I want to share this little track with you. It’s a 1961 doo-wop track by a Chicago-based group, the Dukays, with lead singer Eugene Dixon.
“The Girl’s a Devil” earned the Dukays a contract with the tiny Nat record label, and eventually the Dukays went back in the studio to record sides for future singles. One of the tracks in that follow-up session, “Nite Owl,” became a soul hit of its own.
The track was another soul hit for Nat Records, and eventually was picked up by Vee Jay Records for national distribution. Meanwhile, Vee Jay seemed very interested in another track from the Dukays’ recording session, a stroll-like ballad with Dixon on the lead vocals. Dixon agreed to rebrand himself as Gene Chandler (taking the last name from an affinity for actor Jeff Chandler), and Vee Jay released this track. And it shot all the way up to #1.
Yep. “Duke of Earl.” This song was so popular, Chandler would often perform the song in a topcoat and tails, with white gloves and a cane – just to keep the royal theme of the song in character. In fact, for a while Vee Jay Records issued pressings of the song crediting “Duke of Earl” to a singer called “The Duke of Earl.” Heck, even the follow-up to “Duke of Earl” was an answer song by Chandler called “Walk On With the Duke.”
Heck, “Duke of Earl” even found a new life in the hip-hop world, as the rap group Cypress Hill sampled Chandler’s intro for their song “Hand on the Pump.” Not as musically strong as “Insane in the Brain,” but that’s just my opinion.
Then again, there’s this great scene in the movie Hairspray – the original John Waters version with Ricki Lake and Divine – where Lake’s character dances on television with the song in the background, while her parents watch the broadcast.
If this was the only hit Gene Chandler ever had, it would certainly be enough. But in 1970, he returned to the soul and pop charts with this slow groove track, “Groovy Situation,” that went all the way to the Top 10.
But when you have a track like “Duke of Earl,” a song that just brings so much positivity and good feelings to you … you will sing that track every day.
In fact, here’s Gene Chandler as part of a PBS doo-wop special in the late 1990’s – complete with topcoat and top hat and tails, performing “Duke of Earl” as if it was an old friend, introduced to us one more time.
So today I just wanted to share a nice section of rock history with you – a track that evolved from a doo-wop session into one of rock and roll’s most beloved 1960’s ballads.
Right here on your station for great music, K-Chuck Radio!