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In the Spotlight: Gene Chandler


In the Spotlight: Gene Chandler

Gene Chandler in his "Duke of Earl" days



Eugene Dixon, July 6, 1937 in Chicago, IL


Doo-wop, Soul, Uptown Soul, R&B



Claims to fame:

  • The "Duke of Earl"
  • An important bridge, perhaps the most important, between doo-wop and soul
  • After his big pop hit, ruled the "Uptown/Chicago soul" scene of the '60s
  • An expert producer and songwriter in his own right
  • Successful in three decades of R&B music styles, from doo-wop to disco
  • One of soul's great vocalists

Early years:

He'd already made some local noise in his native Chicago with a group called the Gaytones, but the early story of Gene Chandler is largely the story of the Dukays, his second doo-wop group, that first recorded the song "Duke of Earl" in 1961, after Gene had returned from a brief stint in the Army. Led by his expressive tenor, the song started out as merely a bit of practice for its bass vocalist -- with its signature chant of "Doo-doo-doo-duke of Earl" -- but legendary Chi-town label Vee-Jay smelled a big hit. The problem was that the group wasn't on Vee-Jay, but rather signed to crosstown rival Nat Records, who thought the big hit of the session was a cut called "Nite Owl."


Vee-Jay offered Eugene the chance to leave the group and have "Duke" released under his new name, Gene Chandler, or to stay with the Dukays and take his chances with "Nite Owl." Chandler wisely chose the former. Coming near the end of the doo-wop craze as it did, "Duke of Earl" was still way too infectious not to be a hit, and it went gold in a month, making Gene a star overnight. Making the most of his opportunity, Chandler quickly bought a crown, cane, and cape, and played the "Duke" persona to the hilt, even as he began cranking out other songs for the label. It took him a long time to find his foothold with pop audiences, but his records were very successful on the R&B charts: Chandler's tenor was smooth yet emotional enough to be perfect for the pop hybrid soon to be known as "Chicago Soul."

Later years:

"Rainbow" (recorded three times over the course of his career!) became another standout, as did "Nothing Can Stop Me." He also released several duets with other Chicago mainstays like Jerry Butler and Barbara Acklin. By the early '70s, Chandler had taken to producing himself, and finally scored another big pop hit, just missing the Top Ten with the ultra-smooth funk anthem "Groovy Situation." He continued to dominate the R&B charts well through the disco era, landing his last Top Ten there in 1978. Although sidelined by a drug addiction and some jail time, Gene ended the decade as a VP at the Chi-Sound label (helmed by "Duke of Earl" producer Carl Davis), now free to hit the oldies circuit. There he remains today, touring behind his big pop hit and his many R&B classics.

Gene Chandler awards and honors:

  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2002)
  • Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award (1997)
  • National Association of Television and Radio Announcers' Producer of the Year Award (1970)
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" (1995)

Gene Chandler facts and trivia:

  • The "Duke" in "Duke of Earl" was actually the group's baritone, Earl Edwards; it was his nickname
  • Chandler's big "Chicago Soul" hits of the '60s were produced and often written by Curtis Mayfield
  • Gene's other big hit as a producer was Mel and Tim's "Backfield in Motion"
  • Chandler's 1962 b-side "You Threw a Lucky Punch" was created as an "answer" song to Mary Wells' "You Beat Me to the Punch"
  • Has also recorded with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Reed, and Dee Clark
  • Has toured with Jerry Butler, Ben E. King, and Lloyd Price as "The Four Kings of Rhythm and Blues"

Gene Chandler hit songs and albums:

#1 hits
  • "Duke of Earl" (1962)
  • "Duke of Earl" (1962)
Top 10 hits
  • "Just Be True" (1964)
  • "Nothing Can Stop Me" (1965)
  • "Rainbow '65" (1965)
  • "I Fooled You This Time" (1966)
  • "To Be a Lover" (1967)
  • "Groovy Situation" (1970)
  • "Get Down" (1978)
Top 10 albums
  • Gene Chandler - Live On Stage In '65 (1966)

Other notable Gene Chandler recordings:

"Nite Owl," "Tear for Tear," "You Threw a Lucky Punch," "Man's Temptation," "Think Nothing About It," "Bless Our Love," "What Now?," "The Girl's a Devil," "Walk On With the Duke," "Soul Hootenanny," "(I'm Just A) Fool For You," "Show Me the Way to Go" with Barbara Acklin, "River of Tears," "There Was a Time," "From the Teacher to the Preacher" with Barbara Acklin, "Simply Call It Love," "You Just Can't Win (By Making the Same Mistake)" with Jerry Butler, "You're a Lady," "Ten and Two (Take This Woman Off the Corner)" with Jerry Butler, "Yes I'm Ready (If I Don't Get to Go)," "Tomorrow I May Not Feel the Same," "When You're #1," "Do What Comes So Natural," "Lay Me Gently," "I'll Make the Living If You Make the Loving Worthwhile," "You're the One," "Haven't I Heard That Line Before," "Lucy," "You Can't Hurt Me No More," "(Gonna Be) Good Times," "The Girl Don't Care," "There Goes the Lover," "Does She Have a Friend for Me?"

Movie and TV appearances (movies in italics): Don't Knock the Twist (1962), "American Bandstand" (1965), "Shindig!" (1965), "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1970), "Soul Train" (1971), "Doo Wop 50" (1999) (TV documentary)

Covered by: The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, Sha Na Na, New Edition, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Daddy Cool, Youth Brigade, The Masked Marauders, The Nylons, The Darts, Cornell Campbell, The Van-Dells, The Karate Lincolns, The Barron Knights

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