TIR 133: Funk Brother Dennis Coffey Tells Why ‘Scorpio’ Is Still Rising



Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott “DR GX” Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 133: Funk guitar giant Dennis Coffey. Already an experienced session player, by the late 1960s funk guitar icon Dennis Coffey became a member of the Funk Brothers studio band.

He played on dozens of recordings for Motown Records, and introduced a hard rock guitar sound to Motown record producer Norman Whitfield’s recordings, including distortion, Echoplex tape-loop delay, and wah-wah; most notably heard on “Cloud Nine,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and “Psychedelic Shack” by The Temptations. He played on numerous other hit records of the era including No. 1 singles like Edwin Starr’s “War,” Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” and Freda Payne’s No. 3 hit (No. 1 in the U.K.) “Band of Gold.”

In 1971, Coffey recorded “Scorpio,” a million-selling instrumental single that peaked in the U.S. at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart and at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The instrumental track featured former Motown “funk brother” Bob Babbitt on bass. On Jan. 8, 1972, Coffey became the first white artist to perform on TV’s Soul Train, playing “Scorpio.” That record received a gold disc awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1971.

The follow-up in 1972 was “Taurus,” both credited to Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band. Since then, he has recorded several solo albums, most of them for the Sussex and Westbound labels. While at Sussex Records, Coffey arranged and produced along with Mike Theodore the million-selling “Nice To Be With You” by the group Gallery. In addition, Coffey scored the blaxploitation film, Black Belt Jones (1974).

Coffey was interviewed in the 2002 film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which told the story of Funk Brothers and explained that he had sold his Fender Stratocaster to buy a Gibson Firebird after he heard Eddie Willis of Funk Brothers play it during a Motown session. In 2004, he published a memoir, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars. Coffey was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame as a member of the Funk Brothers in 2010 and as a solo artist in 2018.

He recounts most of it here, as well as his still active performing schedule and 2019’s jazz album, Down by the River.