Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Doris Duke - I'm a loser

Back when I was at journalism school, one of our coursework assignments was to write a short blurb for a fictional Top 50 of overlooked album gems for Q Magazine.
At the time I had just discovered Doris Duke.
The record was one of those 80's vinyl re-issues of which my dad bought many. Thin folder after thin folder of seriously classic rhythm and blues, soul (in the true musical sense of the word) and jazz.When I was a baby I probably heard them all, but finding something for yourself makes you listen differently.
I had just bought myself a vintage 60's record player at the car boot sale for £20 and spent days and days going through my dad's record collection.
I listened to albums by The Spaniels and Slim and Slam - familiar from a much-loved compilation tape my mum made for me that I listened to for years before my brother accidentaly recorded over bits of it.
And I found plenty of new stuff, some of which wasn't worth bothering with. I learnt a lot about music from my dad, but his taste has always been ecclectic to the extreme and some of his records are just too weird for me.
But discovering Doris Duke was a revelation. She was raw in a way I completely understood. The other great female singers like Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, with their astounding voices and great swells of anger and tenderness, had always felt a bit distant. But Doris Duke felt close for some reason I couldn't pin down. Perhaps it was just because this was a singer I was able to discover for myself, who hadn't been tainted by advertising rights, film soundtracks, dodgy tributes or general overexposure. 
For about three weeks I was completely obsessed. And then I reached the point where I had overplayed her and the obsession quickly faded. I don't know if anyone needs to listen to that much raw emotion on a regular basis however well it's expressed. And so I kind of put Doris to one side.
Sometimes though, it seems like there's a conspiracy to make you remember something you shouldn't have forgotten. I walked past an open door and heard a snippet of my favourite of her songs, Feet start walking. A couple of days later I searched for it on Youtube and immersed myself in the comfort blanket of her anger.
And then today I was looking through my old emails and uncovered that bit of coursework.
Reading my old writing aways makes me cringe, but here it is:

I’m A Loser
Doris Duke (Canyon) 1970

Occasionally an album gets forgotten through no fault of its own. I’m A Loser was described as one of the greatest ever soul albums on release but the distributing record label, Canyon, quickly collapsed, denying Doris Duke commercial success and a rightful place in the pantheon of soul sisters.

Born Doris Curry in 1943, Duke cut her teeth in gospel groups before she found herself singing back-up vocals for, among others, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Nina Simone. Her own album would prove to be a lyrically rawer affair than any of these female vocalists had delivered.

Teaming up with prolific songwriter and producer Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams, Doris found a new voice. Even now, the bitterly confessional and self-deprecating style of songs like “He’s Gone”, “Feet Start Walking” and “I Don’t Care Anymore” is a shock.

The single, To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman), made the billboard charts in the US. Critic Dave Godin, the man behind the success of soul in the UK, called the album the finest soul record of all time. Doris went on to record another album with Swamp Dogg on the Mankind label but nothing has been heard from her since 1981.

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