Doris Duke


Band members                              Related acts

- Doris Duke (aka Doris Curry, aka Doris Willingham) --  vocals

 

  backing musicians:

- Jesse Beaver Carr -- lead guitar

- Paul Hornsby -- keyboards

- Robert Popwell -- bass

- Johnny Sandlin -- drums

- Jerry Williams Jr. -- keyboards

 

 

- The Caravans

- The David Sisters

- The Raspberry Singers

- Doris Willingham

 

 

 

 


 

Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  I'm a Loser

Company: Canyon

Catalog: LP-7704

Year: 1969

Country/State: Sandersville, Georgia

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4895

Price: $40.00

 

 

It's always struck me as a shame that outside of hardcore soul circles Doris Duke isn't better known given that she was easily as talented as many of her better known soul contemporaries.

 

 

Like so many others, Duke (born Doris Curry) started her musical career in Gospel music.  As a teenager and a young adult she toured and recorded with a number of Gospel acts including The Caravans, The David Sisters, The Evangelistic Gospel Choir, and The Raspberry Singers.

 

By the early 1960s she'd relocated to New York City, paying her bills as a backup sessions singer, supporting everyone from Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin.  Under her married name of Doris Willingham she also managed to record a couple of obscure 45s for small labels such as Hy-Monty and Jay Boy.  In 1968 she was hired as part of Nina Simone's touring band.  

 

Returning to sessions work in 1969 she caught attention of former Atlantic A&R man/producer/singer/songwriter Jerry Williams Jr.  Williams quickly signed her to a recording deal on his small RRG label.  Billed as 'Doris Duke' she debuted with the Williams written and produced 'Congratulations Baby' b/w 'Divorce Decree' (RRG Catalog number 44004).  While the single did little commercially, it attracted enough attention for Williams to finance a follow-on album on Wally Roker's Canyon label (which was coincidently Williams' label).  

 

Like the earlier single, 1969's "I'm a Loser" was produced, arranged, conducted and largely written by Williams.  Recorded at Phil Walden's Capricorn Studios, the collection featured support from guitarist James Carr, drummer Johnny Sadlin and the cream of local studio musicians.  Propelled by Duke's deep and world weary voice, the album featured an engaging mixture of Gospel, R&B and Stax-influenced soul.  Technically Duke wasn't the world's greatest singer.  She didn't have a great deal of range and her delivery was occasionally brittle and shrill.  That said, her ability to channel the hurt and pain of love and real life was simply unsurpassed.  It's hard to imagine Aretha Franklin, or even Millie Jackson having the nerve to take on a song about infidelity ('To the Other Woman') or even more daring for the timeframe, a woman falling into prostitution ('I Don't Care Anymore').  Exemplified by tracks such as 'Feet Start Walking' and 'Congratulations Baby' seldom have you heard someone singing about so much pain and unhappiness.  Simply killer soul !!!  

 

"I'm a Loser" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) He's Gone   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Larry Harrison) - 4:34

Opening up with some pretty Paul Hornsby keyboards and Johnny Sadlin's martial drums, 'He's Gone' was a slow, bluesy ballad that got the album off to a shaky start.  Showcasing Duke at her rawest and most vulnerable, her vocal performances was actually quite good, but the song  just never really kicked into gear.   Canyon tapped this one as the second single off the LP.     rating: *** stars

2.) Can't Do Without You    (George Jackson - Ronald Townsend) - 2:06

Co-written by George Jackson and Ronald Townsend 'Can't Do Without You' frame Duke with a classic soul track.   Kicked along by a great James Carr guitar hook (which has always reminded me of something Eric Clapton would have played on a Delaney and Bonnie track), it was hard to believe a track like this wasn't a major hit for Duke.   rating: **** stars

3.) Feet Start Walking   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:28

Jerry Williams Jr. has always had a gift for slightly off-kilter lyrics and 'Feet Start Walking' was a perfect example of that talent.  Catchy old school soul and among the Seamp Dogg's best songs, Duke's take-no-crap delivery made for one of the album's standout performances.  (You could also hear Williams unique voice on the backing vocals.)   Easy to see why Canyon tapped this one as the lead-off single.    rating: **** stars

4.) Ghost of Myself   (Jerry Williams Jr.) - 3:06

Opening up with some tasty church organ and some fantastic Robert Popwell bass, 'Ghost of Myself ' was a classic soul ballad.  Almost Gospel-ish in its intensity, you could just feel Duke's exhaustion and dispair.  Shame the song faded out just as Duke was starting to get into the track.  The song also sported another great James Carr guitar solo.   rating: **** stars

5.) Your Best Friend    (Jerry Williams Jr. - Larry Harrison)- 2:48

'Your Best Friend' started out as a slinky mid-tempo tale of a scorned woman and was pretty good until the final section when Duke's spoken word segment turned it into a slice of Millie Jackson trash talkin'.    rating: ** stars

6.) The Feeling Is Right   (Mickey Buckins - George Jackson) - 2:44

A breezy, slightly MOR-ish ballad with another killer Paul Hornsby keyboard riff, 'Your Best Friend' finally let Duke open up her pipes and has grown to be one of my favorites performances on the album.     rating: **** stars 

 

(side 2)
1.) I Don't Care Anymore   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds - Maurice Gimble) - 3:05

So anyone who's ever doubted guys were pigs only needed to hear 'I Don't Care Anymore'.  All hyperbole aside, Duke turned in one of soul's darkest (and perhaps most realistic) tales of female emancipation on this three minute heartbreaker.   rating: ***** stars  

2.) Congratulations Baby   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds - Maurice Gimble) - 2:00

Hum, the pounding 'Congratulations Baby' wasn't exactly your typical moon-in-June lyric ...   Another classic on the album, I've always loved the urgent 'run girl, run' backing chorus.   rating: **** stars 

 3.) We're More Than Strangers   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 3:29

'We're More Than Strangers' was an out-and-out blues belter that again showcased Duke's amazing voice.  The downside was the song had a fairly pedestrian melody.   rating: ** stars  

4.) Divorce Decree   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Maurice Gimble) - 2:29

Leave if Swamp Dogg to pen a tune like 'Divorce Decree' showing the female side of this ugly business.   I don't think as great a voice as Aretha could have handled this one any better.  rating: **** stars  

5.) How Was I To Know You Cared   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:38

At least to my ears 'How Was I To Know You Cared' was one of the weaker songs on the album - simply to pop and commercial oriented ...   rating: *** stars

6.) To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)   (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:55

Another classic Swamp Dogg track, the slow bluesy 'To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)' simply dripped of hurt and pain.  Once again, hard to image another female soul singer being able to tackle the song with such class.   Canyon tapped this as the leadoff single, giving Clark a minor pop and R&B hit. rating: **** stars  

As mentioned above, released as a single Duke actually enjoyed a pop and R&B hit with 'To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)' b/w I Don't Care Anymore' (Canyon catalog number # 28).  Unfortunately two follow-on singles did nothing commercially:

 

- 'Feet Start Walking' b/w 'How Was I To Know You Cared' (Canyon catalog number # 35)

- 'He's Gone' b/w 'The Feeling Is Right'  (Canyon catalog number  # 54)

 

Adding to Duke's problems, Canyon's shaky finances and minimal promotion efforts effectively doomed the album from a commercial standpoint.   Shame, since this is one of soul's overlooked treasures.

 

 

 

 

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