Black Music: A Particular Section
April 16, 1979
The Duke of Earl Gets Into Studio 54
“I keep in mind when the Duke was fashionable,” says Gene Chandler to the writer from Jet. “There have been so many women making an attempt to get to me backstage, we started telling them that they’d should deliver a gift if they needed to see me — just to maintain them away. Hey, if I’d had a bit of some of these present outlets close by, I wouldn’t have to tour.” Chandler was being feted by Jet magazine in the dining room of the Johnson Publications constructing in midtown Chicago, and he was making dialog effortlessly.
“Right now, music is coming collectively,” he continues. “With individuals like Rod Stewart and Elton John, white music doesn’t have that loony tune sound anymore. Nonetheless, I don’t see the place ‘Do Ya Assume I’m Attractive’ is that much harder than ‘Get Down,’ but they advised me that ‘Get Down’ was too funky to interrupt white.”
If Chandler’s rap appeared tainted with the “whitey-stole our-music” clichés that pervade black publications, there are few performers who’ve as much proper to run it as Chandler. Together with his hit recording, “Get Down,” Chandler has taken advantage of disco’s democratic playlist — which has given everyone from Cher to Cab Calloway another shot at the charts — but his second taste of success is tinged with bitterness, for he knows that disco has turn out to be, in lots of quarters, another synonym for r&b, for soul, and is topic to the identical segregating radio policies. So, if victory for Chandler is bittersweet, it’s still victory, one of the dramatic comebacks within the business. Eighteen years in the past Chandler experienced overnight success with and as the Duke of Earl, considered one of rock’s most memorable oldies. Chandler, caped and tuxedoed, reduce certainly one of rock/r&b’s most colourful figures, and prolonged his career by way of the ’60s as one of the period’s most durable soul singers. However like many others, Chandler was swept away by the British invasion and the declining native scene, and his success turned more and more segregated. In the early ’70s, he packed it in as a performer, and nonetheless the underside was not in sight. Jet reported in its January 13, 1977, challenge that Chandler had been convicted of the sale of 388 grams of heroin (road value: $30,000) for which he would serve four months in late 1978. It is a subject he steadfastly refuses to speak about for the report.
The interview is scheduled for late that afternoon, and Chandler, who initially steered we do it at his place, raises his guard greater by suggesting as an alternative that we do it on the house of his producer and longtime skilled affiliate Carl Davis. Chandler picks me up in his 1979 maroon Cadillac Fleetwood; “I often use the Coupe,” he provides. Yet despite his obsessive cool, Chandler just isn’t a troublesome interview. He’s courteous and articulate, and impresses together with his durability. Though at 38 the strains on his face are etched more sharply than in his early publicity photographs, he’s significantly slimmer. A couple of years in the past he started dieting — chopping out meat, and having his fish and poultry broiled — and it is his most partaking matter of conversation.
His singing, too, reflects his good health. Chandler’s new album, Get Down, though paced by his disco hit, is most impressive for a ballad, “Traveling Sort,” which has a lyrical folkish bent and is about somebody leaving a liked one. It was minimize simply before Chandler went to jail, or as he puts it, “went out of city.” But it’s “Get Down” that has revived Chandler’s career. The tune has a heavily synthesized rhythm part, overlaying an infectious insistent disco beat, and is combined with an infinite collection of instrumental fades out and in, so that it’s as much one long succession of hooks as it is a structured music. And by straddling the song-groove structure, it has been capable of chart top-25 disco, top-5 r&b, and top-50 pop.
We get to Davis’s house in Flosmore, one among Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs, the place he lives together with his wife and the 4 youngest of their seven youngsters. It’s an expensive though tasteful ranch home, outfitted with tennis courts, and an in-door pool, and Davis greets us on the door sporting a sweatshirt and fitness center pants. At 44, his moustache and the burns of his brief Afro are flecked with silver however his medium peak frame is wholesome and strong. If Chandler is a survivor, then Davis is the fittest, and when pressed, Chandler, who is considerably stifled by the necessity for historic overview, will defer to Davis’s rigorously worded and enunciated observations.
The Chicago of the ’50s that Chandler got here by way of was a hotbed of musical exercise. Representatives of the majors have been previous and out of touch and it seemed that there was a generational turnover amongst local musicians and report men. Chess Data and its secure of artists had their secure share of professional success, but on the street the sound was crossing over to a whole lot of teenage doowop groups. New, black-owned labels like United and Parrot and Probability have been establishing themselves, but the comer was Vee-Jay Data, owned by Vivian Carter and administered by Ewart Abner. The label had the mixture of road ears, professional smarts, executive-level charisma and its data, starting with the moderately segregated blues of people like Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker, progressively reduce a swath across the charts, with pop-sounding data by artists like Jerry Butler and eventually with white acts like the 4 Seasons.
Chandler was singing lead with a gaggle referred to as the Dukays when the group’s supervisor referred to as them to the eye of Davis and producer Bunky Shepard. Davis had gotten to know all of the report men in the space after he came out of the service in the early ’50s. He was an professional DJL Veritype operator and was capable of research and compute gross sales stories. Soon he was doing it for every major native label. From there he went on to native promotion and along with Shepard produced a session with the Dukays that resulted in two charted data for the group, “The Woman Is a Satan” and “Nite Owl,” both of which have been leased to a small New York–based mostly firm, Nat. “The Duke of Earl” was additionally recorded at those periods however Nat passed on it. Vee-Jay heard it and favored it, but confronted with a gaggle already signed to a different label, “Gene Chandler was created,” says Gene Chandler.
“My real identify was Eugene Dixon, however Carl and I both appreciated Jeff Chandler, we thought the identify had a white sound to it, the document firm was loopy concerning the report so I gladly stepped into the slot. The document was launched in November, ’61, and by January ’62, it had knocked ‘The Twist’ out of the field. And I played the act to the hilt,” recollects Chandler of the times when his outfit consisted of a tuxedo, prime hat, cane, cape, and monocle. The image completely complemented the tune, which merged doowops’ exaggerated bass harmony and falsetto vocals with the then-popular cha-cha-inflected groove. Two and a half minutes of teenage majesty, the track and the picture was a fantasy achievement for each hood who ever needed to crash the high school dance. However like so many data of the era, it was adopted up with a dull imitation, “Walk On with the Duke.” Though it bombed because it deserved to, it is on reflection noteworthy, for on it Chandler briefly forfeited his own newfound pseudonym for an additional — the artist-listing is just “The Duke of Earl.”
Then Chandler acquired his first professional reprieve; some northern stations flipped considered one of his novelty follow-ups — an answer report to Mary Wells’s “You Beat Me to the Punch” referred to as “You Threw a Lucky Punch” — and uncovered a ballad referred to as “Rainbow.”
“Rainbow” would kick off the most efficient period of Chandler’s career, as a ballad singer, and in addition begin a collection of magnificent collaborations with its writer, Curtis Mayfield. Take heed to it on aspect one of many deleted Chess LP, The Duke of Soul, one of the best-sequenced album sides ever. “Rainbow” — like “Valerie” by Jackie & the Starlites farther north, and “Please, Please, Please” by James Brown & the Flames farther south — was much less a track than a sluggish hypnotic groove, its two chords repeated cyclically over a gospelic feminine refrain. Right here Chandler combines the unbridled but extremely stylized emotionality of the doowop singers with the highly effective tradition-ensconced vocal maneuvers of gospel. The album segues to “Rainbow, Half Two,” recorded reside, as Chandler defines soul’s love-man performance, inflecting his vocals with a sexuality as unpop as his gospel type. Then listen to a different Mayfield composition, “A Man’s Temptation.” If Curtis Mayfield, together with his songs of poetry and idealization, was pure spirit, and Jerry Butler, who sang Mayfield’s songs of love and survival, was his secular ego, then Gene Chandler was Mayfield’s libido, and in “A Man’s Temptation” he dramatized the battle of a person caught between his wife and lover, a task neither Mayfield nor Butler might have played.
Finally, there are “What Now” and “Simply Be True,” featuring Johnny Pate’s majestic strings and trombone-laden horn sections. These two songs characterize Chicago soul, as individual and unique a contribution to the ’60s as Stax and Motown. As for Chandler’s stature, an area author Robert Pruter observes, “In the ’60s, there was nobody greater in Chicago — not Marvin Gaye, not Otis Redding, nobody.”
But Chicago was dying as a music middle. Vee-Jay, crippled by lavish spending and the large gambling losses of considered one of its key executives, soon folded, and Chandler, who was contracted to that government, shuttled alongside from one dying label to another.
At one level he was alternating between Brunswick (the place Davis had returned after heading CBS’s Okeh label for a spell) and Chess, scoring r&b hits for each. Lastly, he switched to Mercury, which put him in cost — nominally, at the very least — of his personal affairs with a novelty label referred to as Mr. Chan. A picture of his face was included into the brand. There in 1971, his self-produced hit, “Groovy State of affairs,” gave his lagging profession a buzz. However Chandler was primarily a person on his own by then. He overburdened himself with professionalduction assignments, and apart from Mel and Tim’s “Backarea in Motion” was not successful with any of them. There was a quick, however abortive contract with Mayfield’s Curtom Data in ’72; then, for the rest of the last decade, zero. Chandler describes his decline with nonchalance. “I simply couldn’t get the great help. Individuals like Gamble and Huff are lucky to have each other. I can say that I closed up shop not owing anyone any cash. And I all the time knew behind my mind that if the enterprise factor didn’t work, I had loads of time to deliver Gene again.”
Gene was brought back in 1978. Inside weeks after his acquittal in the Brunswick payola trial, Davis had shaped Chi-Sound Data, and inside months of that Chandler was signed as an artist. “Get Down” had already been recorded a few years earlier on a demo album that was never released. It was laid down again with a more moderen, hotter, more synthesized rhythm monitor, then was disco-mixed by Rick Gianatos. It took less than a month to break.
Why did it take Chandler — and Davis, who had often assisted in producing Chandler, even when different contractual commitments forbade putting his identify on the document — so long to satisfy the business demands of the market head on? Why was Chandler allowed to fall into an artistically satisfying but commercially limited ballad groove?
“During those days,” presents Chandler, “they only weren’t enjoying black data pop.”
“I might say that in the course of the early ’60s they have been enjoying more black music then than they’re now,” provides Davis. “Now, it’s ridiculous. Then it was simply dangerous. In case you might attain number one on your black stations you had a very good shot of going over to your pop station, nevertheless it went like this: If Dee Clark had a primary report in the country, r&b and pop, when his next report got here out he didn’t routinely go pop, he had to go back on the r&b stations and show himself yet again, and if he didn’t hit primary, he didn’t go pop. Now you’re taking the same state of affairs with Bobby Rydell, if he had a primary document, when he got here out together with his second document, it mechanically went pop. It wasn’t till the times of Motown and Stevie Marvel that some black music can be an automated pop radio add. In truth, I left my position with CBS over a struggle with an government who needed me to copy no matter was scorching. It is determined by what you’re about. I don’t consider in gimmicks. I consider in getting an artist who can sing, giving him the appropriate music with the appropriate arrangements, and he’ll promote his share of data. The whites like to hear ‘bip-bam thank you ma’m’, but if you start interested by it after one or two data you never heard from those acts any more. None of them have been capable of sustain like a Nat Cole, who lasted for years without ever singing uptempo tunes.”
“Or take Chubby Checker,” provides Chandler, “when the twist was over with, so was he. I used to notice that fast data took off much quicker than mine, but I had confidence in my ballads, and if everyone’s data shot previous mine on the charts, mine would sit there a bit longer than theirs.”
“Even Motown,” says Davis, “was simply an invention. If an artist was overseas, he’d come back and ‘Here’s your monitor.’ The key was too excessive? They’d put background vocals on for the high notes. So whereas the invention worked, when any of these acts left Motown, they died, because they couldn’t take the invention with them.”
“For black entertainers,” concludes Chandler, “it was a ‘you possibly can eat, however you’ve received to eat in the back’ state of affairs. Or the live shows that have been all white with blacks allowed to take a seat in the balcony.”
Has disco, with its democratic playlists, made it an entire new ball recreation for crossing over? “No” they both answer simultaneously and emphatically. “Because now you’ve obtained your pop stations saying that they’re not disco stations, and using that as an excuse for not enjoying data like ‘Get Down.’ That’s the identical cause you now have separate disco charts,” says Chandler. And Davis provides: “I can’t consider a serious pop station that’s gone on ‘Get Down,’ although it’s approaching one million and the album’s approaching a half million.
“Let me inform you something,” Davis goes on. “ ‘Disco’ was being played by black tavern jockeys so way back it was ridiculous. Rapidly, prior to now few years, someone — or whites — stated let’s capitalize on it and name it disco, but years in the past we couldn’t get our data performed on numerous stations so a variety of guys went to jockeys who had their operations set up in a tavern the place they used to have sock hops. Even before that, in the dance halls, you’d have some man by the turntable taking the quantity knob and just punching it and it might offer you that choom-choom,” he says, flicking his hand forcefully… “Now any person had the brilliant concept to combine it with lights and name it disco, they usually’re making a million bucks on it, however through the occasions once we couldn’t get our data performed, thank God we have been in a position to use that to develop grassroots gross sales.”
Still, didn’t “Get Down” symbolize Chandler and Davis’ most aggressive pursuit of the marketplace in many years? And had Chandler read Wilson Pickett’s remarks in Rolling Stone about how stand-up singers shouldn’t compromise their sound for the calls for of disco?
“Sure, I learn that,” snaps Chandler, “and that’s his opinion. However I personally feel that we’re performers for the public, that we don’t owe them they usually don’t owe us. My all-time favourite entertainer is Ray Charles, and that’s because he was capable of do any sort of material — even material that wasn’t anticipated of him — and do it nicely and have hits with it. Now you heard my LP; on it I do some uptempo stuff, some so-called rhythm and blues stuff. The thought is to compete, and when you’re not gonna compete then get out of the enterprise.”
How did Chandler really feel about the fact that the kind of material he does greatest — the ballad — has not been the fabric that has introduced him success?
“I all the time hold the faith that ultimately the pop public will recognize me totally as they need to have a while ago. The ballads, these are my old flame, but I’m a capitalist. I’m not going to go out there and promote Chandler cleaning soap while my rivals are labelling theirs ‘Supersoap.’ I’m going to place ‘New, Improved, Tremendous Chandler’s Cleaning soap’ on mine. So if disco is what’s occurring I need a piece of that market. It apparently was the right thing to do as a result of it brought me all the best way back out there, whereas the sluggish report didn’t; so the thought is to keep throwing the quick stuff on them, and each time they purchase the LP, they’re simply going to should endure with the ballads, if that’s what it is.”
That duality was evident at Chandler’s current comeback performance at Chicago’s Auditorium. Supported by Joe Simon, Chandler only crammed the 3800-seat hall to about one-third capability, and in line with Prouter there was a pointy division between an older audience, who came prepared to take pleasure in an evening of Chandler’s oldies, and youngsters, who “seemed to return from nowhere and pour out via the aisles when Chandler closed the present with ‘Get Down.’ ”
The query of whether or not Chandler can parlay his disco-oriented chart success into concert degree reputation is unresolved and is more likely to remain so via his upcoming European tour. Although “Get Down” is at present top-25 in England, European audiences generally tend to treat veteran black performers as folkloric. If this tradition prevails, the tour might prove vastly unfulfilling for Chandler, who is in a competitive state of mind. “I don’t dislike Teddy Pendergrass,” he says. “Nevertheless it’s like if Ali is the heavyweight champion, then everyone else is making an attempt to take his spot, and I’m going to see if I can have Pendergrass’s place before the yr is out.”
This type of comment is typical of Chandler and his angle toward his career, as a supply close to Chandler puts it, “Gene’s largest drawback is that he’s hung up on ‘I.’ He should give up going around telling individuals that he’s great as anything however an entertainer, when anybody can see that for a seven-year period he didn’t have or produce successful. He was additionally affected by the truth that his first document was so huge, and there was a lot hullabaloo about it that it was greater than he was… Individuals don’t like an egotist.”
The journey back to Chicago is lengthy, and it’s gotten dark out, and Chandler, who has been “on” for the media all day begins to let his guard down.
“You requested me about incidents from the previous that stuck out. How concerning the time that a lady adopted me back to my motel room and threatened to kill me if I didn’t make love to her. That scared the hell out of me,” he says wearily. “Or the time on the street once I awakened in the midst of the night time, appeared out window and the again of the automotive was like an accordion, we have been in a 3 automotive collision — the type that killed Billy Stewart.
“When the Duke of Earl was occurring they moved me around so fast that I didn’t understand what I’d had until the document was over, and solely then realized how far more I might have capitalized on it. Then seeing data I’d recorded that I was loopy about miss, I’d say to myself, ‘How might this record miss? Am I recording appropriately? Do I do know what I’m hearing? Am I off the beam?’ And dealing those self same joints yr after yr, seven exhibits a day at the Howard, by no means stepping up to the Vegas factor. But I do know that there’s been a void so far as single entertainers go, I’m not speaking about groups like Earth, Wind & Hearth. I’m talking concerning the guy who’s out there by himself. So lastly, when Carl put Chi-Sound Data collectively I needed to push my delight apart and ask him if he would take me back.”
Finally, Chandler is a person who has had greater than his share of highs and lows, and thru them, has only not often proven the tarnished aspect of his armor of cool. But despite his shortcomings, he’s a man for whom music is fact. The final entertainer who advised me that singing is 90 % enterprise promptly put me to sleep in live performance, while Chandler, as his new album will proof, continues to be singing for all he’s value, and with a vitality that few if any of his contemporaries can strategy. I want him the most effective as he embarks on the most recent part of his career; that of “the Duke of Disco.” ■
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