Number 1 With A Bullet: Gene Chandler’s “Duke Of Earl”
In the wake of considering the cover of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Gene “The Duke of Earl” Chandler[/lastfm]’s album, ’60’s Soul Brother (here), we look at the record that gave the singer his nickname.
Upon his return to his hometown of Chicago in 1960, after a three-year stint in the Army, Eugene Dixon reconnected with his singing group, the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Dukays[/lastfm]. Signed with manager Bernice Williams and the label, Nat Records, the group scored a couple of marginal hits but nothing earth-shattering.
One night while sitting around the piano, Dixon and Williams began writing a song around a riff that would eventually become called “Duke of Earl,” a mix of the group name, the Dukays, and a member’s name, Earl. While Nat Records was unimpressed, Vee Jay Records A&R man Calvin Carter was excited enough to phone his boss in Paris for permission to buy the rights to the song. Unable to release it as the Dukays, since they were contracted to Nat, Dixon was pushed into the spotlight where he took the name “Gene Chander.”
Released in January 1962, “Duke of Earl” spent eleven weeks on the chart (including three at Number 1) and became Vee-Jay’s first million-seller.
For his part, Chandler became “The Duke of Earl,” dressing for performances and movies in a top hat, cape and monocle. He would later go on to record a handful of successful singles for the Constellation and Mercury labels, including his 1970 Gold record, “Groovy Situation,” and also form his own label, which scored a hit with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Mel & Tim[/lastfm]’s “Backfield in Motion.”
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