From 1962 to 1970 Gene Chandler put half a dozen songs in the top forty, but he will always be best known for the first of these. Duke Of Earl topped the pop and R&B charts in 1962 and launched his career.
Born Eugene Dixon in Chicago in 1937, he attended Englewood High School where he formed a group called the Gaytones in 1955. Two years later he joined a local singing group known as the Dukays, and a short time later went to Germany to serve a hitch with the U.S. Army. On his return in 1960 he re-joined the Dukays as lead singer, and the group signed with Nat the following year.
The Dukays recorded Duke Of Earl for VeeJay in 1961. The inspiration for the name of the song and one of it's co-writers was Dukays vocalist Earl Edwards, who was known at the time as "Duke." When they ran into contract difficulties with Nat, Eugene Dixon left the group, changed his name to Gene Chandler, and began to promote the song. Chandler's recording of Duke Of Earl went to number one and remained there for three weeks early in 1962.
Gene Chandler recorded some more songs for Vee-Jay that didn't do well, then changed to the Constellation label and began to work with the talented Chicago-area songwriter/producer Curtis Mayfield. Mayfield helped him a great deal and the result was a few more top forty songs, including Just Be True, What Now, and Nothing Can Stop Me. Mayfield also wrote Rainbow, a song that was recorded by and is closely associated with Gene Chandler.
Chandler began to dress up like ... the Duke of Earl. He wore a monacle and a cape, and had a top hat and a cane. He appeared this way frequently, whether or not he was performing at the time, and appeared in a motion picture dressed in this garb and singing Duke Of Earl.
Chandler was popular as a soul singer on the R&B charts. He recorded duets with such other Chicago-area singers as Barbara Acklin and Jerry Butler. He founded his own labels, including Mr. Chand and Bamboo, on which he produced two cousins from Mississippi: Mel and Tim put Backfield In Motion in the top ten in 1969. Chandler followed up with a big hit of his own with Groovy Situation on Mercury in 1970.
He continued his association with Curtis Mayfield in the 70's. Gene worked at a frantic pace, became involved with drugs for a time and spent some time in jail briefly in 1976. He became executive vice-president of Chi-Sound and started to record disco songs under the direction of producer Carl Davis. His disco dance records were very popular in the UK in the late 70's.
Gene Chandler continued recording into the 80's, but the odds are he will never find greater popularity than he did with Duke Of Earl, a classic rock-and-roll song from the early 60's. Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl.
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