So, what do the songs “Goodnight Vienna” by Ringo Starr, “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by The Chairmen Of The Board, “War” by Edwin Starr, “Someday We’ll Be Together” by The Supremes, “That’s The Way Love Is” by Marvin Gaye, “Cloud Nine” by The Temptations, “Band Of Gold” by Freda Payne, and “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers have in common? They all feature the guitar virtuosity of Dennis Coffey.
He was a session musician in his teens and accepted his first regular gig in the 1960s, when he joined the Royaltones, who had had a big hit during 1958 with “Poor Boy.” He gained his greatest fame in the 1960s as a member of the Funk Brothers. Its fluid line-up was the backing band for countless recordings by artists signed to the Motown label. He would be recognized as one of the most respected session guitarists of the era.
He embarked upon a solo career in 1969 and had two hit singles during the early 1970s with “Scorpio” and “Taurus.” His albums have sold moderately well since that time, and his 2011 self-titled release is his 14th.
Dennis Coffey is really two albums in one. There are a group of songs where he shares top billing with other artists who add vocals to his sound, while the rest of the album features him as the unquestioned guitar star.
“All Your Goodies Are Gone,” with vocals by Mayer Hawthorne, and “I Bet You” with Mick Collins & Rachel Nagy, are the best of the guest artist tracks. Hawthorne is a smooth vocalist who can give just about any song a romantic appeal, while Collins & Nagy form a nice counterpoint to Coffey’s guitar licks. The old One Hundred Proof Aged In Soul song, ”Somebody’s Been Sleeping,” with vocals by Lisa Kekaula, comes very close in quality to the first two. This group of songs is more mainstream than most of what he has produced during his career, and hopefully they will gain him some attention now.
On the other hand, when he cranks up his guitar, he is one of the better musicians working today. Instrumentals are at the heart of any Dennis Coffey album. “7th Galaxy” has a hard and repetitive guitar line with a big brass sound as the foundation of the track. “Knockabout” is a funky outing with a lesson in how to add a wah-wah sound to a song. “Space Traveler” is a slow motion performance where his tight playing stands out.
Dennis Coffey is now 71 years old and has been playing the guitar for close to six decades. His latest release expands his usual musical approach a little, but in the final analysis, it all comes back to his guitar. On his Dennis Coffey album, he proves once again that while he may not be a household name, he remains an unsung hero of the guitar.