Craft Recordings has announced the June 25 release, digitally and on vinyl, of two new compilations of soul pacesetters Dyke & The Blazers. They are the 20-track Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966–1967) and the 21-track I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968–1970).
The albums are a fitting and timely tribute to an aggregation who made a notable contribution to the evolution of R&B with their pioneering funk sound. The albums include new stereo mixes, many previously unreleased cuts (including demos, radio spots, and newly-unearthed songs), and audio that’s been freshly remastered by engineer Dave Cooley.
The albums are now available for pre-order, as two instant grat tracks, “Funky Broadway (Part 1)” and “Let a Woman Be a Woman – Let a Man Be a Man” take their bow for streaming and downloading. They’re among the group’s best-known songs: “Funky Broadway (Part 1)” was their initial hit, a No.17 soul chart success in 1967, while “Let a Woman Be a Woman…” was their highest-charting soul single, peaking at No.4 in 1969.
The booklets for the LPs offer rare imagery and ephemera, as well as new liner notes from the producer of the sets, Alec Palao. Further deep insight is provided via new and archival interviews with band members and other key players. They include manager Art Barrett, and radio personality Art Laboe, who signed the group and released them on his Original Sounds label.
The Phoenix, AZ group, formed in 1965, are much admired by cratediggers and beatmakers alike for their cutting-edge sound which introduced a funk sound alongside contemporaries James Brown, the Meters and others. Frontman and Buffalo, NY native Arlester “Dyke” Christian’s gruff, authoritative vocals were complemented by tight guitar riffs, grooving jazz organs, and upbeat horns.
“Funky Broadway,” recorded in 1966, prompted the album of the same name (their sole LP) and a cover of the single by Wilson Pickett, which went all the way to the top of the R&B chart. After another minor soul entry in “So Sharp,” the original group line-up disbanded, but Christian retained the name, working with touring and session musicians, notably from the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
This led to considerable further success, especially in 1969, when the aforementioned “Let A Woman…” was preceded by another Top 10 soul 45, “We Got More Soul.” Both made the Top 40 of the Hot 100. In 1970, there was even a soul remake of the staple “You Are My Sunshine.”
In 1971, Christian was fatally shot, at the age of 27, ending a career of great promise in which he was preparing for a British tour and a recording project with Barry White. But Dyke & The Blazers’ work has lived on, notably through samples of breaks from “Let a Woman Be a Woman – Let a Man Be a Man” by Public Enemy, 2Pac, Cypress Hill, Stetsasonic, and more recently, Tyler, the Creator.
Its opening bars are also prominent in The Heavy’s alt-rock 2009 hit “How You Like Me Now?”, while “Funky Broadway,” “We Got More Soul,” and “Runaway People” have also been repeatedly sampled.
“The unique noise that Dyke and the players developed in the relatively isolated— musically speaking — desert environs of Phoenix, Arizona, was unaffected and real,” writes Palao in his notes. “It projected in sound the same sort of statement that their raw-voiced frontman, in his evocative description of the street and its importance to the black community, was making.
“Dyke’s metaphor of Broadway, and its ‘dirty, filthy’ ennui, was entirely appropriate — this was dirty, filthy music, and soulful to its core. Dyke was an easy artist to relate to, because he truly was far more of the street. The street didn’t want complex productions or technical expertise, it simply demanded a sound with which it could identify. And Dyke & The Blazers surely provided that for them.”
Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966–1967) and I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968–1970) are released on June 25. Pre-order them here.