Always a favorite record label of mine, (if not just because of the logo) the Sussex label has offered up some good finds to me throughout the years. The first Sussex 45 record I ever got, “Scorpio”, started a string of releases that quenched my Sussex thirst. I loved finding scores from Eddie Senay, The Soul Searchers, Bill Withers, and of course, my pick for today: “Theme from Enter the Dragon” by Dennis Coffey. This is not to say that I haven’t picked up some turds (we’re talking pre portable record player here folks) on the Sussex label, anyone remember Gallery? Even though he played on some Gallery stuff, it’s a soft rock turd no less. Alas, that will be for another post entitled: Flea Market Turds. Sussex has even gotten me a brush with half of the Beatminerz production team (Black Moon, Smif and Wessun) while DJing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan of New York City. I did a now defunct Thursday night called “Sexy Picnic” at a place called the Angel Bar with my DJ partner DJ Un-G. After DJing a set, I walked down to the bar to find a familiar face wearing a Sussex shirt. It was Mr. Walt of the Beatminerz. I asked him where he got the shirt. He replied: “An old white dude who plays guitar”, thinking I was some square who knew nothing of the label. I said: “Walt (and I didn’t know him personally), there is no way in hell Dennis Coffey gave you this shirt. He laughed, I laughed, and I still have never found a Sussex shirt to this day.
After I started digging for a while, I realized I had a love for soundtracks. I still do. I’ll buy any dumb soundtrack that comes across my way, from “Explorers”, to “the Last Dragon”, and and some soundtracks that are actually good, like “Serpico” or “Death Wish”. As soundtracks go, I believe that this is up there as one of my favorites. It is only fitting that Coffey takes a tune of the first ever American made Kung Fu movie, coincidentally Bruce Lee’s first American film, and funks it the hell up. We’re all aware of his Motown session work, but let’s be real here, he’s more well know for the guitar sound on “Scorpio”, “Taurus”, and others than the aforementioned sessions for Gordy. His signature fuzzed out wah-wah guitar starts out in overdrive. Bang a gong (not like T. Rex) and we’re off to the races. I can just see him letting his freak flag fly, his signature Gibson Firebird (which apparently he still has), and a whole suitcase full of pedals filling up the recording space. This Detroit half psych, half funk sounding wildman making this version so much funkier than the original. He even managed to do it sans the Kung Fu yelling. By the time the horns kick in, there is no time to look back. While Lalo Schifrin took his first use of Asian instruments to another level on the original song, the minimalistic use of the gong, wind chimes on this cover, in my opinion add just the right amount of flavor to make “Enter the Dragon” a tasty funk treat. I’m not saying it’s better than the original, just a great alternative to the otherwise superb soundtrack to a great movie. I guess Coffey didn’t find Lalo’s version up to how funky he really thought it really should be, and just turned it up a notch, doing it his way.
While doing some research for this piece, I stumbled on a few sessions Dennis Coffey did for Lalo Schifrin after he covered “Theme from Enter the Dragon”. Some of these studio sessions featured him on guitar of course, along side James Jamerson on bass, and one of the greatest session drummers ever, Paul Humphrey. They did some Planet of the Apes material (“Ape Shuffle and “Escape From Tomorrow”) and I honestly wish I could have been a fly on the wall during those recording/ studio sessions.
One last shout out: to Larry from Funky 16 Corners, Vincent from FuFu Stew, and Mike from This Is Tomorrow, who have been so kind to add me to the blog roll, and invite me to spin in cities that are not my own. You can see Larry and the rest of our 45 Sessions crew this Friday March 30th at the World Famous Asbury Lanes.