From time to time, Friday Blues Fix will look at some of the record labels that got the blues out there for the people to hear way back when. Over the coming months, we'll look at labels like Chess, Vee-Jay, Bluebird, Excello, King, and others.....moving through time to some of the familiar labels of the past twenty years.
“I Pity The Fool” is a horse of a different color, pure raw unadulterated soul. This is what Bland sounded like at his best. During this time, he also released the album, Two Steps From The Blues, considered by many to be the best soul/blues recording ever. While he has lost some of his vocal abilities due to age, he still puts on a great show at age 80.
Medwick also demoed his songs for Bland, and his incredible vocals obviously influenced Bland’s style on those songs. Medwick and Bland eventually had a tremendous falling-out (so bad that Bland couldn't bear to even hear Medwick's voice) and Medwick moved over to Houston’s Crazy Cajun studios, wrote and recorded songs for obscure labels all over Texas for a few years and gradually faded into obscurity…..until he was picked by Grady Gaines to contribute to Gaines’ fabulous Black Top Records release, Full Gain, in 1988 as a singer and composer. Unfortunately, years of hard living caught up to Medwick before he could cash in, and he succumbed to liver cancer in 1992. Here's one of Medwick's tunes from Full Gain, "If I Don't Get Involved," that ironically became a hit a few years later for Bobby "Blue" Bland.
Some of the standout session musicians that served Robey at Duke/Peacock went on to have noteworthy careers, too. They included Roy Gaines, Clarence Hollimon, Teddy Reynolds, Texas Johnny Brown, Wayne Bennett, Grady Gaines, Roscoe Gordon, Henry Hayes, Fenton Robinson, James Booker, Lloyd Lambert, and John "Jabo" Starks.
In 1973, Robey sold all of his record labels to ABC Records, which eventually moved to MCA Records. Today, all of the Duke/Peacock recordings are property of the Universal Music Group, and still can be heard on various CD anthologies from time to time.
Below is a handful of the label's best recordings. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it's a great place to start.
Various Artists - The Best of Duke-Peacock Blues - this is out of print, but you can still pick it up online. It's a collection of the label's best work, with tracks by Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Junior Parker, Little Richard, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Larry Davis, Otis Rush, Big Mama Thornton, and Johnny Ace.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown - The Original Peacock Recordings - Young Gatemouth Brown made some of his best recordings for Peacock in the 50's, combining the big horns, R&B rhythms, and Gate's amazing guitar work. A great set by one of America's greatest musicians (don't you dare call him a bluesman).
Bobby "Blue" Bland - The "3B" Blues Boy and The Voice - There have been several collections of Bland's Duke recordings over the years. They were even collected in a three-volume set in the early 90's. However, these are my favorites of the collections and cover his entire Duke catalog very well. A nice set for entry-level BBB fans, but you also need......
Bobby "Blue" Bland - Two Steps From The Blues - If you can only have ONE Bobby "Blue" Bland album (a terrible injustice), this is the one you need. An incredible collection that belongs in every music fan's rack that completely defines the term "soul/blues."
Junior Parker - Collection - There is not a completely comprehensive collection of Parker's music, but many of his big songs for Duke are on this import, including "Next Time You See Me," "Driving Wheel," and "Strange Things Happening." Parker is nearly forgotten these days, having died at a young age, but he was a major influence on many singers of the 60's like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Elvis Presley (who recorded Parker's hit for Sun Records, "Mystery Train"), and B. B. King.
O. V. Wright - The Soul of O. V. Wright - True, Wright didn't record for Duke or Peacock....he was on Robey's BackBeat label, but man, if you want to hear soul music at its finest, you must experience O.V. Wright. This is just an incredible set of gut-wrenching soul music from start to finish.
Various Artists - Angels In Houston - This set has never even been released on CD. I picked it up on cassette waaaay back in the late 80's. It was compiled by author Peter Guralnick and includes a couple of songs each by Bland, Larry Davis, Fenton Robinson, James "Thunderbird" Davis, and others. If you can find it anywhere, it's worth a listen.