Friday, August 3, 2018

Wilmer and the Dukes

So this is how it started ...

Hey Guys,
I just found this and I never heard of these guys.  Apparently from Buffalo, they were a regional sensation in 
66 - 7. Here is their biggest hit (which I don't think was ever played here or LA -- am I wrong?)
Gary Goldblatt 

Not played here. Maybe my friend Kent will be good enough to throw this out on his web site so we can find out more.
Mike DeMartino 

And it worked ... we heard from a few of you out there who were pleased to see Wilmer and the Dukes featured the other day in Forgotten Hits with their somewhat obscure 1968 hit "Give Me One More Chance."  (#65 in Record World, #78 in Cash Box and #80 in Billboard.)  Incredibly, it was a bigger hit in Canada where it peaked at #18 on the CHUM Chart (and was released as Wilmer Alexander and the Dukes).

We gave you the lowdown that the band hailed from Rochester, New York, and featured Wilmer Alexander on lead vocals and saxophone, brothers Ronnie and Monte Alberts on bass and drums (respectively), Doug Brown on guitar and Ralph Gillotte on keyboards.  (From what we've since been told, it sounds like they were actually from Geneva, NY.)

It was an odd mix in that Wilmer was black and all of the other band members were very soulful white guys.  

It sounds like they played the bar circuit for ages, eventually becoming the opening act for many of the major artists who came through the area.  (Tommy James and the Shondells, Wilson Pickett, The Association and Sly and the Family Stone among them.)

Their two charted US hits ("Living In The USA," a cover of the Steve Miller tune, peaked at #114 in Billboard in 1969) were both released on Aphrodisiac Records, for whom they also recorded one LP.

For years rumors have circulated that Wilmer and the Dukes were the inspiration for the fictional band Otis Day and the Knights from the hit movie "Animal House," who actually became a REAL band thanks to the success of their version of "Shout!" used in the film.  (kk)

Good Morning!
I was amazed and pleased to see Wilmer and the Dukes mentioned in your Forgotten Hits column. I saw this Rochester band several times in my early youth playing at several Western NY venues along with Donnie Potter and Bat McGrath and The Shades, all local popular bands. (Try listening to Donnie Potter singing Over The Rainbow!) Anyway, Wilmer and the Dukes had an lp / cd released on a slightly one-off label (Tetragammon???) which, of course, didn't do well nationally but made a little noise in Rochester. I still have my cd version and love the single "Give Me One More Chance." 
Thanks for shaking my memory tree about my musical days gone by. By the way, another Rochester band at this time was Black Sheep, with lead singer Lou Gramm(atico), later to form Foreigner. 
Thanks for all you do. 
Jim Hill

Wilmer and the Dukes were based in Geneva, New York.  "Give Me One More Chance" was issued in early April of 1968.  It made the Top 10 locally where I reside and recall hearing it over the transistor radio.  
Mike Markesich

Apparently "Give Me One More Chance" "borrowed" a little bit from Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa" ... but it really is a GREAT song ... I've listened to it at least a dozen times now ... and this one should have been a much bigger hit than it was.  Surprisingly, it didn't chart at all on Billboard's R&B Chart!  (kk)

So glad to see Wilmer and the Dukes featured in Forgotten Hits.  They were one of our favorite bands to see back in the day and although they remained Rochester's best kept secret, never really doing much nationally, I remember waiting in lines around the block in order to get in to see them at some of the clubs where they were the headliners.
Thanks for rekindling another pleasant memory from my youth.

And this was a pleasant surprise ...

You'll find their song featured on my August 11th Saturday Survey Chart for KQV in Pittsburgh, PA.
Clark Besch
So we've got THAT to look forward to, too!  (kk)

Hi Kent -- 
Hope you are finding the time to occasionally escape from your busy schedule and have some fun this summer!
Wilmer Alexander, Jr. and the Dukes, i.e. Wilmer and the Dukes. What can I say other than they were an amazing live performing band. 
I was co-owner of the Rustix, their main competitor for bookings and for fans as well. The good thing was that there were so many clubs, bars and colleges to play that neither band ever was out of work. Both bands played very similar songs as soul and Motown were the songs most covered. Doug Brown, the guitar player for the Dukes was the writer of most of the originals that the Dukes performed including their chart hit, "Give Me One More Chance."  Because Wilmer was the sax player, the group that they most resembled was probably Junior Walker and the All-Stars -- other than the fact that the four "Dukes" were all white, but full of soul. 
Ralph "Duke" Gillotte was the keyboard and B-3 player, bandleader, and oldest member of the group (born in 1937.)  His nickname was where the name "Dukes" came from. The Albert brothers, Ron (drums) and Monte (bass), rounded out the five man band. Bob Eagan defected from the Rustix and became the bass player for the Dukes in 1965. 
The group was managed by Ebo Albert, Ronny and Monte's father. That didn't work for the Beach Boys but it seemed to for the "Dukes". I remember Ebo as somewhat scary! I sure wouldn't have wanted my father following me around to every night club I went to. Ebo didn't trust many so he collected the money at the door! 
People literally lined up to see the Dukes. Contrary to most things written about the group, they were from Geneva, NY, home of Hobart and Smith colleges, about a half hour east of Rochester, NY.  
Although the Dukes played there often, Buffalo, also mentioned as their home in various articles, is another hour-plus west of Rochester. That's where they were picked up and were signed to Aphrodasiac Records. They recorded one very good album and about four or five singles, one with a picture sleeve. They were active from 1961 to 1974. They had a successful reunion in 1988 to raise funds for Wilmer, who was quite ill. After this series of concerts, the remaining members began touring as the "Legendary Dukes" with Eric "Mitty" Moore taking over vocals and sax. "Duke" passed away in 1999. They continued until 2011, recording one album in 1994 on Forevermore Records, often hitting the Carolina Beach Music charts. 
I don't know who submitted it, but there is an excellent, thorough and factually correct history of Wilmer and the Dukes on Wikipedia. 
Sure wish I could send you some pictures but my "attach" feature is not working. For those who are curious, you can easily find pictures of them on the internet and songs on YouTube. They were a classy looking and great group for sure! 
Danny Guilfoyle
I have heard from several people who are having problems trying to attach files thru AOL ... looks like I got out of there just in time!
Thanks for your very thorough piece ... much appreciated.  I've also run links to the two other sources you recommended. 

Be sure to watch for Wilmer and the Dukes to pop up again on August 11th as part of our coast-to-coast Saturday Surveys charts.

Meanwhile, I've also posted a couple of great YouTube clips, including one for their cover of the Steve Miller tune.

Thanks, All!  (kk)