Join the Metro Times Press Club: Because no news is bad news.

Honky-tonkin' 

Dennis Coffey’s years with the Royaltones

Two minutes into Dennis Coffey’s funk masterpiece “Scorpio” it begins: one of the slinkiest bass solos in recorded music, courtesy fellow funk brother Bob Babbitt. By 1972, the year “Scorpio” broke, Coffey and Babbitt already had deep history, one cemented a decade earlier in seminal Detroit rock ‘n’ roll band, the Royaltones. By the time Coffey and Babbitt joined in ’62, the Royaltones — led by saxophonist George Katsakis — had already hit nationally with “Poor Boy” in 1958.

“I met George when we were all 18 or 19,” Coffey says. “I remember Babbitt playing upright bass at the teen clubs, that’s how far we go back. When we turned 21 we were all ready to go into the bars because we knew all the rock ‘n’ roll songs; we’d been playing every Friday and Saturday night for years.”

Looking for a new guitarist, Katsakis invited Coffey to a Royaltones gig and he sat in on Billy Doggett’s instrumental hit “Honky Tonk.” “Our theory at that time,” Katsakis says, “was if you were a guitar player and you could play ‘Honky Tonk,’ you could play anything. And he nailed it.”

With drummer Marcus Terry and saxophonist-vocalist Dave Sandy on board, longtime Royaltone associate Babbitt became a member. The most legendary lineup of the Royaltones was complete.

With Coffey writing vocal arrangements and Babbitt playing bass and trumpet simultaneously, the band stepped up. Coffey and Katsakis began a fruitful songwriting collaboration, resulting in the local hit “Our Faded Love,” its rockin’ flipside “Holy Smokes,” and the first Royaltones vocal number “Lonely World.”

The Royaltones’ manager Harry Balk hooked them up with Del Shannon, who Balk also handled. “The first million seller I played on was ‘Handy Man,’” Coffey says. “We did that at Bell Sound in New York.” The Royaltones’ driving aesthetic also spiked Shannon classics like “Stranger in Town,” “Keep Searchin’” and “Move It on Over,” co-written by Coffey and cut at Detroit’s Golden World.

The band made its final stand at Bay Shores, New Jersey in the summer of 1964. —Michael Hurtt

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 23, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit