The Duke of Chicago Soul

Duke of Earl help launch his career, he became one of the top male soul singers and became the most consistent hitmakers in soul music and help put Chicago on the map as a soul-music recording center.

Born Eugene Dixon in Chicago on July 6, 1937. Gene Chandler had a positive attitude, he had a go-getter personality, he had a work and have fun later attitude, he was a serious person, kind of a perfectionist, he wanted his work to be perfect. He grew up around "soon to be soul singers" Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Major Lance, Billy Butler and other singers who would help define the "Chicago Sound". They would compete with each other in sports and games, and also would compete in singing, since they all had their own singing group, they would sing to see who sounded better, but they all had one thing in common and that is their love of music and they all knew they was going to be a star. Gene Chandler loved Sam Cooke, (he tried so hard to sound like him), Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter, and Bo Diddley. Gene sang gospel and then singed in doo-wop groups like The Gaytones which he formed at Englewood High School in 1955. He joined The Dukays in 1957 before a spell with the U.S. Army, he was stationed in Germany from 1957-1960. Upon his return in 1960 he rejoined The Dukays which consisted of Eugene Dixon(lead), his cousin Shirely Jones and James Lowe(tenors), Earl Edwards(baritone), and Ben Broyles(bass). First recorded for "Nat" in 1961, and recorded "Night Owl" with the group (which made them local celebrities in Chicago). Under the direction of Carl Davis, Gene Chandler signed to Vee-Jay Records and took the surname Gene Chandler as Jeff Chandler was Carl's favorite actor at the time. The group first recorded "Duke of Earl" for Vee-Jay. Due to contract conflicts, Eugene Dixon left the group, changed name to Gene Chandler and promoted "Duke of Earl". In 1962 he recorded his solo debut "Duke of Earl" which sold over millions across America. From here he worked with Curtis Mayfield on a song "Rainbow" (which he has recorded 3 times!) before switching to the Constellation label for "Just Be True" which he recorded in 1964 and "Nothing Can Stop Me" in 1965. He then switched to Mercury Records and recorded duets with Barbara Acklin ("Show Me The Way To Go" and "From Teacher to Preacher") and an album with Jerry Butler before changing labels again to MCA in 1969 for "Bet You Never Thought It" and an album "Here's To Love". He had his own label to called "Mr. Chand" from 1969-1973. Also in 1969 he signed Mel and Tim to his own Bamboo label and sold a million copies of Mel and Tim hit song "Backfield In Motion". He also had a record label with "Major Lance" in the mid-70s. In 1972 he teamed up with Curtis Mayfield again and signed to the Curtom label, but after little success switched to Chi-Sound n 1978 to work once again with Carl Davis. Here his fortune change with the Carl Davis-produced/Rick Gianatos-mixed "Get Down" (UK Top 20,1978), from an album of the same name. His follow-up hit was "When You're Number One" (UK Top 50,1979). His final Chi-Sound album was "Gene Chandler '80, including "Does She Have A Friend" (UK Top 30, 1980). In 1984 he returned with a single "I'll Make The Living If You Make The Loving Worthwhile" and in 1985 and album "You Love Looks Good On Me" for the Fast Fire label. From then until now Gene does oldies circuits singing the song he's most known for "Duke of Earl"

Gene Chandler possesses one of the greatest most under-appreciated voices of the "Soul" era, one that evocatively projects all the drama of his songs, whether it be heartfelt pain, warm elation, elegtiac nostalgia, pensive yearnings, or simply the demand to get down and shake your booty. There's a personality and clarity of expression that come from every son he tackles. Him timbre- that is, his vocal coloration and intonations- is often hard for the uninitiated to graps; they do not hear all the nuances and subtleties that separate Soul from Pop. Gene Chandler sings lyrically uncomplicated songs that are highly sophisticated in their manner of expression. Thus to know Gene Chandler and understand his music is to truly appreciate the nebulous concept of "SOUL". Gene Chandler came out of the vocal harmony, or doo-wop tradition of the 1950s, when the cities were alive with the sounds of harmonizing street corner ensembles, each in vigorous competition with all the others. Gene Chandler thus made his first mark under his original name "Eugene Dixon", performing as lead of "The Dukays". They began their career in 1957 singing doo-wop, but by the time they got in 1961, soul's influence was being felt and the group was singing something in-between, a big grittier and funkier. The Dukays had the wonderful lead of Eugene Dixon and rousing harmony with bariton Earl Edwards, second tenor James Lowe, bass Ben Broyles, and soprano Shirley Jones, but what they needed were some top-notch songs. And these they got from local neighborhood songwriter and group mentor, Bernice Williams, who supplied them with the first two hits, "Girl is A Devil" and "Night Owl". Both were superb songs, forcefully and aggressively sung with gospel passion, but wit doo-wop flavorings still intact. The songs were released released on a small label. "Nat", owned by two go-getting record men "Carl Davis" and "Bunky" Sheppard. Perhaps the ultimate transitional hit for The Dukays was "Duke Of Early" in 1962. Yes, this legendary number-one-million-seller was recorded by The Dukays, but through a marketing decision based on a switch of record companiees from "Nat" to "Vee-Jay", the name of the artist was changed to "Gene Chander". And under this name Eugene Dixon launched his solo career. The Dukays were beginning to learn the craft of sonwriting, and Gene Chandler and Earl Edwards shaped the song with the help of Ms. Bernice Williams. Its obvious appeal is the haunting chant of "Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl" (AND THAT IS WHAT MADE THE RECORD A MEMORABLE ROCK 'N' ROLL HIT, IT SUPPOSE TO BEEN "DO, DO, DO, DO, DUKE OF EARL", but the producer changed it around to Duke,Duke,Duke, Duke of Earl), but what made it a great proto-soul record wre the vocal stylings of Gene Chandler, especially the falsetto work on the bridge. Gene Chandler failed to immediately sustain his rock 'n' roll success with follow-up hits. By the end of 1962, however, he found his niche as an up-and-coming SOUL star when "Tear for Tear" found a place on the R&B stations' playlists. The record has a sparkling bounce to it but perhaps because of its mid-tempo sound it did not have a chance for ROCK 'N' ROLL CROSSOVER. Black Soul Fans understood it, howeever. The record was followed in early 1963 with a delightful answer song to "Ms. Mary Wells", "You Beat Me To The Punch", called "You Threw A Lucky Punch". Gene Chandler showes his artistry by taking this "Motown" hit and making it distinctly his own so that it sounded as though it was written for him. The song had considerable success with the pop audience, and was a moderate hit on the 50,000 watt powerhouse Top-40 station WLS in Chicago. The flip to this record the "Curtis Mayfield" composed ballard "Rainbow", on the other hand, sealed Gene Chandler relationship with the soul audience. "Rainbow" is a deep-soul ballad sung in a stark and most painful-sounding manner. It was somewhat out of character for Chandler, who is basically an uptown stylist, but the singer saw the song as a perfect vehicle to establish his soul credentials. He pusheed the record everywhere he went, and soon the deejays flipped over "You Threw A Lucky Punch" and made "Rainbow" the bigger R&B hit. Gene Chandler established the song as his signature song, recreating it several times for new generations of soul fans. "Man's Temptation" (1963) it another Curtis Mayfield composition that turned out to be a sizable hit for Gene Chandler, and with it the classic Gene Chandler uptown treatment was established- mellow, soulful, and intense, but not gut-wrenching as in his "Rainbow" performance. Gene Chandler moved to "Constellation" in late 1963, but his first releases under producer "Bunky Sheppard" failed to find an audience. Bunky Sheppard then broght in his old associate, Carl Davis, who was at "Okeh" at the time, to save the situation. Carl Davis from then on was producing Gene Chandler surreptitiously, and his next production, Curtis Mayfield's "Think Nothing About It," was a gem of mid-tempo ambiance. It proved to be only a modest hit though, in early 1964. The remainder of 1964, when he came out with a trilogy of stunning ballads that went high on the charts, proved far more fruitful for Gene Chandler. The first of these, "Just Be True," (a Curtis Mayfield composition natch) was his biggest hit since "Duke Of Earl," and established Gene Chanlder as a Soul superstar. He followed with another big hit, the stirringly romantic Billy Butler song, "Bless Our Love." "What Now" is another Curtis Mayfield composition somewhat derivvative of the two previous hits, but it is solid nonetheless. Gene Chandler's Constellation years were truly his golden years, as it seemed every release proved to be either a blockbuster commercial hit or an artistic triumph; the year 1965 was no less successful than 1964, with five charting records. The three included here are from the amazingly prolific pen of Curits Mayfield. "You Can't Hurt Me No More," a remake of "The Opals" local hit from a year earlier, featured an awe-inspiring wall-of-sound orchestral backing. "Nothing Can Stop Me" was a delightful up-tempo anthem of positive thinking and proved to be of Gene Chandler's biggest and most enduring hit. "Nothing Can Stop Me" was a big hit all over the world, and a big local hit for him in Chicago, and a great song to dance to, again another song "Soul Sensation" and a song whites couldn't understand but still they loved it, the rhythm in it and the tempo was a great dance tune. "(Gonna Be) Good Times" had a fabulous summer sound that evocatively captures the atmosphere of the urban streets of black communities in the mid-1960s, again another Curtis Mayfield composition natch. For most of 1966, Gene Chandler suffered lean times on the national charts as "Constellation was rapidly running down both creatively because of the loss of Curtis Mayfield and his songs especially hurt and in terms of marketing; by mid-year, the label had closed its doors. Gene Chandler successfully continued his productive ways on two other Chicago labels, "Brunswick" and "Checker", with the help of new songwriters and with Carl Davis producting for both labels. In early 1967, Gene Chandler hit with his first Brunswick release, "The Girl Don't Care," a compelling ballad Gene Chandler wrote with a nwe young tunesmith, " the fabulous "Keni Lewis". In April, he quickly followed on Checker with "To Be A Lover," a riveting "Karl Tarlton" ballad and Brunswick in September with a song written by "Carl Davis" and the great songwriter himself "Otis Leavill, the up-tempo "There Goes The Lover," which entered the Soul chart for a brief two weeks. By 1970, however, Gene Chandler was not clicking with Brunswick as he had in the past, so he joined "Mercury Records," producing himself for the first time in his career. That association produced the utterly sublime "Groovy Situation," which came to be Gene Chandler's first million-seller since, "Duke Of Earl," and one of the few of his hits that successfully crossed over into the Pop market. It has since became a staple of oldies radio. Afters some failed associations with a few other companies, in 1978 Gene Chandler got back with his good friend "Carl Davis," signing with his new "Chi-Sound label." His biggest hit for the company was the riveting dance club number, "Get Down," which earned him a new moniker, the "Duke of Disco." It went to number 3 R&B and number 53 Pop, and was his last crossover hit. Gene Chandler showed he still had the chops to sing tenderly and soulfully (which he was so famous for) when in 1978 he hit with the gently laping "Does She Have A Friend?" He had to reach outside of Chicago and found the song from a California publishing company, an aminous indication that the rich fount of talent that had long sustained the city's Soul industry was drying up. It was his last hit in the Top 30.
Friends