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NORMAN WHITFIELD

dennis

February 14th, 2015

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NORMAN WHITFIELD
I first saw producer and song writer Norman Whitfield when I was playing behind Edwin Starr at The Twenty Grand night club in Detroit. I never met him but would see him in clubs from time to time. Norman was known as one of the creators of the Motown Sound and Psychedelic Soul. He co-wrote and produced “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “I Know I’m Losing You”, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “War”, “Ball of Confusion”, “Smiling Faces (Sometimes)” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”. You can find some of these videos in this blog.


The first time I met Norman was at a Producer’s Workshop established upstairs of Golden World Studios which Motown had just bought from Ed Wingate. The band leader was Motown bassist James Jamerson. Eddie Willis and I both played guitars. Ted Sheely played keyboards and Spider Webb was on drums. I was hired by Hank Cosby, Stevie Wonder’s Producer to play in The Producer’s Workshop four nights a week from 7:00pm until 9:30pm. The purpose of the workshop was to give Motown producers a chance to try out new ideas off the studio clock and musicians union session fees.
I was playing at the workshop for a few months and Norman Whitfield came in with an arrangement of a song he wanted to record on The Temptations called “Cloud Nine”. I got out my Wha Wha pedal and used it on the introduction to the song. When Norman heard that Wha Wha pedal, he said, “That’s what I am looking for!” Within two weeks I was doing a session at Motown with my Wah Wah pedal recording ‘”Cloud Nine” for The Temptations.

Motown producer Norman Whitfield

Producer and Writer Norman Whitfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norman was a master of dynamics. I always remembered him counting off each song while standing in front of drummers Uriel Jones and Pistol Allen. He would then conduct breakdowns leaving just a few musicians playing and then bring the other Funk Brothers back in one by one. Other producers would let the arranger count off the songs and they would sit in the control room. Norman was a hands-on producer who stayed in the Snake Pit at Studio A with us. I learned how to use breakdowns from Norman which is why I put one in “Scorpio” which helped to make it a million selling record.

Dennis Coffey - "Going for Myself"

Dennis Coffey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I worked with Norman once at Mowest on a session. He had me doing overdubs and he was using a drum machine. He then left Motown and formed his own label Whitfield Records. He had a huge hit with “Car Wash” by Rose Royce. He was a talented writer and producer who changed the sound of Motown by creating Psychedelic Soul. I was his go-to guy for special guitar effects that helped him create his new sound. He would always ask me what new effects I had in my bag on each session. I really enjoyed working for Norman because he let me explore new ideas and effects on intros and solos to songs. I created the intros to “Ball of Confusion”, “Friendship Train” and “Just my Imagination” when we were recording the rhythm tracks. I also created the solo on Smiling Faces (Sometimes). We never did overdubs in those days. I had the best musical training in the world working every day at Motown.

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Dennis Coffey