A Club Performance From 1960s Detroit Holds One Key To Motown's Success | KUOW News and Information

A Club Performance From 1960s Detroit Holds One Key To Motown's Success

Jan 24, 2017

Over the years, music fans have slowly filled in details about a hard-working, mostly anonymous collective of Detroit studio musicians known as The Funk Brothers, who were the backing band for many of Motown's hit songs. Less documented is what these musicians did when they were not in the studio.

Recently, the archive label Resonance found a tape of Funk Brothers guitarist Dennis Coffey playing live with a trio at a Detroit nightclub in 1968. They've now released the recordings as Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin' at Morey Baker's Showplace Lounge, an album that offers one answer to the question, "How did Motown happen?"

Detroit in the 1960s was alive with music. When the musicians of Motown finished recording for the day, they could often be found performing in local nightspots. Label founder Berry Gordy has said that the city's musically diverse club scene was essential to the label's success: Musicians like Coffey used these recurring gigs to develop not just skills, but also a sensibility.

If there is a "Detroit sound," it has to do with the way the rhythm players interact: They lay back, follow each other's moves and even seem to breathe together. This approach didn't originate in the Motown studio. It developed over countless nights, in small venues the one where Hot Coffey was recorded.

These live tracks are some distance from the highly-polished Motown million-sellers. Still, you can hear the shared DNA: As Coffey and his trio dig in and work the groove, they bring the energy that was expected in the Motown studio to an ordinary night in a club.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For those who've wondered how the Motown sound of the 1960s came about, a newly released live recording holds some clues. The recording's from 1968. It's guitarist Dennis Coffey and his trio playing a Detroit club.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS COFFEY SONG, "THE BIG D")

SHAPIRO: Reviewer Tom Moon explains why this recording is so special.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Detroit in the 1960s was alive with music. When the musicians of Motown finished their recording for the day, they could often be found performing in nightspots. Motown founder Berry Gordy has said that the city's musically diverse club scene was essential to the label's success. Musicians like Dennis Coffey used these recurring gigs to develop not just skills but also a sensibility.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS COFFEY SONG, "FUZZ")

MOON: If there's a Detroit sound, it has to do with the way the rhythm players interact. They lay back. They follow each other's moves, even seem to breathe together. This approach didn't originate in the Motown studio. It developed over countless nights in small venues like Morey Baker's Showplace Lounge, where this was recorded.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS COFFEY SONG, "THE LOOK OF LOVE")

MOON: Check out where the guitarist takes this version of "The Look Of Love," He's finished the melody. The tunes may be on the way out. But he's jamming away, coaxing the trio into another zone.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS COFFEY SONG, "THE LOOK OF LOVE")

MOON: These live tracks are some distance from the highly polished Motown million sellers. Still, you can hear the shared DNA. As guitarist Dennis Coffey and his trio dig in and work the groove, they bring the energy that was expected in the Motown studio to an ordinary night in a club.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS COFFEY SONG, "CASANOVA - YOUR PLAYING DAYS ARE OVER")

SHAPIRO: The 1968 recording by Dennis Coffey is called "Hot Coffey in the D." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENNIS COFFEY SONG, "CASANOVA - YOUR PLAYING DAYS ARE OVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.