Mr. Wilmer Alexander (alone)
and with the Dukes (below).
“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.
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:
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)
*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).