A Personal Confession: Roby Duke by Philip Mayaab
There is an old Scottish proverb that says Open confession is good for the soul, so before we get into our blog this week, I have a confession...two actually. Even though I pick albums from my own personal LP collection to play on Vinyl Revival each week, this one is actually borrowed from a friend of mine. I have it on CD, but I need a vinyl copy for our feature, so I borrowed this album you will be hearing this week. Secondly, and this just breaks my heart to admit, I completely missed out on the music of Roby Duke until just a few months ago. I came across one of his albums, and loved it so much, that I got several of them on CDs. The problem is that to buy a Roby Duke vinyl LP on eBay will cost a small fortune, but I did manage to find a friend with a copy of his 1982 debut album Not The Same, and so I am going to share it with all of you this week.
Each time I listen to the wonderful music that the late Roby Duke left behind, I wonder how in the world I could've went through all these years, and NOT been listening to him. I am a HUGE fan of Westcoast pop music, and I wish to goodness I would have been buying Roby's music in the 80s, when I was a teenager. Sadly though, I did not get to the party until about 4 months ago, but I am certainly trying to make up for lost time now! Roby Duke is one of the members of a small group of Christian artists who primarily use a melodic sound, known as Westcoast pop. This style of music originated in Southern California, some believe as early as the 1960s. It is primarily pop music, with jazz influenced musical arrangements. As we mentioned a few weeks ago in our blog for the album Northbound, a prime example of Westcoast pop would be the Michael McDonald led Doobie Brothers of the late 70s. There are a handful of Christian artists who play Westcoast CCM, and Roby Duke is one of the best.
Roby grew up in the Delta region of Mississippi, and began playing music at an early age. He once said started playing music at 8 years old, and also said that when he was 12, his father's band, called the Delta Rhythm Boys , fired their bass player, and young Roby got the gig, playing alongside his dad in night clubs and honky tonks around the south. Eight years later, at the age of 20, he left his native Mississippi, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. In 1981, Roby was signed by MCA's new Christian label, Songbird Records, and began work on his debut album, and today, some 36 years after its release, Not The Same remains a favorite of not only classic CCM fans, but Westcoast pop fans as well. The album has developed an almost cult-like following with people who are not necessarily believers, but just love the music on the album. I can certainly understand why...
From the opening of the album's leadoff track Love Is Here To Stay until the final notes of Promised Land fade out, you are treated to a masterpiece of an album. Roby's smooth, soulful baritone voice paints a picture with the lyrics of each song, combining with some first rate musical performances, to create a stunning 10 song treasure. Produced by Jonathan David Brown (Petra, Greg X. Volz, The Archers), Not The Same contained performances by some of the best Christian musicians in L.A., most of which already had extensive experience in the jazz field. Guys such as drummer Keith Edwards, bassist John Patitucci, guitarists Hadley Hockensmith and Marty Walsh, and keyboardist Harlan Rogers, helped lay down musical tracks that are oh, so easy on the ears, yet fit perfectly with Roby's voice. The finished product is something hard to describe, but I believe it will bless the hearts and ears of our listeners this week.
The previously mentioned opening song, Love Is Here To Stay, starts the album off in an upbeat manner, with a tight Chicago-influenced horn arrangement, to go along with the already covered musical and vocal prowess. It's almost like a foundation to build the album on - solid musically, lyrically, and vocally...it's just a great way to start off a great CCM album. Time To Stand slows the tempo down a bit, but is packed with the smooth jazz influxes that are a trademark of a Roby Duke LP. Like the rest of the songs on this album, it has a quality that makes you feel relaxed as you listen to it, which is another trademark of Westcoast pop. Seasons Of Change is a little more straight up pop music, but still fits perfectly in its slot right in the middle of side one. Horns are once again added to the mix, adding more depth to an already great track. The fourth song on side one, titled Carpenter (Do What You Got To Do) is one of only three songs on the album not penned by Roby...it was written by Cathy Spurr from the singing duo Spurr & McNeil. The song reminds me of some of the songs that were popular on Adult Contemporary pop stations in the late 70s, and again, is just pure pleasure to listen to. The chord arrangement on the chorus makes me press rewind on my CD player when I play this album. Side one's closing song Feel It Comin' was left off the CD release, for some reason, and was replaced with a ballad called You Love Me. Fortunately, we are playing the original vinyl copy, because I personally prefer Feel It Comin...it's upbeat, with a good bounce to it, and I think each of you will enjoy listening to it.
The album's second side opens with Oh Magnify The Lord, with lyrics taken straight from the Bible, and an easy going jazz groove that soothes the ears, and soul as well. I'm not the biggest fan of praise and worship music, but this one suits me fine! Can't Stop Running sounds like a song you would hear on an Ambrosia LP, with a classic pop feel that just feels nice as you listen, which is a common thing with any Roby Duke album. The man simply had the ability to make a song feel both comforting and enjoyable to the listener - trust me, you'll see! Rested In Your Love is track three on side two, and slows down the pace a bit, with a breezy, string arrangement that will make you feel as if you're enjoying a vacation in California, just taking it easy. Next up is the album's title track, again with a soft rock / pop groove and talks about a life changing experience with Jesus. Layers of guitars and keyboards give the song an appealing quality, with a sax solo added for good measure. Closing out the album is Promised Land, a slow ballad that talks about the homeland that God has prepared for those who love and serve Him...a fitting way to close such a great album.
Roby Duke went to the Promised Land on December 26, 2007, after suffering a massive heart attack. His passing left a void in the Christian music industry, because even though he was no longer actively recording, he had built a studio in Seattle, where he had lived since 1990. Over the last 17 years of his life, Roby worked out of his studio, producing and helping other artists become established in the music industry that he loved so much. He still has fans all over the world...the proof is in the many Westcoast pop blogs on the internet, where his music and legacy still lauded today. My guess is that this album probably did not receive the appropriate promotional backing it should have garnered in 1982. By that point in time, MCA Songbird was in financial trouble, and they closed up shop later that same year. Of course, that was not the end for Roby, he went on to record several more albums, each of them a fantastic piece of musical art. The man was a musical genius, who could simply pick up an instrument, and be playing it fluently in a short amount of time. A talented writer, he wrote songs for many other artists, one of my favorites is Russ Taff's version of I've Come Too Far from Medals. As previously mentioned he was also an in-demand record producer, with several production credits to his name, and as all of you will see and hear this Labor Day week, Roby Duke was a pretty good singer too! This is the type of Christian music that I cannot get enough of, I just wish I would've found it back in the 80s. Oh well, better late than never....
1. Love Is Here To Stay (Roby Duke)
2. Time To Stand (Roby Duke)
3. Seasons Of Change (Roby Duke)
4. Carpenter (Do What You Got To Do) (Cathy Spurr)
5. Feel It Comin' (Roby Duke)
1. Oh Magnify The Lord (John Patitucci)
2. Can't Stop Runnin' (Bruce Hibbard)
3. Rested In Your Love (Roby Duke)
4. Not The Same (Roby Duke)
5. Promised Land (Roby Duke)
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