I live a quiet life, when the football (proper football, invented in China, the laws codified here in Britain) takes a break for meaningless international games it’s too bloody quiet. The tender mercy of discovering a high quality Y-tube clip of the only TV appearance of a short-lived but influential Soul group has an added piquancy on evenings when there are 57 (and more) channels in my telly & no grown men chasing a ball around a field on any of them.
Dyke & the Blazers first came together in Phoenix, Arizona when “Dyke”, Arlester Christian, & 2 of his fellow musicians found themselves without a band & without the means to return to Buffalo, New York. In 1966 their first single attracted attention as “Funky Broadway” was the first instance of that adjective being used in a song title. It was a Top 20 R&B hit, by the end of 1977 James Brown had covered it, Wilson Pickett had taken it into the US Top 10 & pretty much everything I do gonna be funky from now on. Dyke & the Blazers had a direct, rough & ready, heavy on the horns sound but they had ambition too . On their debut LP “The Wrong House” finds the singer extemporising a a story of mistaken location while the band find the groove & stay on it. There were not many 10 minute long tracks being issued in 1966 &, as the engineer shouts at the end, it “sounds fantastic”.
That initial success kept the group working & in the studio & their records made the R&B Top 40. The timeline on band membership is a little blurred. Dyke now had the fare back to Buffalo but the new touring band, two drummers, didn’t stay together for long. What Dyke had was a recording contract with Original Sound the label owned by famed Los Angeles DJ Art Leboe. On the West Coast he was able to use musicians from the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band including the great drummer James Gadson. Their ability to stay loose while still keeping it tight suited Dyke’s basic, very effective soul-shouting.
After variations on the “Funky” theme had been played out “We Got More Soul”, an update of “Sweet Soul Music” name-checking some of the great artists around in 1969, & the still extraordinary “Let A Woman Be A Woman” crossed over to the lower reaches of the Top 40. “You Are My Sunshine” (see above), well everyone knows this one & how great to see Arlester grab hold of the song & find the Soul within while the band mime it like they mean it. This clip is a real find.
There had been a rather optimistically titled “Greatest Hits” package released in 1968 & surely a second Dyke & the Blazers LP was the next move. The 1970 single “Uhh”, a brilliant title for a gutbucket Funk record, was taken from the first LP. The B-side, “My Sisters’ & My Brothers’ Day Is Comin'” shows, in my opinion, that Dyke was sharp & sussed enough to respond to the changing music scene. It would have been interesting to have heard songs written for an album rather than as 3 minute singles. Unfortunately we would never get to hear them.
In March 1971 Arleston was shot to death in the street outside a bar in Phoenix. The details are murky, the perpetrator was found not guilty because of self-defence. Arleston Christian was just 27 years old, he had a band & a sound that James Brown kept a close eye on because Dyke & the Blazers were as Funky as it gets.