Dennis Coffey - Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge (2017)

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Dennis Coffey - Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge

I’m a liner notes man. I enjoy reading album credits, perusing lyrics and the essays that provide insight and biography about the artist and what drove this talented person to create. That’s hasn’t always been an advantage since cassettes, compact discs and digital files supplanted vinyl, long play albums starting in the 1980s. It’s hard to see the small print on a booklet inside a CD case and trying to recreate the look of liner notes on a computer screen or tablet can seem like a better idea conceptually than in practice.

Plenty projects come to market sans any kind of information, which is really a shame for the kind of music fans that come to sites such as SoulTracks who also like reading the lyrics, credits, names of musicians and backing vocalists – to say nothing of the kind of commentary and background contained in liner notes from album reissues.

Dennis Coffey - Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge

I’m a liner notes man. I enjoy reading album credits, perusing lyrics and the essays that provide insight and biography about the artist and what drove this talented person to create. That’s hasn’t always been an advantage since cassettes, compact discs and digital files supplanted vinyl, long play albums starting in the 1980s. It’s hard to see the small print on a booklet inside a CD case and trying to recreate the look of liner notes on a computer screen or tablet can seem like a better idea conceptually than in practice.

Plenty projects come to market sans any kind of information, which is really a shame for the kind of music fans that come to sites such as SoulTracks who also like reading the lyrics, credits, names of musicians and backing vocalists – to say nothing of the kind of commentary and background contained in liner notes from album reissues.

Those fans are going to really enjoy reading the liner notes and listening to the music contained on Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, a recently released piece of Detroit history that features guitarist Dennis Coffey - one of that city’s legendary session musicians and performers.

Coffey didn’t front the trio that had residencies at The Frolic Show Bar and Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge in the late 1960s. The trio was fronted by the great Hammond B-3 player Lyman Woodward. However, Coffey would be one nationally and internationally known member of the Lyman Woodward Trio that played at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge when this live set was recorded in 1968. Coffey played guitar on many major hits at Motown and other Detroit labels. He had his own smash hit with 1971 funk instrumental classic “Scorpio.” In recent years, Coffey was among the house musicians at Motown who were collectively known as The Funk Brothers who received a much deserved reintroduction to the world through the critically acclaimed documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”

Those notes provide rich details about Detroit’s music scene in the 1960s with the most notable difference being the number venues in town that gave musicians opportunity to work and a level of autonomy to select a venue to that had a certain atmosphere. We learn that Woodward, Coffey and drummer and vocalist Melvin Davis preferred a venue where the audience consisted of music fans who wanted to listen to serious musicians willing to reimagine pop the hits that they covered while also working in originals. Morey Baker’s and a prior residency at the Frolic Show Bar were both those kind of venues.

It’s also revelatory to read how many top flight musicians resided in the city and how they interacted. Coffey actually landed this gig when another legendary guitarist, Don Davis, invited him to sit in with the band in 1966, when the Woodward’s trio was still at the Frolic. This turned out to be an audition. Davis wanted to focus on the production side and he eventually produced another iconic Detroit group, The Dramatics. Davis asked Coffey if he was interested in taking his place. The trio that would make Morey Baker’s a go to spot for Motown’s business professionals was set when drummer Melvin Davis joined.

This live recording makes it easy to understand why the trio garnered such a loyal following. Each member brought his own virtues to the band. Davis brought a background as a vocalist and session drummer at Motown and Invictus, the label that Edward Holland, Jr., Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier started after their split with Motown, so he had a feel for accessible R&B rhythms and a comfort for providing a solid foundation for Coffey and Woodward’s flights of creative fancy. Woodward brought a strong jazz background and was highly influenced by electric organists from the soul/jazz school such as Jimmy Smith. Coffey counted the great Wes Montgomery as an influence, and that can be heard on his soloing on the covers of tunes such as “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “The Look of Love.” Montgomery was busy creating the contemporary jazz guitar template with his pop influenced covers of “A Day in the Life and Sunny.”

Coffey, not content to merely model Montgomery, raised the creative ante by adding elements that rock guitarists included in their music, in the form of distortion and funk elements from the wah wah pedal. The result found Coffey going from the Montgomery styled fingering on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” to a track that is transformed into a funk number thanks to Davis’ aggressive drumming and Woodward’s church house meets jazz hall keyboard work. Coffey really employed the psychedelic and funk elements on the album’s two originals, “Fuzz” and “The Big D,” and he pulls out every arrow in his quiver on a particularly inspired rendition of “Casanova.” In fact, Coffey and Woodward seem to be competing or at least communicating with each other as they create.

Listeners will hear long, free form solos throughout Hot Coffey in the Big D. That kind of life performance was the norm at a time when jazz had a larger cultural imprint than it currently enjoys. These days, when many in the younger set want live music to sound the way it does on the record, musicians jamming as hard as Coffey, Davis and Woodward might be accused of doing too much. But for crowd that kept coming to heard this trio at Morey Baker’s, The Woodward Trio was doing it just right. I’d have to agree. Highly Recommended.

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