Sunday, August 6, 2017

“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band

Motown guitar legend Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band blessed the music world with this incredible instrumental back in 1971. Coffey serves up a potent guitar performance on this sizzling funk/rock cut. The dynamic track also features a terrific drum/conga breakdown, followed by a badass bass solo from famed Funk Brother Bob Babbit. Also, a bit of song trivia: the opening guitar line is actually made up of nine guitar riffs overdubbed by Coffey, spanning three octaves, giving it a more explosive and powerful sound.

 “Scorpio,” written and arranged by Coffey, was a single from his second album, Evolution (1971). The track shot up the charts—peaking at #6 on the U.S. R&B charts and #9 on the U.S. pop charts—and went on to sell a million copies. It’s now considered a funk classic and has been sampled on a number tracks, including “Bust of Move” (Young MC), “Night of the living Baseheads” (Public Enemy), “The Score” (The Fugees, featuring Diamond D), “All My Love” (House of Pain), “We’re All in the Same Gang” (West Coast Rap All Stars), “Jingling Baby” (LL Cool J) and “Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children” (Queen Latifah, featuring De La Soul).

In addition to Coffey and Babbit, the other players on “Scorpio” are Joe Podorsic (baritone guitar); Ray Monette (tenor guitar); Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas); Uriel Jones and Richard "Pistol" Allen (drums); Early Van Dyke (piano) and Jack Ashford on tambourine.

Coffey was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 11, 1940. He began playing guitar at age 13 and had his first recording session at 15 where he laid down some hot licks on Vic Gallon’s rockabilly single "I'm Gone" on the Gondola record label in 1956.

In the early ‘60s, Coffey played with the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental band the Royaltones.  The band landed the hits “Poor Boy” and “Flamingo Express.” The Royaltones also played on tracks for other artists, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Del Shannon.

During the late ‘60s through the ‘70s, Coffey made a name for himself as a prolific session player for the labels Motown, Invictus and Sussex.  As a member of the Funk Brothers—Motown’s legendary house band—Coffey played on tons of great tracks, many of which went on to become classics. 

Some of the well-known tracks that Coffey played on include “War” (Edwin Starr), “Band of Gold” (Freda Payne), “Someday, We’ll Be Together (Diana Ross and the Supremes) and the following Temptations songs: “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” 

Coffey’s creative use of distortion, Echoplex, fuzz tone and wah-wah pedals helped enhance the psychedelic-soul flavor on some of the Norman Whitfield-produced tracks for the Temptations.

Coffey also played on Funkadelic’s 1970 self-titled debut album, contributing his strong fretboard skills to the haunting, freakafied joint “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?”

The guitarist, composer and producer released his first album, Hair and Thangs, in 1969. He dropped his third album, Goin’ for Myself, in 1972. The album contains the exhilarating rock/funk instrumental “Taurus.” The track performed well on the U.S. singles charts, climbing to #11 on the R&B charts and #18 on the pop charts.  And the album peaked at #37 on the U.S. R&B album charts.

Following Goin’ for Myself, Coffey continued doing session work as well as dropping several more solo albums on the Sussex and Westbound labels. And he, along with Mike Theodore, produced and arranged the 1972 international smash “Nice to Be With You” by soft-rock band Gallery. 

The guitarist also holds the distinction of being the first white artist to perform on Soul Train. Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band performed “Scorpio” on the super-hip music-dance television program on January 8, 1972.

Additionally, Coffey scored the 1974 Blaxploitation martial arts flick Black Belt Jones, which starred Jim Kelly. The film is now considered a cult classic.

Coffey continues to gig and record music. He recently released the album Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, which is a live album that was recorded in 1968.

Check out Coffey’s official website for upcoming concert dates and other info.