The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we look at Dyke and the Blazers’ Dyke's Greatest Hits.
For those of you not up on your classic rock curriculum, Dyke and the Blazers was an American funk band formed in 1964 and active from 1965 through 1971. The band was fronted and founded by Arlester “Dyke” Christian (bass and vocals) from 1965 until March, 1971. Christian was first famous as the bassist and a singer with the O'Jays backing band, the Blazers.
Christian and company-- guitarist Alvester "Pig" Jacobs and saxophonist J.V. Hunt-- ventured out on their own shortly after being stranded in Phoenix, Arizona when the O'Jays couldn't afford to pay their return trip home. They were soon joined by tenor saxophonist Bernard Williams, keyboardist Rich Cason and drummer Rodney Brown.
The compilation album, Dyke and the Blazers’ Dyke's Greatest Hits, recorded in Los Angeles, would include 12 tracks. Christian would not always play with the same exact group and had a special roster for live performances. Because of this, the line-up changed over the years. What is perhaps most important is that Christian recorded with artists who would later play in the Watts 103rd Street Band which featured bassists Melvin Dunlap and James Smith, drummer James Gadson (who played with Charles Wright and Bill Withers) and guitarists Al McKay and Roland Bautista (who went on to perform in Earth, Wind & Fire).
The album’s opener is “We Got More Soul”. This R&B song was one of their “Top Ten” tunes. It went on to become perhaps their biggest hit slotting in at number 7 on the R&B charts and number 35 on the pop charts. It was also “a significant song” during the Black Movement era complete with sharp horn stabs and stripped down rhythm.
The second selection is “It's Your Thing”. This is actually a critically-acclaimed cover version due in part to its strong arrangement. The next number is “My Sisters And My Brothers” which features noteworthy vocals and serves as a good example of Dyke's social consciousness which sometimes seemed to take a backseat to the funk.
Speaking of funk, “Funky Walk Pt. 1” and “Funky Walk Pt. 2” are obvious examples of the influence of such artists as James Brown. Their albums often gave birth to what some call “gut-bucket funk” 45s oft’times infused with near greasy organ innovations, hoarse vocals, jazzy horns and scratchy guitar riffs originally developed by Brown and his band. In fact, this is why Christian and company issued numerous two-part singles.
“Shot Gun Slim” follows. It’s one of the less well-known pieces on the platter and is perhaps all too quickly forgotten upon the opening of the next couple cuts—“Funky Broadway, Pt. 1” and “Funky Broadway, Pt. 2”. This two-part single was a big R&B hit as well as a minor pop hit.
Most importantly, this cut was the precursor to the rather robotic, stankin’ beats used by such acts as Parliament and other funk acts that exploded in the 1970s. Oddly, it was banned by many radio stations as being offensive due to the use of the word “funky”. This was in actuality one of if not the very first songs to use the word.
In order to create what Rick James would later call a “revolutionary” sound, the group brought in bass player Alvin Battle so Christian could focus on his singing which some critics claimed were sometimes “untrained” and not quite “ready for prime time”. The riff-based track which focused on Christian’s recollections of Broadway in Buffalo, New York and Broadway Street in Phoenix, would go on to be covered by the likes of Wilson Pickett who took it to number 1 on the R&B chart and number 8 on the pop chart.
“Let A Woman Be A Woman (Let A Man Be A Man)” is another of the band’s “Top Ten” singles reaching number 4 on the R&B charts and number 36 on the pop charts. It’s perhaps less popular in these overly-PC times because it has a strong anti-same sex loving message. It would later be used in the motion picture Friends with Benefits. It’s even been sampled and/or referenced by other artists such as Prince, hip-hop performer Tupac Shakur and the band Stetsasonic.
Another single “You Are My Sunshine” and the lesser known number “The Wobble” is also included. The closing cut is “Uhh” which was one of their lesser known, minor singles. Most of the group’s singles are basically improvised jam sessions recorded and edited down to fit the 45 single format. In general, the singles were truly among the raunchiest soul records of the late 1960s.
Dyke and the Blazers’ Dyke's Greatest Hits/Orig. Sound 8877 was released in 1968 on the Original Sound label and just like Brown’s records, the platter performed a lot better with R&B audiences. The pop music audience was a lot less aware of the group. While it seemed to some that much of the music was “bottom heavy” their raw dance hits possessed an earthy charm and even brought the word “funky” into the vocabulary of music. There is no telling what the group could have done had Christian not been murdered in 1971.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that's the bottom line.