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TO BE OR NOT TO BE A FUNK BROTHER

dennis

March 1st, 2015

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TO BE OR NOT TO BE A FUNK BROTHER
People have asked me why I didn’t go on tour as a Funk Brother with Allen Slutsky and why I didn’t have more face time in “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” as a Funk Brother. This is my reply.
I helped Allen with his book “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” about the life of Funk Brother James Jamerson. The success of that book gave Allen the idea to take the Funk Brothers on the road as a touring band backing up different artists. Allen contacted me and the other Funk Brothers about going on tour. The following is the letter he sent me.

Funk Brother Letter

Letter from Allen

Funk Brother letter

Letter from Allen Page 2

I was doing well as a consultant at Ford Motor Company after earning a Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies and a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology (Education) from Wayne State University in Detroit. I do not think some of the other Funk Brothers were as fortunate. They jumped at the chance to work with Allen to make some money. I didn’t blame them. I called Allen from the Ford Monroe Stamping Plant and told him I could not go on the road with the Funk Brothers. Later Allen told me he met a guy on an airplane who had just sold his computer company for a great deal of money. Allen talked to him about the Funk Brother Project and this guy provided the financing for the documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”.
The name Funk Brothers was the nickname given to the rhythm section at Motown. At the time Jack Brokenshaw played vibes and I played guitar at Motown and were considered Funk Brothers. Allen trademarked the name “Funk Brothers” for his movie and the other musicians were happy to go along because they needed the money and deserved the recognition because Motown never listed musicians on their albums. I was one of the first musicians listed on a Motown album due to a solo I played on an artist produced by Ashford and Simpson. Valerie Simpson told me she personally persuaded Motown to list me and the other musicians on that album.

Allen called me one night and asked me to play guitar with the Funk Brothers at the Royal Oak Theater for the film. Even though he had excluded me from the name and the movie was well underway without me, he still needed me. At rehearsal Allen took my guitar and said, “I am going to show you how to play “Cloud Nine”. The next night he called me to play with the Funks at the Royal Oak Theater the following morning. I explained to him that I showed him how to play the “Wah Wah” pedal and he could do it himself. I was busy.

One day Steve Jordon, a great drummer who has played with many famous artists, called me representing the Rhythm &Blues Foundation about a Funk Brothers Pioneer Award. I told him Allen had trademarked the name and left me out because I wouldn’t go on the road with him. Steve said, “I don’t care whose names are on the trademark. Were you a part of that rhythm section and did you play on all of those records?” I told him yes. He answered, “You will receive a Funk Brothers Pioneer Award from the R&B Foundation”.

Eddie Willis, Bob Babbitt, Uriel Jones, and I then went to Philadelphia and were each given a Funk Brothers Pioneer Award at the R&B Foundation Awards Banquet in 2008. I felt that Allen had hijacked the name “Funk Brothers” for his own purposes and Jack Brokenshaw and I were left out because we didn’t want to go along with his plans. I was also excluded from the Funk Brothers Star Award ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame which cost $25,000 and the Funk Brothers Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards Show. Allen later asked me to tour Europe with the Funk Brothers and I was invited to attend the Hollywood Walk of Fame Award ceremony as a spectator. I refused to attend the ceremony and refused to go to Europe with the Funks. I may have done both if I had been included when Allen trademarked the name ‘”Funk Brothers”.

Pioneer Award from the R&B Foundation

Funk Brother Pioneer Award

Two Funk Brothers

Dennis Coffey and Eddie Willis in Motown Studio A

Thank You Letter to Dennis Coffey

Thank You Letter from The Temptations

I have a great solo career. I had an album released worldwide in 2011 on Strut Records called “Dennis Coffey”. I played at SXSW, Bonnaroo, and toured the US and Canada. I appeared in London, Paris and Barcelona. I co-produced the soundtrack and appeared in the Academy Award Winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”. I opened up for Rodriguez in Birmingham and London in 2014. I also appeared on the Jimmy Fallon Show playing with the Roots Band.

I am still a Funk Brother and lecture in Studio A at the Motown Museum. I played at a benefit for Funk Brother Eddie Willis in the summer of 2014 at the Northern Lights Lounge in Detroit. Those of us who played at Motown know who we are and an outsider coming in and trademarking a name doesn’t change that.

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Dennis Coffey