I Never Knew : The Dukays©2008JCMarion


The Dukays were a vocal group from Chicago that had a very interesting and important part in the field of R & B recorded history. Most fans and record collectors of the music are most likely not aware of their place when the story of the music is told. The group was organized in 1957 and consisted of lead singer Eugene Dixon, tenor James Lowe, baritone Earl Edwards, bass Ben Broyles, and female member Shirley Jones. The quintet sang in the neighborhood and talked about entering some local talent contests, but nothing much developed for the group. Dixon had left for military service. As the story is told, a local barber shop proprieter where the group sometimes hung out, was the source of the group's name - The Dukays. After Dixon's return he decided that if the vocal group was to get serious about making it in the music business they needed professional help in getting their talent working together and heading in the right direction.

That needed help came in the person of Bernice Williams who was a local writer, producer, and talent scout for local record labels in the Chicago area. She and the group worked on the group's harmony, presentation, stage manners, and most importantly-some original material that would give the group their own bit of uniqueness in the crowded field of the time. After further work by the five members, they were scheduled for their first recording session. In April of 1961 The Dukays had their first record released. It was for the local label Nat Records and featured the songs "The Girl's A Devil" and "The Big Lie" and was issued on # 4001. In short order "Devil" received decent airplay in the Chicago area, and the tune written by Bernice Williams was well received enough to enter the pop charts on the high end. This was a promising start for the new vocalists. By the end of the year the group was ready for their second record, and again the 'A' side was a Bernice Williams composition "Night Owl". This song should not be confused with the Tony Allen & The Champs tune from 1955. The flip side of the record was the song "Festival Of Love" and released on Nat # 4002. In February of 1962 the record again dented the national pop charts and recognized the group as having breakout potential. At about this same time the group was poised to make history with one of the biggest records of the era and a signature song of the early nineteen sixties.

The group recorded a song mostly written by Earl Edwards (although composing credits were also listed as by Bernice Williams and Eugene Dixon) called "Duke Of Earl". The flip side song was "Kissing In The Kitchen" and was released on Nat # 4003 also in February of 1962. However Gary, Indiana, based Vee-Jay Records picked up the side and released it on # 416. "Guke" began to move almost immediately. Dixon's strong lead and the solid backup by the rest of The Dukays had the makings of an instant classic. Someone had decided to release the song as by a solo singer to better identify with the song's lyric. Instead of Eugene Dixon however, Vee-Jay came up with the ficticious name of "Gene Chandler". Now there was an identity problem. Before the record really became a national chart topper, the group decided to let Dixon go out as a solo artist and perform the tune rather than someone from outside The Dukays as some promoters were proposing. So Dixon, now known professionally known as Gene Chandler left the group and was replaced by new lead singer Charles Davis. "Duke Of Earl" became one of the biggest selling records ever for Vee-Jay and "Gene Chandler" (Dixon) was now a national super star in the R & B scene.

The Dukays remained unknown as to their part in the million selling record as they soldiered on with Davis on lead. Vee-Jay re-released Nat # 4002 ("Night Owl" / "Festival Of Love") on # 430. Next Davis and the group recorded "Please Help Me" and "I'm Gonna Love You So" on Vee-Jay # 442 which got some initial airplay but was not very successful regarding sales. In late 1962 "I Never Knew" and "I Feel Good All Over" was released on Vee-Jay # 460. Nothing much happened with that record or the following release, their last for Vee-Jay - "Combination" and "Every Step" on # 491. By now the group had gone through a number of personnel changes and now featured Claude McRae as lead singer. They recorded for One-Der-Ful Records but nothing was released by that company. Jerry Murray, an arranger for that label gave the group a shot on his own label called Jerry-O Records. And so the final two records for The Dukays were "The Jerk" (soon recorded by The Larks) and "Mo Jerk" on # 105, and "Mello-Feznecky" and "Sho Nuff" on # 106. Both were forgotten almost immediately as they were available, and so The Dukays passed on into history.

Gene Chandler (Eugene Dixon) achieved some additional fame with a number of recordings for the Constellation label. In 1964 "Just Be True" on # 130 was a national top twenty seller. "Bless Our Love" on # 136 was a top forty hit. In 1965 "What Now" on # 141 also a top forty hit was followed by "Nothing Can Stop Me" a solid hit that got to number eighteen on the pop charts. Chandler was absent for five years but in 1970 had a big national hit recor for Mercury with "Groovy Siyuation" which was a top ten seller on the national pop charts and remained on the best seller lists for more than three months. He was a solid recording artist and performer during the decade of the 1960's. Since then he has been a mainstay on the oldies circuit known as "The Duke Of Earl" and has been a crowd favorite performing his signature tune that is one of the all time greats-recorded by The Dukays but they remain uncredited in one of the great travesties of R & B history.

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