Aired on Treasure Island Oldies – May 07, 2023
It was the early 1960s, and the Chicago music scene was heating up. One group in particular was making waves with their unique blend of doo-wop and R&B. But it wasn’t until they teamed up with a young singer that they truly hit the big time … so they thought …
They were showstoppers live and were well received in the Englewood area on the southside of Chicago. Everything about them was exciting, especially tenor/soprano Shirley Jones, whose stage presence matched that of her cousin and lead singer Eugene Dixon. Some considered the group a funky version of the Platters.
Songwriter Bernice Williams befriended the Englewood sensations and became their main songwriter when they signed with Nat Records. When Nat Records release the group’s third single in December of 1961, all hell broke loose.
A month later, a deal was consummated with Vee-Jay Records, who re-released the single but credited only to the lead singer, Eugene Dixon who had changed his name to Gene Chandler. And yes, that record was “Duke of Earl,” a song that would soar to the #1 position on both the R&B charts and the Billboard Hot 100.
Needless to say, the group felt slighted, abused, and mistreated. According to biographer Andrew Hamilton, Vee-Jay didn’t even re-record the song, but simply slapped their label on new pressings from the Nat acetate.
Hamilton goes on to say that as appeasement, Vee-Jay signed the group to a separate deal and reissued their second single – a single that was recorded during the same August 1961 session that produced the “Duke of Earl.”
Nat Records released the second single in the fall of 1961 and by the end of the year it became an R&B success. This recording remains a classic example of Chicago-style R&B, with its driving beat, infectious chorus, and Gene Chandler’s soulful vocals.
It’s a testament to the talent of both Chandler and a dynamic group that deserved more recognition – the Dukays. Here they are with “Nite Owl,” this week’s Tom Locke moment in time.
YouTube video of this song:
This “Moments In Time” story is yet another example of a “golden oldie” or forgotten favorite that earned its place in the evolution of Rock & Roll.