Saturday, October 29, 2016

Doris Duke - 1970 - I'm A Loser

Doris Duke
1970
I'm A Loser





01. He's Gone 4:34
02. I Can't Do Without You 2:06
03. Feet Start Walking 2:28
04. Ghost Of Myself 3:06
05. Your Best Friend 2:48
06. The Feeling Is Right 2:44
07. I Don't Care Anymore 3:05
08. Congratulations Baby 2:00
09. We're More Than Strangers 3:28
10. Divorce Decree 2:28
11. How Was I To Know You Cared 2:38
12. To The Other Woman (I'm The Other Woman) 2:55


Jesse Carr Guitar
Paul Hornsby Organ, Piano
Robert "Pops" Popwell Bass
Johnny Sandlin Drums
Jerry Williams, Jr. Piano
Duane Allman Guitar


On the sleeve
Front & spine: Stereo 7704
Rear: Stereo 7704 Canyon Records

Canyon Records Inc. • Hollywood, Calif.
LP-7704




Deep soul diva Doris Duke was born Doris Curry in Sandersville, GA, in 1945. After stints in a series of gospel units, including the Raspberry Singers, the David Sisters, and the Caravans, by 1963 she was settled in New York City, working as a session vocalist in addition to backup duties at the legendary Apollo Theater. Under her married name of Doris Willingham, she cut her debut solo single, "Running Away from Loneliness," for the tiny Hy-Monty label in 1966; "You Can't Do That" followed two years later on Jay Boy. Despite solid reviews, neither record made a commercial splash, and she returned to her session career, often commuting to Philadelphia to record with the production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. When former Atlantic Records producer Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams Jr. struck out on his own, he signed the singer and renamed her Doris Duke, recording the 1969 LP I'm a Loser at Capricorn, Phil Walden's studio in Macon, GA.

Though considered the finest deep soul record of all time by no less than soul expert Dave Godin, I'm a Loser was rejected by dozens of labels before it finally surfaced on Wally Roker's Canyon label. Although the first single, "To the Other Woman," cracked Billboard's R&B Top Ten, Canyon soon spiraled into financial disaster, destroying the album's commercial momentum. Duke spent the next several years in creative limbo, finally reuniting with Swamp Dogg for 1975's Mankind label release A Legend in Her Own Time -- their partnership ended acrimoniously prior to its release, however, and the record received scant attention. Duke next resurfaced on the British label Contempo with Woman, a much-acclaimed set released stateside on the Scepter imprint. After 1981's Manhattan set Funky Fox, she retired from music, and at the time of this writing her whereabouts and activities are unknown.

I'm a Loser is the standout recording from Southern soul singer Doris Duke; problem is, it's nearly impossible to find. Originally released on the Canyon label in 1970, I'm a Loser found only intermittent life on small domestic and Japanese labels. For fans of the gritty soul style of early Millie Jackson and Denise La Salle recordings, this title is worth searching for. The 12 medium-tempo tracks were mostly penned by fellow Southern singer Gary "U.S." Bonds and producer Jerry Williams Jr. and are executed nicely by a crack Capricorn Studio band. There's nothing here on the level of Aretha Franklin's contemporary triumphs for Atlantic either in the quality of the vocals or material, but Duke's own gospel-imbued voice, with its slightly hoarse and urgent tone, finds its own niche. The lean, Stax-inspired numbers also are very decent and even contain Duke's big hit "To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)." The fate of the love weary is the main subject matter here and all its attendant drama is not only captured well by Duke's pleading vocal delivery, but it is unobtrusively underscored by the minimal and tasteful string arrangements. I'm a Loser may be a somewhat obscure title, but it is one that would fit into any good soul collection.


It's always struck me as a shame that outside of hardcore soul circles Doris Duke isn't better known given that she was easily as talented as many of her better known soul contemporaries.

Like so many others, Duke (born Doris Curry) started her musical career in Gospel music.  As a teenager and a young adult she toured and recorded with a number of Gospel acts including The Caravans, The David Sisters, The Evangelistic Gospel Choir, and The Raspberry Singers.

By the early 1960s she'd relocated to New York City, paying her bills as a backup sessions singer, supporting everyone from Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin.  Under her married name of Doris Willingham she also managed to record a couple of obscure 45s for small labels such as Hy-Monty and Jay Boy.  In 1968 she was hired as part of Nina Simone's touring band.  

Returning to sessions work in 1969 she caught attention of former Atlantic A&R man/producer/singer/songwriter Jerry Williams Jr.  Williams quickly signed her to a recording deal on his small RRG label.  Billed as 'Doris Duke' she debuted with the Williams written and produced 'Congratulations Baby' b/w 'Divorce Decree' (RRG Catalog number 44004).  While the single did little commercially, it attracted enough attention for Williams to finance a follow-on album on Wally Roker's Canyon label (which was coincidently Williams' label).  

Like the earlier single, 1969's "I'm a Loser" was produced, arranged, conducted and largely written by Williams.  Recorded at Phil Walden's Capricorn Studios, the collection featured support from guitarist James Carr, drummer Johnny Sadlin and the cream of local studio musicians.  Propelled by Duke's deep and world weary voice, the album featured an engaging mixture of Gospel, R&B and Stax-influenced soul.  Technically Duke wasn't the world's greatest singer.  She didn't have a great deal of range and her delivery was occasionally brittle and shrill.  That said, her ability to channel the hurt and pain of love and real life was simply unsurpassed.  It's hard to imagine Aretha Franklin, or even Millie Jackson having the nerve to take on a song about infidelity ('To the Other Woman') or even more daring for the timeframe, a woman falling into prostitution ('I Don't Care Anymore').  Exemplified by tracks such as 'Feet Start Walking' and 'Congratulations Baby' seldom have you heard someone singing about so much pain and unhappiness.  Simply killer soul !!!  

- Opening up with some pretty Paul Hornsby keyboards and Johnny Sadlin's martial drums, 'He's Gone' was a slow, bluesy ballad that got the album off to a shaky start.  Showcasing Duke at her rawest and most vulnerable, her vocal performances was actually quite good, but the song  just never really kicked into gear.   Canyon tapped this one as the second single off the LP.     rating: *** stars
- Co-written by George Jackson and Ronald Townsend 'Can't Do Without You' frame Duke with a classic soul track.   Kicked along by a great James Carr guitar hook (which has always reminded me of something Eric Clapton would have played on a Delaney and Bonnie track), it was hard to believe a track like this wasn't a major hit for Duke.   rating: **** stars
- Jerry Williams Jr. has always had a gift for slightly off-kilter lyrics and 'Feet Start Walking' was a perfect example of that talent.  Catchy old school soul and among the Seamp Dogg's best songs, Duke's take-no-crap delivery made for one of the album's standout performances.  (You could also hear Williams unique voice on the backing vocals.)   Easy to see why Canyon tapped this one as the lead-off single.    rating: **** stars
- Opening up with some tasty church organ and some fantastic Robert Popwell bass, 'Ghost of Myself ' was a classic soul ballad.  Almost Gospel-ish in its intensity, you could just feel Duke's exhaustion and dispair.  Shame the song faded out just as Duke was starting to get into the track.  The song also sported another great James Carr guitar solo.   rating: **** stars
- 'Your Best Friend' started out as a slinky mid-tempo tale of a scorned woman and was pretty good until the final section when Duke's spoken word segment turned it into a slice of Millie Jackson trash talkin'.    rating: ** stars
- A breezy, slightly MOR-ish ballad with another killer Paul Hornsby keyboard riff, 'Your Best Friend' finally let Duke open up her pipes and has grown to be one of my favorites performances on the album.     rating: **** stars
- So anyone who's ever doubted guys were pigs only needed to hear 'I Don't Care Anymore'.  All hyperbole aside, Duke turned in one of soul's darkest (and perhaps most realistic) tales of female emancipation on this three minute heartbreaker.   rating: ***** stars  
- Hum, the pounding 'Congratulations Baby' wasn't exactly your typical moon-in-June lyric ...   Another classic on the album, I've always loved the urgent 'run girl, run' backing chorus.   rating: **** stars  
- 'We're More Than Strangers' was an out-and-out blues belter that again showcased Duke's amazing voice.  The downside was the song had a fairly pedestrian melody.   rating: ** stars  
- Leave if Swamp Dogg to pen a tune like 'Divorce Decree' showing the female side of this ugly business.   I don't think as great a voice as Aretha could have handled this one any better.  rating: **** stars  
- At least to my ears 'How Was I To Know You Cared' was one of the weaker songs on the album - simply to pop and commercial oriented ...   rating: *** stars
- Another classic Swamp Dogg track, the slow bluesy 'To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)' simply dripped of hurt and pain.  Once again, hard to image another female soul singer being able to tackle the song with such class.   Canyon tapped this as the leadoff single, giving Clark a minor pop and R&B hit.


As mentioned above, released as a single Duke actually enjoyed a pop and R&B hit with 'To the Other Woman (I'm the Other Woman)' b/w I Don't Care Anymore' (Canyon catalog number # 28).  Unfortunately two follow-on singles did nothing commercially:

- 'Feet Start Walking' b/w 'How Was I To Know You Cared' (Canyon catalog number # 35)
- 'He's Gone' b/w 'The Feeling Is Right'  (Canyon catalog number  # 54)

Adding to Duke's problems, Canyon's shaky finances and minimal promotion efforts effectively doomed the album from a commercial standpoint.   Shame, since this is one of soul's overlooked treasures.

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