Wilmer & the Dukes – Living In the USA

Example

Mr. Wilmer Alexander (alone)

and with the Dukes (below).

Example

Example

Listen – Living In the USA MP3″

Greetings to one and all.

Sorry that this post is a little on the late side, but as I said when my employment “shift” occurred, things might not be on the Mon/Wed/Fri, zip-o-dee-doo-dah, right on time tip for a while (though I think I’ve done pretty well considering).
In addition to getting this post written and up on the interweb, this is a perfect opportunity to skip our Fearless Leader’s latest lie-o-thon which serves not only to erode the very truthiness of the airwaves, but also to glom up prime time TV watching for the entire country as well.
Screw him.
Unless he plans on taking the podium and fessing up to all of the misdeeds he and his cabal have whooped on us for the last several years, I’m not in the least bit interested. They ought to slap him in chains and force him to bicycle all over the country where he’ll try to defend himself in person to the families of the soldiers he has sent to Iraq.
I mean, honest to God, could he be ANY worse?
To borrow a phrase from that round-headed sage of the comics Charlie Brown:

“AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!”

That said, allow me to take this opportunity to once again take refuge in the sounds of soul which I will use as a balm upon my sorely abused psyche (and you are of course invited to do the same).
Today’s selection is by one of those groups that we of the crate digging fraternity (Soul Local 1966) know as one of those groups where the frequent appearances of their records seem to belay their apparent obscurity. This conundrum, otherwise known as ‘Who were Wilmer and the Dukes’ and why do their 45s turn up everywhere I go?’ may or may not be the sole province of those of us in the Northeast, though my assumption would be (following the astounding growth of e-digging) that the interwebs have caused these same 45s to flourish in all parts of the crate diggers universe.
I should pause here to let you know that Wilmer and the Dukes aren’t a complete mystery to me. I’ve known for years that they hailed from Upstate NY (that immense region composed of the 98% of the state NOT composed by New York City and its suburbs). That and the fact that their fellow Northwest New Yorkers the Mangione brothers (the somewhat famous Gap and the extremely famous Chuck) played on their eponymous 1968 LP.
I probably scored my first Wilmer & the Dukes 45 almost 20 years ago which was their sole chart-grazing “hit” ‘Give Me One More Chance’ and its groovy flip, a cover of the Rolling Stones ‘I’m Free’. I always dug it (especially the picture sleeve of a sweating Wilmer preaching to a frantic crowd), and over the years discovered their other 45 as well as their LP.
It turns out that Wilmer Alexander, formed the first version of the band in the late 50’s in Geneva, NY. They first played as Wilmer and the Dukes in 1961, and through the 60’s became hugely popular in the bars and frat houses of New York State.
They recorded their sole LP for Buffalo, NY’s Aphrodisiac records, and ‘Give Me One More Chance’ made it into the Top 20 in a bunch of Northeast markets (as well as Phoenix and Bakersfield, CA)*. The LP was composed almost entirely of cover tunes by the likes of the Stones, Lee Dorsey, Harvey Scales and the originator of today’s selection, Steve Miller.
Now I know that some of you soul fans out there just did a spit take when Mr. Abracadabra’s name popped up on the page, but I’m here to tell you that if you dig things on the psychedelic side of the street you could do a lot worse than to grab the first few Steve Miller LPs on Capitol, which are both excellent. One of the finer tunes to arise from that early period was ‘Living In the USA’. While I would say that the original version of this tune owed a debt to contemporary soul and R&B, I wouldn’t go so far as to expect that I’d ever find a cover version by a soul band. Today’s selection is evidence that I did.
Wilmer and his Dukes pick up the tempo a bit, and sound every bit the road hardened show band, slick, sharp and exciting. The guitar action does quiet lip service to the songs SanFran freak origins, but as soon as Wilmer brings his soul pipes to the fore it’s clear that if this was a hippy, he had long since pulled the flowers from his hair and traded his tie-dye for a continental suit. The band bears down hard on the tune and in an unusual turn of events do Mr Miller one better, recasting a soul-inflected tune into a bona fide soul workout.
They dispense with the sound effects of the original and take it’s ragged ‘doo-do-do-do-do-do-dooooooo’s’ and tighten up the harmonies so that when all is said and done a listener might be forgiven for making the mistaken assumption that it was Miller (not Wilmer) that had done the covering.
Wilmer and the Dukes didn’t release any records after their period with Aphrodisiac, but they did continue to play together into the mid-70’s. The surviving members reunited in the late 80’s for a benefit and later reformed as the Legendary Dukes.
Anyway, hope you dig the tune. I‘ll be away for the weekend, so unless I get some unexpected free time before then, this maybe it until Monday.
Peace (really….we need some now)
Larry

*Strangely enough, ‘Give Me One More Chance’ was the very first 45 issued in the UK on the Island Records subsidiary Action Records (which also released sides by Eddie Bo among others).

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33 Responses to “Wilmer & the Dukes – Living In the USA”

  1. gerald Says:

    another great track & choice words, thanks Mr. Grogan!

  2. philh Says:

    That track Kicks! I am very surprised I like that cover so much…in some ways more than the original. Thanks..I think I will skip some work today and try and squeeze in an hour playing drums along to that track looped over and over and over.

  3. Angel Says:

    Hi! a great song and a really interesting band. Thank´for shearing your knowledge Larry.

    Please Peace :-(

  4. Dave Moore Says:

    “Give Me One More Chance” great record. Filled many a dancefloor with this stormer over the years! Nice one Larry. Appreciated.
    Regards,
    Dave Moore
    http://www.hitsvillesoulclub.com

  5. Nathan Austin Says:

    Post more like this, and like the Equals track from a few weeks back, please! They make my commute more fun.

    And, not that it has anything to do with the track, per se, but I got a strange frisson at the realization that I’ve lived in three of the places listed in your post (Bakersfield, Buffalo, and NYC).

  6. stewart Says:

    Hi Larry
    That’s not bad at all. However, Get It, the instrumental flip side to Give Me One More Chance just kills this. It’s a storming sax-driven piece of hard funk with a fantastic, screaming moment from the sax on it’s introduction. There’s a nice little bit of choppy organ in it too! It was issued two catalogue numbers back from this one. Want to hear it?
    stewart

  7. funky16corners Says:

    Stewart
    I have that one, and concur with your assessment!
    Larry

  8. Tony C Says:

    Great tune Larry located a copy of the single then found a copy of the L.P. Caused a bit of a dilema but in the end went for the L.P and its a stormer, so many thanks you are insperational.
    I have got a internet radio show starting on the 28th of Jan [12-2pm G.M.T] for jazzsyndicate radio so keep on digging up those tunes and I wont go wrong. Once again mant thanks Tony C.

  9. Tony C Says:

    Great tune Larry located a copy of the single then found a copy of the L.P. Caused a bit of a dilema but in the end went for the L.P and its a stormer, so many thanks you are insperational.
    I have got a internet radio show starting on the 28th of Jan [12-2pm G.M.T] for jazzsyndicate radio so keep on digging up those tunes and I wont go wrong. Once again many thanks Tony C.

  10. phil Says:

    greetings from over the pond! Re Action Records. Dont think this label was actually an official subsidiary of Island, although ISTR one of the folks linked with Sue, which was mos’def’ the Island hip wax/soul/R&B subsidiary until about 1968, was connected with Action in its early days. Keep on groovin. Phil

  11. Kristine Says:

    This one hit wonder is a grrreeattt song. i love it!

  12. Richard Anselmo Says:

    Wilmer & the Dukes were a fantastic group that I had the opportunity to see on a weekly basis at the legendary rock ‘n rol club, “The Inferno” in Williamsville, NY. The first time I saw Wilmer & the Dukes perform there, they opened for Junior Walker & the AllStars. Believe it or not, they played “Shotgun” better than Junior Walker & the AllStars. Even Junior came out before the show and watched Wilmer perform his own hit song!

  13. Tony P. Says:

    I grew up down the street from the Alexanders and spent many many a day in and out of the Felice garage and King garage, where the Dukes practiced. As a kid I had many Dukie Gillotte was a pal of my Dad’s back then. My sisters and I and old neighborhood freinds used to play ball among the excavation storage area behind our house at the Felice’s business. We would hear Wilmer playin his sax and the band belting out song after song. Wilmer’s son, Mike Knittle and I used to play together in the early years.
    I remember listening to the very first sessions when he was orchistrating Give Me One More Chance, Im Free and others… take after take…
    I was born on this music, and the music will never leave me.

  14. Susie Allen (Gehl) Says:

    Yes, the Inferno every Wednesday night, never missed it. That was “The Day.” I heard Wilmer and the Dukes, CD last week when I went home to WNY. It brought back all those great memories. Couldn’t sit still and listen. I was dancing like it never stopped.

    Ww had to watch out for Leon, he might tell you to dance. And he wouldn’t give you one more chance.

  15. jesse tatro Says:

    loved the recapsulation of the Dukes, I saw them live many times. HATED your references to our President………….Vietnam is over get used to it !!!
    I am reminded of a phrase………….Shoemaker stick to thy last !

  16. funky16corners Says:

    Yes, Vietnam is over. We now have Iraq and Afghanistan to deal with. Get used to that.

  17. David A. DeWitt Says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I am in the current line-up of The Legendary Dukes and I`m proud to say that we`re still running strong. 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the Dukes beginng and we`re all very proud to be part of this band. We still get a great response from the crowd when ever we perform “Living In The USA” and it doesn`t matter what age group.
    We perform mostly around NYS however , if you ever need a great band for a party or festival, Don`t forget The Legendary Dukes.

  18. Deb Says:

    My friend Deb and I (the 2 Debs) were huge Wilmer and the Duke fans – hitchiked from Rochester to Buffalo to get to the Inferno to hear them play! Also, the Clover Lanes on Monroe Ave and a really wild and crazy place called Westminister up the road from RIT! Them were the days!

  19. AB Says:

    I remember them playing at Arrowhead Lanes in Canandaigua, NY. Am wondering about where they are now, the original members?

  20. Mako Says:

    Great to see Wilmer & The Dukes so well remembered. I used to book them all the time for parties when I was at Niagara U. My sole quibble is that the area Geneva New York is in is more properly called Western New York.

  21. Alissa DiRubbo Says:

    Is Wilmer still alive?

  22. Nick Alexander Says:

    Yes Wilmer is stil Alive he lives in California with his eldest daughter, I would know because he’s my grandfather..and I plan to bring his soul music and everything else Wilmer & the Dukes represents.

    • TonyO Says:

      Nick, how is Wilmer doing now. I talked to the drummer of The Legendary Dukes here in Buffalo and he has said he wasn’t able to perform because of medical reasons… He was a great performer – what energy and what a voice…..

  23. Nick Alexander Says:

    Back into the public eye

  24. Mike P. Says:

    I saw Wilmer and the Dukes many times at Areodrome in Schenectady, NY. Great band that we always looked forward to seeing. The mention of their name brought the memories of them and the club back to me in a flood. Thanks for all the good times!

  25. gail knapp holden Says:

    i would never have graduated from that college were it not for wilmer.
    hi

  26. John Hale Says:

    I first saw the Dukes at the Pitsford Inn around 1961. The Dukes did” I like peanut butter” and Wilmer had a PB&J sandwich on stage. Later, 1963-about 1965 I worked summers, home from school, as a bouncer, paid by the band at Clover Lanes, Arrowhead Lanes (burned down), somewhere out in Sodus and others. The funny thing was, they also employed an ex wrestler named Mumpsie, who, when ever it looked like trouble he would say it was his turn. Consequently, I never had to lift a finger (probably good) unless there was a beer attached to it, which was part of my pay. I remember Monty gave me a ride in his Avanti, 1963. I could not understand why he quit the band to work at Kodak. I remember when the band first added a guitarist (Dickie something) really good and later replaced by Doug Brown. I Became good friends with Ronny Alberts (drummer). Wilmer and I were the only ones allowed to call him Kingsley (his middle name). All my friends would congregate anywhere the Dukes were playing. Some of my best memories were listening to to Wilmer and the Dukes.

  27. Ken Says:

    Thanks for the great flashback. I was 17 and jumped out of my 2nd story bedroom window, hooked up with a more loosely supervised friend, took his fathers car to the “Inferno,“ then got in with my cousins id (who was in the Navy and looked just like me). One of the best nights of my life, as close as you could come to “American Graffiti” in Western NY. Wilmer was the best!

  28. john hale Says:

    They sure were good; drinking age was 18 in the 60′s so nobody even thought about checking ID. Back then no one understood the less than casual relationship drinking and driving had, me included even though I lost friends from the above.

  29. Tony P Says:

    Nick! I knew your Daddy when we were kids on Wadsworth St . in Geneva!
    If your dad is still alive, ask him about Mike Knittle and Tom… if he remembers… lol

  30. john hale Says:

    About 1963 Wilmer had twins, Paul and Paula from the song/duo Paul and Paula.
    Where are they today? I know this is before most of you, but maybe Nick Knows?

  31. Carol Tucker Carlton Says:

    I was grounded in 1966. I locked my bedroom door and left the radio and light on. Then I climbed out the window to go see Wilmer and the Dukes at the Panorama Bowl in Penfield, NY, my hometown. Came home to find my mother lying in wait in the dark on my bed. Ran to get my sister, but it was too late. Mom was frantic and had called the police. I had to give up and face the music—but it had been worth it! Does anyone remember a song I think they did with these words, “What does it take…to win your love for me”. I hear it in my head but would love to know the title.

  32. Walt Says:

    Nick or Anyone-Any chance of getting a cd copy of the “origional” album made by Wilmer Alexander Jr and the Dukes? Think it came out in 1969.

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