Singer/keyboardist/songwriter Mike Duke has flourished as an in-demand musician and performer for over 45 years, released his debut CD, the aptly titled …took a while, on the Little Village Foundation label. Recorded over a 40-year period, …took a while includes four newly-recorded band tracks, plus a recent live solo piano piece.
The story of this album of all-original material, is deeply intertwined between Mike Duke’s life as a professional musician and former Huey Lewis & the News manager, Bob Brown, the driving force behind this album’s release. It was Brown who recognized Duke’s talents as a singer and songwriter in the early 1980s and set Mike on a path that led up to this album.
The four newly-recorded tracks on …took a while showcase Mike Duke’s southern soul vocals and piano work backed by a host of all-star guest musicians, including Elvin Bishop, Kid Andersen, Jim Pugh and Angela Strehli. For “Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight,” Northern California faves, The Zydeco Flames, bring the appropriate Louisiana sound and backing feel to the music. “Nicasio,” the solo piano piece that closes the album, was recorded at Rancho Nicasio, the San Francisco Bay Area roadhouse restaurant and nightclub owned by Bob Brown, where Duke has been the house band leader for almost two decades.
“Mike Duke entered my life in 1981 by way of a cassette recording sent to my office in Mill Valley, California, by a music publisher in Los Angeles,” relates Bob Brown in the liner notes. “There were four songs by different writers, one being ‘Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” written and sung by Mike. That original ‘demo tape’ featured here, has a vocal performance that blew me away. I called Huey Lewis, as we were looking for material for his second album, asked him to come by, ‘now’ to hear this song and… it was in the Top Forty on the Billboard chart in June of 1982.
“I got Mike’s phone number and asked him to send some more tunes. After returning from a road trip, there was another cassette on my desk that included ‘Let Her Go and Start Over,’ also eventually recorded by Huey Lewis & the News. This is the ultimate break-up song and my marriage happened to be in the midst of ending; I had to meet this guy! Another tune, ‘Doin’ It All for My Baby,’ was written a bit later and became a big hit in 1987 (*6 in Billboard) for the band. Those three original songs as I heard them are here to share with you.”
On the vintage tracks, none of which have been released before, Mike Duke employed a collection of superb players over the years, many of whom were in the Southern rock milieu that Duke was an integral part of during his time in the South. Most of the tracks presented here are in their original demo form, including the three covers by Huey Lewis & the News.
On the original version of “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” heard here for the first time, Duke is joined by his fellow members of the group, Wet Willie as it was in 1980: Jimmy Hall – sax, backing vocals; Larry Berwald – guitar; and Jack Hall – bass. The drummer on this track, who also appears throughout many of the other songs on the album, was Bill Stewart, who interestingly enough was the original drummer in Wet Willie before becoming a Capricorn Records mainstay in groups such as Cowboy and the Gregg Allman band.
“That’s What So Good About the South,” Mike’s tribute to all-things-Southern, was originally pitched by Duke to the great Dr. John; and one listen to the tune confirms it would have been a perfect song for him. That track was co-produced by former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Jack Pearson, who also plays guitar on it.
Mike also explains that, “Coming Round Again,” Duke’s heartfelt paean to the end of a relationship, was originally pitched to Gregg Allman after his break-up with Cher. The earliest recorded track on this project, it was produced in 1977 by noted Southern rock producer Paul Hornsby (The Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels Band) at his Muscadine Studios in Macon, Georgia.
Gary Michael Duke was born October 18, 1948, in Mobile, Alabama. He learned to play music by ear on a piano his mother had in the house. Mike was a member of several bands in high school, and sang and wrote for a black church in the area. The song “Torn & Scarred,” written in 1969 and newly-recorded for this collection, is a perfect example of Mike’s gospel roots.
In 1974, Mike hooked up with fellow Mobile brethren Wet Willie and made his first appearance on record with them for their Capricorn Records breakout album, Keep on Smilin’, and title track hit single. He next appeared on their 1975 follow-up, Dixie Rock, before joining the band full-time later that year. Mike would go on to record on two more Wet Willie albums for Capricorn before the band moved on to Epic Records for two releases. Several of Mike’s songs were recorded on those albums as well. Mike later also had a brief stint with The Outlaws.
In 1983, Bob Brown convinced Mike to move to the West Coast. He became a known entity in the San Francisco Bay Area music scene immediately, hooking up with other songwriters and just by engaging everyone he meets. During this time he also opened an East Coast tour on solo piano for Huey Lewis & the News.
After spending several years as the lead singer/keyboardist of The Solid Senders, the house band at Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco, he joined Delbert McClinton’s band as a featured member for most of the ‘90s, and since Delbert was based in Nashville, Mike relocated there.
When Bob Brown purchased an old country roadhouse, Rancho Nicasio, in 1998, he asked Mike if he was ready to return to the West Coast, and Mike once again became a fixture in Northern California. He is not only a prominent member of the Rancho All-Stars at the roadhouse; Mike manages their General Store as well!