Dennis Coffey: Big City Funk (Vampi Soul) Back in the '80s I was working college dorm security at an inside post and one of the uniformed outside guards was a guy who also deejayed as Super Dan. Every few hours he had to do a tour of the building. I was always listening to a portable tape player (yeah, thatâ€™s how long ago it was), and we inevitably ended up talking about music. The best tip he ever gave me was to keep an eye out for Dennis Coffeyâ€™s â€œScorpio.â€ When I saw Coffeyâ€™s 1970 LP Evolution, including â€œScorpio,â€ at a used record shop a few years later, I snatched it up and was quickly happy that I had. Coffey was an ace session guitarist; among the hits he played on are the Chairman of the Boardâ€™s â€œGive me Just a Little More Time,â€ the Dramaticsâ€™ â€œWhat You See is What You Get,â€ Parliamentâ€™s â€œI Wanna Testify,â€ Freda Payneâ€™s â€œBand of Gold,â€ Wilson Pickettâ€™s â€œDonâ€™t Knock My Love,â€ and lots of Motown favorites including Diana Ross and the Supremesâ€™ â€œSomeday We'll be Together,â€ Edwin Starrâ€™s â€œWar,â€ Junior Walker and the All-Starsâ€™ â€œWhat Does It Take to Win Your Love,â€ the Temptationsâ€™ psychedelic Norman Whitfield productions â€œBall of Confusion,â€ â€œCloud Nine,â€ â€œI Can't Get Next to You,â€ â€œPsychedelic Shack,â€ and more. Coffey was also a producer and arranger, and he had some interesting ideas about how to use guitar: layering three or four of them, sometimes using them like a horn section, applying a multitude of effects, getting a very full sound. His 1969 debut, Hair and Thangs (recently bootlegged on vinyl!), was poorly distributed; not so Evolution after he switched to Sussex. Featuring the cream of Detroit sessionmen, including members of Motown backup regulars the Funk Brothers, itâ€™s a classic album, and six of its ten titles are on this fifteen-track German compilation of Coffeyâ€™s material for the Sussex label, for which he made four albums released from 1971 to '74. This is instrumental music, aside from a few murmured asides here and expostulations there. Words would only clutter these funky grooves. Big City Funk is subtitled â€œOriginal Old School Breaks & Heavy Guitar Soulâ€; it basically exists because of what happened with â€œScorpio.â€ Released as a single in '71, it climbed all the way to #6 on the pop singles chart while spending 15 weeks in the Top 40. One of its features is a percussion break, a section in the middle of the song where the other instruments drop out and just the drummers lay down a tight beat for awhile. Along comes hip-hop later in the decade, with deejays looking for beats they can use. The break in â€œScorpioâ€ is perfect for them. It quickly became a classic of the type, and in the decades since has been sampled for tracks including Busy Beeâ€™s â€œOld School,â€ Double D & Steinskiâ€™s â€œLesson 3,â€ Geto Boysâ€™s â€œDo it Like a G.O.â€, House of Painâ€™s â€œAll My Love,â€ LL Cool Jâ€™s â€œJinglin' Baby,â€ Lord Finesseâ€™s â€œKeep it Flowing,â€ Mobyâ€™s â€œMobility,â€ Mos Defâ€™s â€œUniversal Magnetic,â€ Public Enemyâ€™s â€œNight of the Living Baseheads,â€ Queen Latifahâ€™s â€œMama Gave Birth to the Soul Children,â€ Roni Sizeâ€™s â€œShare the Fall,â€ and Young MC's â€œBust a Move.â€ The opening track of Evolution, â€œGetting It On,â€ also proved popular with hip-hoppers, including Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Of course, Coffey tried to repeat the success of â€œScorpioâ€: this compilation also features â€œSon of Scorpio,â€ â€œCapricornâ€™s Thing,â€ and â€œTaurus.â€ The latter made it to #18 on the pop chart in 1972 and placed higher (#11) on the black singles chart. Even better is the super-hot â€œRide Sally Ride,â€ familiar from LL Cool Jâ€™s â€œBig Ole Buttâ€ and a couple of Ultramagnetic MCâ€™s tracks. Playing acoustic guitar on the first half of â€œLonely Moon Child,â€ Coffey shows a mellow side as well. Wildest of all is â€œOutrageous (The Mind Excursion),â€ which borders on some of the spacier jazz of the decade with its modality and an excellent bass clarinet solo (too bad there are no player credits here). Though Coffey-penned material dominates this disc, his takes on Lalo Schifrinâ€™s â€œTheme from Enter the Dragonâ€ and a funky and fun recasting of Led Zepâ€™s â€œWhole Lotta Loveâ€ provide crucial examples of how important outside material was to this sort of enterprise (the LPs are dotted by many other instances). The choice of tracks could be better; â€œLonely Moon Childâ€ and â€œGarden of the Moonâ€ are fairly redundant, while such great tracks as â€œMidnight Blueâ€ and â€œCan You Feel Itâ€ are absent. The sound is a bit dim on some tracks; honestly I wonder whether they were taken directly from vinyl. But considering that this stuff has been out of print for nearly three decades, Iâ€™m just glad that itâ€™s back in circulation. Pick up this disc and last yearâ€™s Incredible Bongo Band reissue and you have a good chunk of the source material for hip-hopâ€™s greatest hits. Hereâ€™s hoping somebody reissues Coffeyâ€™s classic blaxploitation soundtrack Black Belt Jones (Warner Bros., 1974). â€“ Steve Holtje Purchase thru iTunes. Steve Holtje used to spin as DJ Magic Fingers, a name bestowed on him by former bandmate Michael Ackerman, but recently learned that thereâ€™s a Londoner operating under that name. Any suggestions?