Friday, February 17, 2012

50 years ago: Gene Chandler hit #1 with “Duke of Earl”

First posted 3/14/2021.

Duke of Earl

Gene Chandler

Writer(s): Bernice Williams, Eugene Dixon, Earl Edwards (see lyrics here)

Released: November 1961

First Charted: January 8, 1962

Peak: 13 US, 15 CB, 15 HR, 15 RB, 13 CN (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 24.03 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Eugene Dixon grew up listening to doo-wop in Chicago. In high school, he performed with a group called the Gaytones. They won a talent contest which led to a singing job with a local radio program. Another local group, the Dukays, asked Dixon to join them. One night, a woman named Bernice Williams saw the group and introduced them to Bill “Bunky” Sheppard, who signed them to Nat Records. BR1

The song “Duke of Earl” grew out of a vocal exercise in which the group warmed up their pipes singing “ah ah ah” and “doo doo doo” in shifting pitch. Dixon turned the latter into “duke, duke, duke” and added the name Earl, the Dukays’ baritone singer, to create “Duke of Earl.” SF The song tells the tale of him “telling a girl that nothing can stop him, and she’ll be safe as long as she has the Duke of Earl by her side.” SF

While the producer and the group loved the song, the label didn’t like the song and released “Night Owl” from the same session instead. BR1 The song wasn’t done, though. Calvin Carter, the A&R man for rival record company Vee Jay, loved the song and called Ewart Abner, the president, in Paris about getting the okay to purchase the song from Nat Records. BR1 Abner didn’t even listen to the song, but gave the Carter the okay because if it was important enough to call France, the song must be good. BR1

Dixon was signed to Nat Records as a member of the Dukays, but could record as a solo artist for Vee Jay. He shortened his first name to Gene and took the last name Chandler after his favorite actor, Jeff Chandler. BR1 The song became the label’s first million seller. Chandler would dress in a cape, top hat, and monocle to promote the song. BR1

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Gene Chandler
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 104.
  • SF Songfacts

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