The Duke of Earl – IN THE GROOVE with Cindy Annis
By Cindy Annis – Feb. 2017
Welcome back to our next installment! Eugene Drake Dixon is one, of only a handful of artists to chart in Doo-Wop, Rhythm & Blues, Soul, & Disco eras of music! There seems to be very little on his childhood, but let’s see what we can find. Come on!!
Gene Chandler was born on July 6, 1937 in Chicago Illinois. His real name is Eugene Drake Dixon. His 1962, #1 record, “Duke of Earl,” isn’t just a great song, it’s Gene’s nickname.
At the young age of six, Gene sang “Danny Boy” at a picnic. The little boy was so well received that he was put into the junior choir at his family’s church, and from there to the senior choir group. By the time he got into Englewood High School, he was singing with a group called the Gaytones and won a high school singing contest with the group. In 1957, Duke started singing for a group called The Dukays. Just after he became the lead singer for them, he was drafted into the Army. He was discharged in 1960 and rejoined the Chicago group. Although the Dukays didn’t make the Billboard top 40, they did have a #64 song called “She’s a Devil” in 1961 and a #73 song called “Nite Owl” in 1962. Both songs came out on Nat records and were produced by Carl Davis and Bill Sheppard. During the Nat recording sessions, Duke of Earl was recorded, but sent out to Vee-Jay records and the artist credit was given to Gene Chandler.
Vee-Jay Records released “Duke of Earl” in 1962 and it went right to #1 and sold over a million copies in just over a month, giving it the gold record status by the Recording Industry Association of America. The song spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard’s charts! This changed everything for Chandler. This is when Eugene Drake Dixon actually changed his name to Gene Chandler. He went out and clothed himself with a top hat, a cape, a cane and even a monocle. He sold himself as The Duke of Earl. This song quickly became his closing song at concerts. He’d come out all decked out in his new outfit and he would leave the crowd screaming for more. If you check out Chubby Checker’s movie, “Don’t Knock The Twist,” you can catch the Duke of Earl doing his song.
By 1963, Gene left Vee-Jay records, and signed on with Constellation records. After the record company went bankrupt in 1966, he started recording with both the Chess and Brunswick record labels. These two labels took turns releasing the Duke’s recordings. As the 1960s came to a close, Chandler stopped touring and concentrated on writing and producing. He purchased Bamboo Records and moved the company to Chicago. There, he produced the #10 Mel and Tim hit “Backfield in Motion”. While producing songs for other artists, Chandler came out with another hit single called “Groovy Situation”. The song came out in 1970 on the Mercury record label, and reached #12 on the Billboard charts and #8 on the R&B charts. This was his second biggest recording, also making gold by the RIAA, selling over a million copies.
emember the movie, “Anchorman?” “Groovy Situation” was used there, too.
By 1974 Chandler was working as a producer at the A&M record label. His career at the record label ended in 1977 when he pleaded guilty to selling drugs in May of 1976. The 36-year-old spent a year in jail, and had three years of probation. Bad Boy!! This didn’t stop the Duke Of Earl. Wolfman Jack but together a traveling revival group, and The Duke was right there in the midst of that. He lives in Chicago, nowadays and still draws a great crowd. They just named a street after him back in December. It’s in his old neighborhood. It’s called Gene Chandler “The Duke of Earl” Way. He’s about 79 years old, now. So it’s true, nothing can stop the Duke of Earl.
Gene Chandler had far too many songs to list here. His awards and accolades go on for a while, as well. Gene won the NATRA’s Producer of the Year Award in August of 1970. In 2002 the song, “Duke of Earl” was inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame. Hope you enjoyed this one. His big hit has always been one of my favorites. Until next time. Keep tuning in!
Tune into Cindy’s Vinyl Vault Sunday nights from 10 to midnight, Monday nights 11 to midnight, and Wednesday nights 10 to midnight for the best music from the 50s through the 70s ever placed on vinyl. Remember it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds.