I first met Mike Duke during the heyday of Wet Willie back in the 1970’s. Wet Willie was part of the sound emanating from Macon, Georgia, the home of Capricorn Records. Along with the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. Wet Willie helped solidify the main stream appeal of southern style rock music with its blues, soul, and country influences. And that was in no small part due to the talent of Mike Duke He was, and remains, a gifted song writer, singer, and keyboard player.
After the luster of Wet Willie faded for Mike, he moved on, doing a stint with The Outlaws and then relocating to the San Francisco Bay area where he spent most of the 1980’s. During that time he wrote several tunes that became hits for Huey Lewis and enhanced his reputation as a songwriter. During the 1990’s he moved to Nashville and was a featured member of Delbert McClinton’s band. In 1998, he moved back to Northern California and has been there ever since.
This album “….took a while” includes tunes that span the length of his career since the 1970’s and yet is, amazingly, his debut album! All of the songs are written by Mike and four of them are newly recorded. One tune, Torn & Scarred, was actually written by Mike in 1969 while he worked with a black church in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. It is a sweet little gospel song with Mike pounding the ivories and singing with a voice that has lost none of its power or range after all these years.
My favorite cut on the album is a new recording of I Can’t Let You Go featuring some tasteful lead guitar licks from Elvin Bishop. It should get a lot of airplay on stations and streams that feature soul blues music. I will certainly be playing it during my roadhouse blues sets on BMFR.
I also loved another new recording, I’m Not Sad Tonight, that features Gary Vogensen on guitar and his long time friend, Angela Strehli, as part of the backing vocals. Mike’s voice and keyboard playing transported me back…just remembering…but I’m not sad….just dang happy he came out with this album!
The album has the demo version of Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do recorded in 1980. Huey Lewis loved it when encouraged by Bob Brown, his manager, to give it a listen. And it was performed by Huey on his second album in 1982. Mike’s demo recording started a life long friendship with Bob who also played a major part in getting this album recorded and released.
Let Her Go And Start Over is another tune on the album that I really enjoyed that Mike recorded in 1981 and was used by Huey on one of his albums. Other songs on the album that I recommend for a listen are Little Miss Ponytail and That’s What So Good About the South (featuring Jack Pearson). And there is also a little zydeco influenced jewel of a tune Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight that you just have to hear.
I remember Mike as a young affable musician with obvious talent who took enjoyment from keyboard playing, the chance to sing for audiences, and have people hear songs he had written. He didn’t avidly seek the limelight or stardom like so many of his contemporaries and that is probably why It took a damn long while for Bob Brown to convince Mike to release his first solo album. My hope is that several more will follow in short order!
The Mike Duke Project – …took a while (2019 Little Village Foundation)