Other Motown Artists I Worked With

Other Motown Artists I Worked With


November 22nd, 2014

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Other Motown Artists I Worked With

I first saw Michael Jackson, the Jackson Five, and his dad Joe at Motown Studio A. Bobby Taylor was producing a session on them. We originally recorded the tracks for “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. Michael must have been under 12 years old at the time. Joe Jackson saw me playing guitar with my effects and after the session he asked me what they were. I explained each effect to him and then he asked me where he could buy some music gear for the Jackson Five. I sent him over to my friend Joe Podorsek at Capital Music and he bought some gear. The next thing I heard about the Jackson Five was they were being produced by The Corporation in LA. When I moved out to LA and started doing sessions for Freddy Perren out there, we disagreed on where those initial Jackson Five tracks were recorded. Motown Funk Brother Uriel Jones and I remember playing those arrangements and doing them in Detroit. Freddy said they recorded them at Mowest. Later I heard that Berry Gordy thought the Funk Brother tracks were too funky for the Jackson Five and recut those tracks using the same arrangements in LA. That made sense to me because when I heard those records, they didn’t sound quite like us. I also played on some of Freddy’s other hits such as “Boogie Fever” by the Sylvers and “Do It” by the Miracles.
The first time I got the call to do a session at Mowest, we started at 10:00am. Mowest had a band tracking studio downstairs and overdub studio upstairs. I used to see Smokey walking in the halls downstairs. I was doing tracks downstairs and then doing overdubs upstairs. I was the only Funk Brother there. I did not get done until 4:00am the next morning. That was a long day. Motown paid me musician’s scale and a half for every session I did out there.

Motown Artist Michael Jackson

Young Michael Jackson

One day I got a call from Ben Barrett, the contractor at Mowest who scheduled the musicians. Hank Cosby was the contractor in Detroit. Ben told me Motown wanted me to play in a live show with the Jackson Five which included both Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. I had just finished playing a live show with Barbra Streisand and a 60 piece orchestra. I asked Ben when we were going to rehearse. He told me their guitar player left at the rehearsal and wouldn’t be playing the show. I guess he wasn’t one of the Jackson family members. Motown wanted me to play the entire show without a rehearsal. That didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Ben told me Motown wanted me to do it period so I agreed. The Jackson Five did their songs and even a version of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” which was a complex arrangement. Janet Jackson was now the one under 12. She did a great job when they featured her on a song. That was a long night but we got it done. Joe certainly had a vision for the Jackson Five and along with the support and coaching of Motown and Berry Gordy produced two super stars Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. This video was filmed after I first time met Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five at Hitsville when Bobby Taylor was their producer.

The Four Tops were another Motown super group. One session I remember playing on for the Four Tops was “Still Waters Run Deep” produced by Frank Wilson. When we were recording that track, it sounded like the accents on the beats were backward. But when I heard the record on the radio is sounded great! I did a lot of sessions for Frank at Motown and he was the one who gave me my Heroes and Legend Award at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2009. Some of the other award winners that year were George Clinton, Clarence Avant, Wesley Snipes, Eddie Levert of the O’Jays, and H.B. Barnum. It was a packed house. Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones were there too.

Motown Artists The Four Tops

The Four Tops

I had forgotten the many great hits the Four Tops had until I had to read their charts at the Four Tops 50th Anniversary Concert on ABC and PBS at the Opera House in Detroit in 2004. The highlight of the show was when Aretha Franklin came on stage and sang a duet with Levi Stubbs who was in a wheel chair. Singing background were The Four Tops and Dennis Edwards and the Temptation Review. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was a very moving performance. Some of the other artists on the show were Paul Rogers, Mary Wilson, and Ashford and Simpson.
I still see Duke Fakir at the Motown celebrations. We also shared a flight to London this year when I opened for the singer Rodriguez in Birmingham and London. The Four Tops are still touring and sound great! The video below is the Four Tops singing on their 50th Anniversary Show. That is me in the back playing guitar with their band.


Gladys Knight was another great singer at Motown. I remember playing on “If I Were Your Woman” produced by Clay McMurray. I also remember playing that introduction on Friendship Train” and playing on “Nitty Gritty” produced by Norman Whitfield. One day Gladys came in and produced a song. I do not if it ever came out or not. Gladys had that real soulful southern sound in her voice. The PIPs did a great job backing her up. This isn’t really a video but you can hear me playing the introduction to “Friendship Train” using my Cry Baby Wah Wah pedal and Vox Tone Bender Fuzz Tone. I created this on the tracking session. We did no overdubs. We usually sat down in front of an arrangement, read the chart, created a feel, and made hits. We did one song an hour. If anyone made a mistake, they stopped the tape and we started over.

Motown Artist Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight









Marvin Gaye was a great singer and visionary who along with Norman Whitfield began making records about the social issues of the day. Norman’s production of “Cloud Nine” by The Temptations and Marvin’s “What’s Going On” were the beginning of that. Stevie Wonder also began to do the same thing with his music. They took Motown to another level. This was the era of protest songs and psychedelic music. This was what the young people were saying and a reflection of the times back then. I was glad to do my part and bring the psychedelic guitar sounds to Motown with my Wah Wah pedal and special guitar effects. I remember playing on Marvin’s record “That’s the Way Love Is”.I also played on the album ”I Want You” by Marvin in LA. Ray Parker Jr. was the other guitarist. Marvin was coproducing along with Leon Ware. It was great working with Marvin on that album. He was a creative genius and was and very laid back in the studio. Does anyone else have stories of encounters with Motown artists?

Motown Artist Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye


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Dennis Coffey