Welcome to Between Takes; where artists and musicians tell stories about what happens behind the scenes.
WDET’s Sam Beaubien has been dedicated to making music in Detroit for 20 years, and this series connects you with the stories he has heard on gigs and at recording sessions.
Get a look into Stevie Wonders audition for Motown Records, sessions with funk master George Clinton, renowned hip-hop producer J Dilla’s first days with a drum machine, and many more stories about what shaped the legacy of this musical city.
Being a session musician at Motown meant you got to witness greatness. Seeing Stevie Wonder perform as a child or Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Going On” was an opportunity most people only dreamed about. Dennis Coffey got to witness greatness time and time again as a session musician at Motown, as well as with many other record labels.
One such moment was when Coffey met a young Michael Jackson. The Jackson 5 were just starting out in the late 1960s and they were looking for a record deal. Motown Records was a dream for all soul singers across the country. It is rumored that Gladys Knight sent a tape of the Jackson 5 to Motown Records, but their tape was rejected and sent back.
In July 1968, the band went to Detroit to set up a recorded Motown audition, which took place at Motown’s studio. Berry Gordy, who had initially rejected their tape, who refused to sign any more “kids” after Stevie Wonder, changed his mind once he viewed the tape. After initial recordings at Detroit’s Hitsville U.S.A. with the Funk Brothers failed to impress Gordy, he set up the new songwriting and producing team, The Corporation, to write exclusively for the Jackson 5. Dennis Coffey was part of the Funk Brothers at that time and he played on those original demos.