Various Artists – “The Duke Of Soul Volume 1” (DUKE CD 401)
By Kev Briscoe
Boomerang - Ernie K-Doe, Tired Of Being Fooled By You - Melvin Carter, Can You Remember- Rhonda Davis, No Time For You – Commands, Homework - Otis Rush Sockin' 1-2-3-4 - John Roberts, The Best Part Of Me - Miss Lavell, I Can Learn – Chains, Love The Way You Love - O.V. Wright, I'm Counting On You - Buddy Ace, Stuff - Jeanette Williams, A Change – Mustangs, Love Me Like I Wanta - Ernie K-Doe, That's All A Part Of Loving You - Al "Tnt" Braggs, You're Moving Too Fast – Fanatics, My Life -The C And C Boys, Yum Yum Tree - Bobby Bland, One More Chance - Shirley Lawson, My Mother-In-Law (Is In My Hair Again) - Ernie K-Doe, Hen Pecked - Buddy Lamp, Better To Give Than Receive - Joe Hinton, Everybody's Got Somebody - Miss Lavell, Love And Peace Of Mind – Insights, A Whole Lot Of Soul Is Gone - Bobby Conerly.
It is fair to say that with one obvious exception Don Robey’s Houston based enterprise has been poorly represented in the re-issue market. The ‘obvious exception’ is, off course, Bobby Bland although some of O.V. Wright’s and Joe Hinton’s material has seen the light of day as has a few compilations aimed at the UK’s ‘Northern Soul scene. In fact, now that Ace in the UK has finally got around to the FAME vaults, I’m struggling to think of any other major labels that haven’t been digitised yet.
Therefore these compilations, and so far there have been seven with an eighth due before the end of the year, are most welcome. However, they do come with a ‘warning’. Their legitimacy is, to say the least, ‘dubious’, which may put some people off. However, those of you who have purchased the 'Black Cats' or 'Soul From The Vaults' CD’s with a clear conscientious will enjoy these.
Don Robey’s vast musical empire began in 1949 and was to last for the following three decades. It therefore encompassed the transition from ‘R n B’ through to Soul although his first label, Peacock, began life as a Gospel label. Although his labels were based in Houston and the early recordings were made there, by the sixties Robey would be utilising recording studios all over the USA. All the great ‘Soul Cities’ were visited including Detroit. Chicago, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, New Orleans to name but a few.
As a result we get an eclectic mix of styles with no defining Duke/ Peacock ‘sound’. This is borne out with the first CD; you never quite know what style is going to pop out of the speakers next, which in my opinion adds to the charm.
To date we have had 168 tracks by almost 80 different artists, so without further ado it’s time to dive in!
Rhonda Davis only had one secular 45 with two excellent sides albeit with contrasting styles. “CAN YOU REMEMBER”gained popularity the UK’s ‘Northern’ scene during the early eighties and is a fine example of this genre at its best. Unfortunately the killer ‘deep’ side hasn’t made it on to any of the volumes as yet, but surely it can only be a matter of time.
The Commands are one of those infuriatingly obscure groups who released few records and hardly anything is known about them. Yet their records are highly regarded by collectors and much sought after resulting in the usual high price tag. “NO TIME FOR YOU” was originally issued on the San Antonio based Dynamic label before being picked up by Back Beat. Like all their record it has a certain infectious charm that seeps under the skin.
Otis Rush is synonymous with the West Side Chicago Blues scene but released a solitary single for Duke in 1962. “HOMEWORK” is horn driven stomper featuring his powerful tenor voice and distinctive guitar style.
John Roberts was to issue several 45’s for Duke before eventually working as a musical director for Barry White. He was comfortable with either up tempo tracks or ballads and SOCKIN' 1-2-3-4 showcases the former style. It’s a great mid pacer firmly in the James Brown School. There’s more to come from him on future volumes but we have to wait for volume six for his finest moment on wax!
Houston native Lavell White had several 45’s issued on Duke as Miss La-Vell spread over half a dozen years with “THE BEST PART OF ME” being the last one.
The Chains or Reuben & The Chains had three releases all on Peacock with “I CAN LEARN” being their first one and is a catchy Doo Wop styled finger snapper.
The great O.V. Wright needs no introduction and features here with “LOVE THE WAY YOU LOVE” a driving slab of up tempo ‘Southern’ Soul.
Two artists used the name Buddy Ace with Jimmy Lee Land, the second one being the most prolific. “I'M COUNTING ON YOU” is very good ballad very much in the vein of Bobby Bland.
Jeanette Williams was one of several Detroit artists signed by Robey and “STUFF” echoes the ‘Sista Funk’ style of James Browns female protégés and she will feature in future volumes.
Al "TNT" Braggs was brought to Robey’s attention by Bobby Bland and he eventually opened for Bland when on tour. He issued a dozen 45’s without any chart success which is pity because he certainly had a fine voice as “ALL A PART OF LOVING YOU” ably demonstrates. It reminds me of some of Roy ‘C’ Hammonds work in the seventies which is no bad thing!
The Fanatics only managed a solitary release which, on the evidence of “YOU'RE MOVING TOO FAST”, is a shame as this close harmony track shows.
The C and C Boys were any early incarnation of Clarence Carter and Calvin Scott who issued four singles for Robey. “MY LIFE” hints of what was to come, at least for Carter, who went solo after Scott retired from singing after a shooting accident.
It’s an obvious statement but the compiler could have filled all these CD’s with Bobby Bland tracks and I doubt whether anyone would have complained other than on the grounds of repetition. This is the first of only two tracks featured over seven volumes and it is a beauty but then most of Bobby’s 45’s were! “YUM YUM TREE” is one of those infectious dance tracks that he handled so well. A superb arrangement carries the song along at a frantic pace but Bland’s voice effortlessly glides along with it, perfection!
It’s that ‘N’ word again and another record plucked from obscurity for the UK’s Northern Soul’ scene. Shirley Lawson’s “ONE MORE CHANCE” is a quite superb slice of up tempo Soul and would follow the previous track admirably on any ‘jocks’ playlist.
Bobby Conerly closes Volume One with his recording debut “A WHOLE LOT OF SOUL IS GONE”. He released a handful of 45’s on labels such as Ovide and Evejim and it’s shame he never record more , he had a fine voice as this record illustrates admirably. It’s a tribute record to Soul singers who had died, an idiom several artists used over the years and this one works really well. He is still recording and since 2006 he has released half a dozen CD’s with the last one coming out this year.
In conclusion, the first volume sets the template for the following ones. You’re never quite sure what’s going to hit you next and I’m all for that!