy Guitar Soul - Coffey recorded four albums for the Sussex label between 1971 and ’74, and his layered guitars, wah-wah’ed to inifinity, are the musical equivalent of a 70’s cop show – all uptempo adrenaline and funky vamping. This is gritty, bad-ass instrumental funk that constantly threatens to jump the shark, but redeems itself through wicked grooves. Big City Funk collects Coffey’s best tracks, which have naturally been sampled endlessly by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.

Love's A Real Thing - album
Various Artists * Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa - The brief liner notes paint an inviting picture of West Africans huddled around their transistor radios, digging the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, and then flipping what they’ve heard into their own take on psychedelic funk. The music here – mostly recorded in the mid-70’s – is the byproduct of that scene, and it’s a treasure trove of irresistible funk that sounds like it’s been beamed to Africa, refracted off the moon and sent back. Ten thumbs up.

Clarence Carter - album
Clarence Carter * Testifyin’ - This is funk that grooves with the heavy, smooth consistency of buttermilk. Carter’s honeyed voice comes with a wink, making lines like “Everybody knows I’m bad news everywhere I go” seem like play-acting. A squadron of saxophones and trumpets round out the band’s sound and punctate Carter’s bold vocal proclomations of love and fealty. I bought it mainly because of the amazing cover art, but lucked into one of the best examples of the Muscle Shoals sound. Interesting note: longtime great Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr shot the photos on the back of the album jacket.

El Barrio - Fania
Various Artists * El Barrio: Gangsters, Latin Soul & The Birth Of Salsa 1967-75 - Fania Records – the latin funk label that was founded in the mid-60’s and more or less cornered the market on salsa music – has reissued a staggering number of incredible albums over the last year. The best way to dip into this potentially overwhelming wealth of funk is through one of the many great Fania compliations released last year. Three standouts are Gilles Peterson’s Fania DJ Series compilation, as well asThe Bad Boogaloo, and El Barrio. Muy mucho gusto!

Black Sugar - Black Sugar
Black Sugar * Black Sugar - These 70’s Peruvian funkateers sound like an indigenous version of Santana or War. Their 1971 debut was a best-seller in South America, but was only released in the US through a small Miami label, and didn’t make much of an impact here. But it’s full of chunky, percussive beats and Carlos Mejia’s impassioned vocal stylings. “Stay with me” he pleads over and over, his voice rasped out to the edge of coherence and reason. Little has been written about this group, but they are worthy of more scupulous attention, as well as repeated listenings.


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