Dennis Coffey, the man who brought wah-wah to Motown (on the Temptations' "Cloud Nine") and has a Hall of Fame-caliber sessions resume, brings his own music to the fore again this week with the help of some famous friends.
Paolo Nutini, Mayer Hawthorne, Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays, Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs, Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras, Orgone's Fanny Franklin and Kings Go Forth all guest on "Dennis Coffey," the Detroit-based guitarist's first new solo album in five years. Produced by Kid Rock's chief engineer Al Sutton, the set mixes original instrumentals with new covers of songs that Coffey played on originally, including Cold Fact's "Only Good For Conversation" with Nutini, Parliament's "All Your Goodies are Gone" with Hawthorne, 100 Proof (Aged in Soul)'s "Somebody's Been Sleeping in My Bed" with Kekaula and Funkadelic's "I Bet You" with Collins and Nagy.
"This was always my goal," Coffey tells Billboard.com about recording under his own name. "It's pretty popular knowledge that Motown didn't put the names of the musicians on their albums. I had at least gotten out of the crowd and gotten some recognition through my own albums. What people keep saying to me, when they read my book (2004's 'Guitars, Bars, and Motown Superstars') or find out another way, is, 'We had no idea you played on all these hits. We knew you played on some stuff at Motown, but not all this!' Hopefully we can make that more common knowledge."
The 70-year-old Coffey, who first started making records when he was 15 years old, was a Motown favorite of producer Norman Whitfield, who liked the "bag of tricks" he guitarist would bring to sessions. Besides Temptations hits such as "Ball of Confusion," "Just My Imagination," "Psychedelic Shack" and "I Can't Get Next to You," Coffey also recorded on songs by the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Edwin Starr, the Spinners and Undisputed Truth. And because he was not contractually bound to Motown like the other Funk Brothers, Coffey was able to work with artists on other labels, including George Clinton and the Parliaments, Freda Payne, Wilson Pickett, Funkadelic, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones and Tom Jones.
Coffey also started releasing his own albums in 1968 and scored a Top 10 hit in 1971 with the instrumental "Scorpio," which has been sampled by LL Cool J, Mos Def, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy and others.
"All the hip-hop guys come up to me and talk about my contributions to hip-hop 'cause they all know where those samples came from," says Coffey, who also spent two decades starting in the mid-80s working in the automobile industry. In recent years he's been honored with a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, a Heroes & Legends Achievement in Music honor and a Detroit Music Awards Distinguished Achievement trophy. "A lot of young musicians started going into the computer and stuff and could see what I had done, and a lot of them started turning up at my shows."
"Dennis Coffey" will put Coffey back on the road come June, with a lineup of dates that includes New York and Los Angeles as well as the Bonnaroo Music Festival on June 11, with more dates to be scheduled in the near future.
"As long as I'm able, I'm gonna keep at it and stay out there," Coffey says. "When I played with Les Paul he was 93, and I saw (Andres) Segovia do a concert and he was 92 and playing by himself on stage for the whole concert. B.B. King's still out there. I think it keeps you alive."