Dennis Coffey: Dennis Coffey

A polite and well-rehearsed take on Evil Psychedelic Soul.

Dennis Coffey

Dennis Coffey

Lable: Strut
US Release Date: 2011-04-26
UK Release Date: 2011-04-25
Label website
Artist website

If you haven’t heard it in a while, put on Freda Payne’s 1970 hit “Band of Gold” -- the one where she and her husband stay in separate rooms on their honeymoon -- and listen to that opening guitar riff. THAT’s Dennis Coffey, and his riff’s steely wah-wah and flatted final note set the scene for all the shit that’s about to go down. That riff is the rising curtain, the operatic overture, the Bernard Herrmann title music to Payne’s horrific sex-deprived nightmare. It’s the darkness of a lonely room, filled with sadness, filled with gloom. Of course, it’s also a killer rock hook on an AM-radio soul hit; hence Coffey’s historical importance as a session guitarist.

There are few hipper cats releasing self-titled 14th albums this year, and the new Dennis Coffey arrives with a sheen of capital-C Cool. It trots out some of Coffey’s old session hits, like Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Knock My Love” and 100 Proof Aged In Soul’s “Somebody’s Been Sleeping”, that have aged remarkably well. It features young garage-soul singers, like Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs and Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays, who are carrying the old Funk Brothers torch. It’s got several spacily-titled instrumentals in the tradition of “Scorpio”, Coffey’s biggest (#6) hit and the foundation for a parsec’s length of rap records. The symmetrical time-lapse album cover even mirrors Coffey’s ‘73 album Electric Coffey, with the electrified artist in the darkness of a lonely room.

So it’s a little disappointing when Dennis Coffey opens with... a pretty good bar-band funk workout. It’s got horns, congas, the works, but it’s all very polite. The guitar solo even stops to make room for the hackneyed horn fills, and everything just chugs along smoothly and competently. The band sure sounds well-rehearsed. They practically tell you to tip your waitress. Said opener is the spacily-titled “7th Galaxy”, which does very little to evoke astronomical netherworlds -- Coffey could have named it “Motion Lotion” or “Crimestoppers are GO!!!” (these are just suggestions) and it would’ve had the same effect.

Most of the covers have the same problem. L.A. funk revivalist Fanny Franklin sasses “Don’t Knock My Love”, but she doesn’t approach Pickett’s feral screams-outta-nowhere, so the song just sits there. Same with Ann Arbor soul revivalist Mayer Hawthorne -- his rendition of Parliament’s “All Your Goodies are Gone” is slick and respectful. That’s an unusual take on what was originally a sinister rewrite of “Like a Rolling Stone”, with George Clinton’s weird vocals slipping around the mix like a vial of bodily fluids. When Clinton sang the word “rectify”, he evoked an evil proctologist. Hawthorne sounds more like a moonlighting lawyer.

The instrumentalists don’t exactly help matters. They plow through “Goodies” like they’re afraid of outstaying their studio time. Their version of Funkadelic’s stalking “I Bet You” is faithful down to the screaming guitar escalations, but the arrangement isn’t as dark, and it’s way more homogeneous. Again, these musicians are all beyond competent, but aside from Coffey they don’t play with much personality.

The big exception is their cover of Rodriguez’s obscure Edgar Winter-ish “Only Good for Conversation”, with a startlingly mean vocal from Scottish singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini. It’s a lurid mustache of a song, suitable for a Dazed and Confused soundtrack. Also fine is the new instrumental “Knockabout”, with wordless “DAH! DAH! DAH!” vocals and a groove that’ll make you shake whatever’s handy -- tambourines, moneymakers, babies. Coffey handles his riff and a short wah-wah solo with aplomb. He’s from the Keith Richards school -- no extravagant meltdowns, but he makes every note sound like himself.

Dennis Coffey and his mates should play this music on cruise lines. Or maybe at theme parks -- picture an all-ages extravaganza called “The Sound of Funky Detroit City”, with Coffey and his new jack pals trotting out the legacy hits for young and old, seven nights a week. The grown-ups would get a pleasant nostalgia buzz, the kids would concede that Coffey is plenty cool and they could’ve been dragged to much worse, and Detroit’s economy would get a needed boost. They’d have to excise the word “bitch” from “Conversation”, but otherwise it’d be a natural fit for Cedar Point or someplace.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.