Macon, GA artist James Duncan has – in terms of artists on this site at least - had a prolific recording career. This seems to fall into two parts, the first from the early 60s when he was heavily influenced by James Brown and the second, towards the end of the decade when his recordings were much more in the classic southern soul vein. Much of his early work was billed as including the Duncan Trio among whom was future Otis Redding acolyte Oscar Mack.
Duncan’s first acknowledged 45 (but see the note 5 below) was for Clint Brantley’s local Gene outfit and was very much an R & B disc, albeit not an especially good one. He then had a single 45 on Major Bill Smith’s Charay label, which is his first real gem. My Baby Is Back is a classic 12/8 ballad with some fine sax work, and it was well worth a recut several years later for Federal.
Duncan then joined King for a strong series of 45s. My Pillow Stays Wet which featured a rhythm track almost identical to the Charay release. This fine bluesy tale of woe has been covered by other artists like the great Earl Gaines and Oscar Irvin. I also like cuts like the rather doo-wop influenced “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”, the tuneful midpaced “I Can’t Fight The Time” and the pounding “Mr. Goodtime” which has had some dance floor action. The flip to this cut “Guilty” is a splendid deep soul piece, with a very active baritone sax line. But perhaps the cream cut from this period was the great, bluesy Why on which Duncan’s pronounced impassioned vibrato comes across extremely well.
After a gap of a couple of years Duncan was back in Macon cutting for local entrepreneur Bobby Smith, who leased out material to Federal. With whom he had very good contacts. All four 45s are quality southern soul, ranging from the funk of “Stand Up And Get Funky” and the tricky rhythms of “I’ve Got It Made (In The Shade)”, to uptempo dance cuts like “Money Can’t Buy True Love”, as well as full on deep ballads. The recut of “My Pillow Stats Wet” benefits – like most of the other Federal cuts – from the professionalism of Muscle Shoals musicians, but I still prefer the simplicity of the first version. My favourite cut from these recordings is the beautiful country soul of I’m Gonna Leave You Alone – check out Clayton Ivey’s beautifully judged piano licks, and the tasteful horns. The Fame Gang score heavily here.
Recently Duncan has been back on the music scene at a Macon Heritage Festival – really good news for a southern soul stalwart.
Twisting baby / Since I met you ~ GENE 0004 (1962)
Waiting on that train / My baby is back ~ CHARAY 25 (1964)
My pillow stays wet / Here comes Charlie ~ KING 5887 (1964)
I'll be gone / Everybody needs someone to love ~ KING 5923 (1964)
I can't fight the time / Three little pigs ~ KING 5966 (1964)
Guilty / Mr Goodtime ~ KING 6013 (1965)
Out of sight / Too hot to hold ~ KING 6039 (1966)
Why / Stop talking to your child (Mother-in-law) ~ KING 6052 (1966)
Money can't buy true love / My baby is back ~ FEDERAL 12549 (1969)
I got it made (in the shade) / I'm gonna leave you alone ~ FEDERAL 12552 (1970)
You gotta be strong / All goodbyes ain't gone ~ FEDERAL 12555 (1970)
Please Johnny don't you take my life / Stand up and get funky ~ FEDERAL 12561 (1971)
1. “Three Little Pigs” can be found on the Kent UK CD “New Breed Rhythm And Blues” (CDKEND210)
2. “Stand Up And Get Funky” can be found on the BGP UK CD “King Funk” (BGP2 135)
3. “All Goodbyes Ain’t Gone” and “Mr Goodtime” can be found on the Kent UK CD “King Northern Soul Vol 2” (CDKEND 201)
4. “I’m Gonna Leave You Alone”, “My Baby Is Back” and “Money Can’t Buy True Love” can be found on the Kent UK CD “King Serious Soul Vol 2 “ (CDKEND 206).
5. Hitoshi Takasawa has suggested that Duncan’s first 45 may be as part of the Fabulous Mustangs who cut “I Won’t Let You Go” / “I’ll Find Happiness” on ‘Stang 2001/2. Can anybody confirm this?
6. A more discursive take on James Duncan's career - including references to Huriah Boynoton and Lanor Records - can be found on Red Kelly's excellently innovative and interesting "Soul Detective" here.