Band members Related acts
- Doris Duke (aka Doris Curry, aka Doris Landam, aka
Doris Willingham) (RIP 2019) -- vocals
backing musicians (1971)
- Jesse Carr -- guitar
- Charlie Chalmers -- backing vocals
- Joe De Angelis -- French horn
- Stacy Goss - trumpet, flugel horn
- Jeanie Greene -- backing vocals
- Jasper Guraino -- drums, percussion
- Chuck Leavell -- piano
- Robert Popwell -- bass, conga
- Sandra Rhodes -- backing vocals
- Sonny Royal -- sax
- Mile Stough -- French horn
- Jerry Williams Jr. -- piano
backing musicians: (1975)
- 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
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title: I'm a Loser
Country/State: Sandersville, Georgia
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor ring wear
Catalog ID: 4895
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 !!!
Loser" track listing:
1.) He's Gone (Jerry Williams Jr. - Larry Harrison) - 4:34 rating: *** stars
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.
2.) Can't Do Without You (George Jackson - Ronald Townsend) - 2:06 rating: **** stars
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.
3.) Feet Start Walking (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:28 rating: **** stars
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.
4.) Ghost of Myself (Jerry Williams Jr.) - 3:06 rating: **** stars
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.
5.) Your Best Friend (Jerry Williams Jr. - Larry Harrison)- 2:48 rating: ** stars
'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'.
6.) The Feeling Is Right (Mickey Buckins - George Jackson) - 2:44 rating: **** stars
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.
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.
2.) Congratulations Baby (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds - Maurice Gimble) - 2:00 rating: **** stars
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.
3.) We're More Than Strangers (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 3:29 rating: ** stars
'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.
4.) Divorce Decree (Jerry Williams Jr. - Maurice Gimble) - 2:29 rating: **** stars
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.
5.) How Was I To Know You Cared (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:38 rating: *** stars
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 ...
6.) To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman) (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:55 rating: **** stars
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.
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.
Only 77, Duke died in March 2019.
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title: A Legend In Her Own Time
Country/State: Sandersville, Georgia
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 30000
Released by Ernie Young's Nashville-based Mankind Records, 1971's "A Legend In Her Own Time" continued Doris Duke's collaboration with Jerry Williams Jr. (Swamp Dogg). As on Duke's debut, Williams produced the album and was responsible for penning, or co-penning most of the material. Given the host of outside cover tunes, most fans seem to think this album is inferior to "I'm a Loser". Admittedly a couple of the cover tunes were lackadaisical (Buddy Johnson's 'Since I Fell for You'), but I'd argue that the album was almost as good as her debut. In addition to producing and writing much of the material, Williams served as Duke's manager and by the time these sessions took place their working relationship seems to have been strained. Still the two seemed to have reached an understanding of what material worked and what didn't. The songs Williams provided for the debut were pretty amazing, but judging by tracks like '(Oh Lord) I Wish I Could Sleep', 'I Don't Know How (To Fall Out of Love with You)' and the classic ' If She's Your Wife (Who Am I)', he still had a deep catalog of quality original material. Williams also knew how to frame Duke to get the most out of her deep, touching voice. Support from some of Muscle Shoals finest including guitarist Jesse Carr, keyboardist Chuck Leavell and bassist Robert Popwell certainly didn't hurt the sessions. So why the heavy reliance on covers? Speculation on my part, but I'm guessing it reflected the deteriorating relationship between Williams and Duke. Why bother to provide quality original material to a singer who didn't seem to appreciate it? Feed the artist covers and save those originals for yourself or someone else. The funny thing is Duke's cover performances were almost as good as her work on Williams' materials. Her remake of Jackie DeShannon's 'Bad Water' was better than the original. Her cover of Gamble and Huff's 'Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You' left you wondering what might have come out of a full fledged collaboration with Philadelphia International.
Unfortunately Mankind had little marketing power and the album did little commercially. Duke subsequently stepped away from music to remarry and raise her three children.
In Her Own Timer" track listing:
1.) (Oh Lord) I Wish I Could Sleep (Jimmy Roach - Jerry Williams Jr.) - 3:16 rating: **** stars
The oddball lyrics were typical Jerry Williams ... insomnia soul ... But I can't think of a singer that could have pulled the hurt off better than Duke. Awesome sound. The band and particularly guitarist Pete Carr and drummer Jasper Guraino sounded like they were sitting in your living room.
2.) It Sure was Fun (Jerry Williams Jr. - Gary Bonds) - 2:36 rating: **** stars
Hard to believe that a great soul tune like this was relegated to the "B" side of a 45 ... With a breezy melody; punchy horns and one of Duke's most impressive "torch" vocals, Southern soul didn't get much better than this.
3.) I Don't Know How (To Fall Out of Love with You) (Jimmy Roach - Jerry Williams Jr.) - 3:53 rating: ***** stars
Lots of times I question why record labels tap certain songs as singles, but in this case the choice was crystal clear. Harder to understand was how radio managed to miss this gem. Looking for a hit record? This one had everything needed - great melody; fantastic instrumentation, ultimate heartbreak lyrics and one of Duke's most impressive performances. Easy to see why it was tapped as the album's second single:
- 1972's 'I Don't Know How (To Fall Out of Love with You' b/w 'He's Everything I Need' (Mankind catalog number MK 12013)
4.) He's Everything I Need (Demetriss Tapp - Bob Tubert)- 3:31 rating: *** stars
'He's Everything I Need; slowed everything down, framing Duke in a rollicking blues sound. Given her powerful voice, the change in scenery didn't phase her one bit.
5.) I'd Do It All Over for You (Jerry Williams Jr.) - 2:27 rating: **** stars
Duke had such a powerful and impressive voice, she could handle pretty much whatever producer Williams threw at her. She seemed to particularly thrive on up-tempo numbers like 'I'd Do It All Over for You'. Kicked along by some sweet horns and a catchy little James Carr guitar riff, this was another tune that should have been in contention for release as a single.
6.) If She's Your Wife (Who Am I) (Jerry Williams Jr. - Charles Whitehead) - 4:08 rating: **** stars
A companion piece to the classic 'To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)', 'If She's our Wife (Who Am I)' is clearly an entry in the pillar of classic "cheatin' soul" performances. Another one of Duke's classic performances - the sheer pain and unhappiness of this one is dumbfounding. The album's leadoff single:
- 1971's 'If She's Your Wife (Who Am I)' b/w 'It Sure was Fun' (Mankind catalog number 12002-A)
1.) Since I Fell for You (Buddy Johnson) - 2:45 rating: *** stars
Hard to imagine how many times this standard has been recorded over the years. Aided by some nice horn charts and Carr turning in some nice jazzy runs, Duke's performance was nice enough so that the abrupt ending came as somewhat of a disappointment.
2.) Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 2:25 rating: **** stars
Like most folks, I knew this tune through Wilson Pickett's cover. Well folks, Duke's cover was every bit as impressive. In fact, it makes you wonder what a full fledged Duke and Gamble-Huff collaboration would have sounded like. Killer performance.
3.) Let Love Touch Us Now (W.C. Quillen - Grady Smith) - 2:34 rating: **** stars
I'd never heard 'Let Love Touch Us Now' before and have to admit the breezy delivery was quite attractive. (Turns out Lee "Scratch" Perry recorded a fantastic version of the tune.)
4.) Bad Water (Jimmy Holiday - Jackie DeShannon - Randy Myers) - 3:25 rating: **** stars
As much as I like Jackie DeShannon's version of 'Bad Water', Duke's stripped down country-soul tinged take was even more impressive.
5.) By the Time I Get To Phoenix (Jimmy Webb - Johnny Rivers) - 4:00 rating: *** stars
To her credit, with a jazzy arrangement, Duke even managed to salvage the MOR chestnut 'By the Time I Get To Phoenix'. Well, I guess you needed to give credit to Jesse Carr, Roger Popwell and Sonny Royal.
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Catalog: SPS 5124
Country/State: Sandersville, Georgia
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor ring wear
Catalog ID: 31208
The mid-'70s were a tough time for American soul artists. With popular tastes having moved on to mindless disco and punk anarchy, like hundreds of other soul acts, Doris Duke found herself struggling to remain relevant. At least briefly, she found a little solace and appreciation among European fans - particularly English fans. Recorded by the English Contempo label (Scepter releasing the set in the States), 1975's "Woman" was the brainchild of Contempo Records founder and music magazine publisher John Abbey. Abbeys' affection for American soul was apparent throughout the collection. The downside was that he really didn't seem to know what to do with Duke's talents. The end result was a hodgepodge collection heavy on cover tunes (there was one Duke original), that spanned a wide spectrum of musical styles; none particularly suited for Duke. Maybe because the material didn't strike a chord with her, Duke's earlier fire was largely absent across these seven songs. On material like her cover of The Supremes hit 'Love Is Here and Now You're Gone' you got the feeling she was going through the motions, trying to force her way through the performance. The results weren't helped by the fact Duke's voice seemed to be showing the effects of time. Her earlier fire and effortless power were largely absent. She could still be impressive, but those moments were far and few between. The album's best performances were her cover of Marlena Shaw's 'Woman In the Ghetto', the Duke original 'Please Come Back' and the funky single 'Grasshopper'.
"Woman" track listing:
1.) Woman In the Ghetto (Miller - Marlena Shaw - Evans) - 7:35 rating: **** stars
There must be thousands of early-'70s songs that included the word "ghetto" in the title. There's an interesting subject for a book there ... Of those, this has to be one of the best. I'm not sure it beats the quiet fury and interesting arrangement of the Marlena Shaw original, but while Duke's stab at raising social consciousness may have been a little less in-you-face, it started slowly and built and built over the seven minute + arrangement. Imagine Curtis Mayfield working with The Staple Singers and you'll get a feel for this one.
The song was tapped as a US single:
- 1975's 'Woman In the Ghetto' b/w 'Woman In the Ghetto' (SAM catalog number 75-5001)
2.) Hey Lady (Kilbourn - Tarry) - 5:44 rating: *** stars
Not to sound picky, but Duke seemed to be trying a little too hard on 'Hey Lady'. Her performance was still enjoyable on this classic slice of Southern soul with one of those bittersweet cheatin' story lyrics. Clarence Carter would have loved it. And those horns were awesome.
3.) Love Is Here and Now You're Gone (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 5:45 rating: ** stars
As much as wanted to like her cover of 'Love Is Here and Now You're Gone', I just couldn't feel it. Duke's performance sounded brittle and forced with the spoken word segments reminding me how much better The Supremes' version was (and it wasn't one of their better performances).
1.) Please Come Back (Doris Duke) - 5:05 rating: *** stars
The lone original composition, 'Please Come Back' was a nice enough ballad, but the heavy arrangement seemed to rush Duke into Hal David and Burt Bacharach territory.
2.) Grasshopper (Bunny Sigler - Hurtt) - 3:30 rating: **** stars
The album's standout performance, 'Grasshopper' offered up a flashback to earlier creative peaks. Commercial and funky, the tune recaptured the spunk and sense of energy that made Duke such a joy. The track was released as a US single:
- 1974's 'Grasshopper' b/w 'Please Come Back' (Contempo catalog number CS 7703)
3.) To Chicago with Love (Howard) - 2:40 rating: ** stars
The sickly sweet opening strings weren't a good harbinger of what was to come - Duke simply struggled with the song and the spoken word segment just pushed the mess off the rails. Probably that album's worst performance..
4.) A Little Bit of Love (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 3:06
Penned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song was given a light disco feel which again didn't seem to be a good match for Duke. I'm not sure about the title disconnect. Not a major crises, but interesting - on the album the song was shown as 'A Little Bit of Love', but released as a single the title was shown as 'A Little Bit of Lovin''. The song was released as the album's second UK single:
- 1974's 'A Little Bit of Lovin' b/w 'Hey Lady' (Contempo catalog number CS 2047)
5. Full Time Woman (Stuart) - 3:45
'Full Time Woman' was another big, overblown and over-orchestrated ballad where Duke sounded like she was trying to power her way through the performance. Forgettable. The song also served as the third and final UK single:
- 1974's 'Full Time Woman' b/w 'Your Best Friend' (Contempo catalog CS 2064)
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