Q & A With Dennis Coffey, Pt. 2

I already recapped who this man is, if you still don’t know go back to part one.

WJ: What’s the name of the band that backs you? Will they tour with you?
Dennis Coffey: Will Sessions and they will be touring with me, we’ve been doing some gigs in Detroit. Got three or four horns, it’s a monster band, they are good. And we got Kendra Morris, a new signee to the Wax Poetics label, she’s singing with us.

Where did the collaborations come from on the new album?
There is the Kings Go Forth one, I told ya how that one happened. Then there is a producer, Eric Hoegeymeyer, he plays drums and keyboards. He works with Al Sutton in Al’s studio, so he collaborated on a few songs that he added some lyrics to. The other songs are just mine.

You said you were in Eminem’s studio, where you making music there?
I went in there with the 45 King, and another guy that works with Eminem. We were trying to do something at his studio, working on one track but it seemed to be to my management team that it wasn’t going to come together.

Do you see similarities between the young musicians coming up in Detroit today, versus the mentality you and your peers had back in the day?
Yeah because Detroit has always been a very musical city. I notice that Austin is very musical, you got all this live entertainment. You can go in Detroit, and despite of the troubles it’s had – it’s making a come back, but you can go any night of the week in Detroit and hear live music. Any kind of music, seven nights a week. It’s always been a good live audience thing.

Detroiters love their music and they will show up for it. That’s some of the similarities that helps young players evolve. I did my first record gig when I was fifteen, you can hear it on youtube it’s called “I’m Gone” by Vic Gallon and I’m taking two solos on it. I had to hire the other two musicians I had to make sure one of em had a drivers license, none of my friends did we were too young. But you see that kind of excitement, and again this CD was made in Detroit. We had some artists do some overdubs somewhere else, but it’s a Detroit product, it was done by young players from Detroit.

The similarities to when I was young with the Funk Brothers. I mean we were on our game, we were dedicated, we had that passion and enthusiasm and the young people I see now have that too. They are at a different level musically, but we were all that level when we started. They are good, they are all young cats and they can play. That’s the foundational stuff.

Do you pay attention to Daptone, Sharon Jones, that whole collective?
I’ve been told that some of the stuff that I do might be appealing to the crowd that follows them. I’ve not listened to much to what they are doing. The album I have right now is one of the things, like when I’m doing stuff in the clubs, the album is more structured but when I was playing back in Detroit on Wednesdays we never played the same song the same way twice.

So in Detroit you had a weekly on Wednesdays?
Yeah I had an organ trio, sometimes a quartet and we’d go in and we would play songs, and then we’d go into these breakdowns and crazy stuff. It was always exciting. My organ player when he’d see me going into some crazy stuff he’d say “Man he’s doing that voodoo shit, we don’t’ know what he’s doing.” It was always wild, it’s exciting that’s why i’m still doing it, because you can always come up with new ideas, and then you play with new people and they come with new ideas.

What made Motown so great with the Funk Brothers, we played together, read charts, created extra stuff for the charts and we did one song an hour, that’s what we did. We had a lot of fun doing it cause everybody bounced feel and ideas off each other. We had 12 guys in there, but that also means if one of them messes up you gotta start the tape over, you don’t want to be that guy.

Do you know where you are paying Saturday night?
There is two sets, I’m not sure where they are.

It feels like back in the day you guys would play multiple shows in a day, and today it seems like with younger cats they don’t think they should do more than one show in a day.
You know what it is, back in the day there was so much work you could work seven nights a week if you wanted to playing in clubs. I used to do eighteen sessions a week at three hour’s a session. I’d go to Motown at ten in the morning for three hours do three songs, have lunch come back and do three more. Than I’d go to the Motown workshop upstairs of Golden World and do two and a half hours with the producers and by ten o’clock at night I’d be over at HDH Tower studios, they were doing Hot Wax so I’d go do a session for them and then I was producing with Mike Theodore for the Sussex stuff and I was also doing a Jazz gig with Lyman Woodard.

I think probably the musicians that I see in Detroit they don’t see to, it’s never been we don’t want to do stuff, it’s being given the opportunity to do stuff and be paid accordingly. I did one gig at a casino, it was a friend of mine who gave me the gig and we went in and did five sets, and it was in Canada, so by the time you go through immigration we started at 4 and I didn’t get home until like 3 in the morning and we did five sets of this high powered stuff that we do and I looked at my band and they looked at me and I said we can’t do concert material for five long sets, we are creating stuff as we go. To do five longs sets like that, we can’t come back and do this. We are doing high powered concert kind of things, it was just too much on the guys.

How planned out were the sessions with the Funk Brothers? Were you guys jamming to create stuff?
No jamming. Every session at Motown you had the producer and the arranger, never really had the artist. Norman Whitfield, did all the Temptations stuff, he was usually right there by the drummer and would count us off. He usually had Paul Riser or David Vander, he’d come in and put the master rhythm chart on the stand, so we all had master rhythm charts and we all read off those. And then if they wanted something extra, like Norman Whitfield he was a master of dynamics. He’d say “well were gonna break this thing down, so when I give you guys the cue you stop playing and we’ll give it to the drummers. And then when I do this you come in and you come in.” That’s how he built all those long Temptations records. Then he’d tell me “what kind of gadgets do you have?” So I’d put that stuff on and he’d give me a solo on the end.

That’s kind of how that happened, I did the first session for my album and I didn’t write the charts on it and a couple of the guys early on weren’t real good sight readers. I said we can’t do this, bring guys in and sing the parts, so I just wrote charts for everything. But at Motown we never would of got a song an hour if the musicians were jamming, probably would of gotten no songs.

What was the influence to use those gadgets?
I had a friend of mine who owned a music store, he and I went to high school together. He used to tell me to come to his music store, and every new gadget that would come in, it started with the wah-wah peddle, he said let me play you this little 45 to show you what it sounds like. So he would be like this is what this sounds like, just take it and if you like it come back and pay me. All this stuff just came through him saying it’s new the sales rep dropped it off, try it out.

So I’m in Motown with all these peddles and the Jackson’s come through and Joe is looking at me with all these peddles and he says “what are you doing? What are all of those things?” I was playing a session so I sent him over there and he bought a lot of them for the band. I’m still looking for different sounds. It was just another tool in the creative process.

What was it like to be involved in the Standing In The Shadows of Motown documentary?
Allen Sluskey, who put that movie together, he had called me before and had said I want to put together the Funk Brothers and put together some touring. I had my consulting job and was too busy. They started it without me but then they wanted to do this “Cloud Nine” piece so they hired me for that and I did the wah-wah segment. But you noticed it was a lot more focused on the other guys cause I was simply to busy.

At the end when Motown moved I was already out in LA, on salary with Sussex and doing records for everybody. I was already out there, plus I already had my own records out. I also had my own records out. I was never on contract with Motown, so I could play for anybody. When the studio closed it hurt the Funk Brothers cause they had spent so much time of their lives supporting Motown. It didn’t hurt me any, I don’t even know the day it happened. I was out doing my own thing.

I’d like to thank Coffey’s manager Chris for helping me with some fact checking and Stephen with Strut for helping make this happen in Austin!

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One Response to “Q & A With Dennis Coffey, Pt. 2”

  1. [...] soul sounds will be in the air at the green all of Monday, with Dennis Coffey getting busy before Mr. Bradley. Another funky high light from the Austine experience, this Detroit [...]

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