Album Reviews

Gene Chandler: Duke Of Earl: The Gene Chandler Story 1961-1962

Gene Chandler: <I>Duke Of Earl: The Gene Chandler Story 1961-1962</i>

gene chandler

Gene Chandler
Duke Of Earl: The Gene Chandler Story 1961-1962
Jasmine Records

Gene Chandler secured his role in the annals of pop history with his delight soul crossover hit, “The Duke of Earl.” Released in 1962, the song was a smash, though the instant success of his debut solo single resulted in Chandler being labeled a one-hit wonder. Instead, it was merely the   starting point of a long recording career, one that is still going strong. Duke Of Earl: The Gene Chandler Story 1961-62 compiles Chandler’s earliest recordings for the Vee Jay label, offering a picture of what the man had to offer the world.

Chandler, born Eugene Dixon, began his career as part of the R&B group The Dukays. In 1961, they would record a half dozen songs which resulted in two singles, “The Girl’s A Devil/The Big Lie” and “Nite Owl/Festival Of Love.” Both singles are fine, upbeat R&B, with Chandler’s vocals being quite impressive; “The Girl’s A Devil,” their debut, was a minor hit; a lack of distribution perhaps being the more reason few people heard them.  But Vee-Jay Records heard them, and quickly purchased the rights to the singles, and to the two songs that had yet to be released.

“Duke Of Earl” was one of those numbers. Sensing a hit, and due to contractual reasons, the group agreed to let the label release the song as credited to Gene Chandler. Immediate and instant success came; the song would become a smash hit, going to number one on both the Pop and R&B charts. Today, five decades later, it’s still a standard of Oldies radio, a catchy R&B song that’s instantly recognizable by its deep, repetitive bass vocal line that introduces the song, then reverts to Chandler’s fine voice.


Yet the label decided to capitalize on this success in a bizarre fashion, crediting his follow-ups to The Duke Of Earl. While they weren’t bad singles, follow up “Walk On With The Duke” is merely a bit of a rewrite of “The Duke Of Earl,” continuing the saga yet not being a particularly memorable number. Better was the B-side, “London Town,” and the follow-up single, “Forgive Me.” Vee-Jay would also quickly commission an album, The Duke Of Earl, which collects a number of the sides released under the various iterations, and though quickly recorded, several of the numbers, such as his take on “Stand By Me,” “I Wake Up Crying,” and “Lonely Island” are fine, Sam Cooke-minded soul numbers that never belie the fact that they were hastily recorded and released.

He would release two more singles for the label, “Tear For Tear/Miracle After Miracle” and “You Threw A Lucky Punch/Rainbow,” vastly superior recordings that were minor successes, with “You Threw A Lucky Punch” being an upbeat soul number whose success was modest, but should have been bigger. Had it been released as the direct follow-up to “Duke Of Earl,” perhaps it would have performed a lot better—or perhaps not, as “Duke Of Earl” is a song that splits the difference between novelty and serious.

All in all, Gene Chandler’s first forays into music produced some wonderful Soul music. That the songs didn’t resonate quite the same as “Duke Of Earl” is no matter, nor did it affect Chandler’s career in any way. He would go on to have a long an fruitful recording career, and though he hasn’t been as prolific recording wise over the last two decades, he still performs regularly. This collection shows that he was no slouch—nor was the “One Hit Wonder” tag an accurate summation of his abilities.

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