Dennis Coffey (born Dennis James Coffey in Detroit, Michigan in 1940) is an American guitarist, who was one of the first few white musicians at that time who did session work with many soul and R&B recording, including the ones for Motown Records. Already proficient in playing the guitar while he was still in his teens, the high-schooler had his first recording session, backing up Vic Gallon in his record “I’m Gone.” At Motown he introduced guitar sound techniques and styles including distortion and “wah-wah.” Since then he had backed for many other R&B/soul/disco artists, having also teamed up as a member of The Funk Brothers, a distinguished group of session musicians. As a recording artist himself, Coffey scored his first and biggest hit (with the Detroit Guitar Band) with “Scorpio”, an instrumental single that reached the Top 10 pop chart in during the early 70s era, and now an oldies music classic. His second album Evolution reached #36 on the Billboard 200, and #13 on the R&B album chart in the same year. In 1972 Coffey performed “Scorpio” on the music TV show Soul Train, becoming the first white to appear there. His follow-up single “Taurus” reached the Top 20 pop chart in 1972. In 2011, he released his last studio album Dennis Coffey, which featured new songs showcasing his distinctive guitar work.
Meet Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band
Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band was soul and funk group which gained brief popularity during the early 70’s music era. It was formed by guitarist Dennis Coffey (born Dennis James Coffey on November 11, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan).
When he reached puberty Coffey learned how to play guitar. He had his first recording experience at the age of 15 where he did back up duties for Vic Gallon’s song “I’m Gone.” During the early 1960’s, Coffey became a member of The Royaltones (known with the “Poor Boy” and “Flamingo Express” fame in 1961) and the Funk Brothers studio band later that decade. He also made numerous recordings for Motown Records where he introduced hard-rock and classic rock elements such as the “wah-wah” guitar effects (which can be heard on such tracks as “Cloud Nine” and “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations).
Gaining the hits “Scorpio” and “Taurus”
Around 1971, Coffey gathered a group of guitarists to form Dennis Coffey and Detroit Guitar Band. Featuring Motown’s “funk brother” Bob Babbitt on bass, they issued the instrumental single “Scorpio” that would become their first hit. It peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 while it was #9 on the R&B chart. Later that year, the song earned a gold disc award by the RIAA. In 1972 Coffey also made a record as the first white artist to perform on the syndicated variety show Soul Train. The follow-up single “Taurus” became a hit a pop and R&B hit as well at #18 and #11 respectively. After those two hits with the Detroit Guitar Band, he went solo again and recorded several singles for Sussex and Westbound imprints.
Coffey gave an interview about his collaboration with the Funk Brothers in the documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown. A memoir was also released by Coffey in 2004 called “Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars.” On April 26, 2011, he issued his last record, a self-titled album which consists of newl versions of his remarkable guitar skills.