Saturday, March 10, 2007

The amazing, probably true, tale of Dyke & The Blazers

Bassist Arlester "Dyke" Christian, guitarist Alvester "Pig" Jacobs and saxophonist J.V. Hunt were members of the Blazers, the backing band for the pre-stardom O'Jays.
According to most accounts, the trio were stranded on a 1965 O'Jays' tour in Phoenix, Ariz. after the O'Jays discovered they didn't have enough money to send them back to their Buffalo, N.Y. home.

The three musicians needed to make money somehow, so they drafted local Valley of the Sun musicians to play some gigs.
In came organist Rich Cason, bassist Alvin Battle (with Dyke switching to vocals), drummer Rodney Brown and tenor saxophonist Bernard Williams.
Dyke & The Blazers were born, and began playing a legendary series of gigs in the Phoenix area, including lengthy engagements at the historic Elks Lodge on South Seventh Avenue.
Williams arranged the material -- an early, particularly gritty form of FUNK.

Local producers Art Barrett and Austin Coleman of Artco Records discovered the group and in 1966 the label released a single of a song Dyke had written while he lived near 24th Street and Broadway Road in Phoenix.
"Funky Broadway."
Dyke & The Blazers scored a national hit with the song after Los Angeles label Original Sound picked it up for distribution, then collected big royalty payments when Wilson Pickett scored an even bigger hit with his cover version.
Two more Top 40 hits followed for Dyke & The Blazers -- "We Got More Soul" and "Let a Woman be a Woman, Let a Man be a Man" -- but Dyke had started using Los Angeles session musicians (the nucleus of The Watts 103rd Street Band) with increasing frequency.
Legend has it that the original band broke up in 1969, after their equipment was stolen from a club and not replaced.
A pillar of the Valley's soul scene, Williams contributed his sax to local gems such as "Too Good to be True" by Lon Rogers & The Soul Blenders (the opening track on the EXCELLENT compilation "Eccentric Soul: Mighty Mike Lenaburg").
Dyke never had a chance to create a memorable, post-Blazers career.
Arlester Christian was shot and killed near 12th Avenue and Buckeye Road in south Phoenix on March 13, 1971.
I have long loved Dyke & The Blazers ("We Got More Soul" was a soundtrack to my college years) and I have been listening to their amazing music for days now on my iPod.
Believe it or not, the band's music is more amazing than their tale.


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