The Mike Duke Project – …Took A While
Little Village Foundation – 2019
15 tracks; 51 minutes
The Little Village Foundation is a non-profit label, dedicated to releasing material from artists that deserve to be heard but have hitherto remained ‘under the radar’. Mike Duke was born in 1948 and played through the 70’s with bands like Wet Willie and The Outlaws. This interesting project assembles fifteen tunes written and performed by Mike who in 1981 sent a demo to Bob Brown, then manager of Huey Lewis & The News.
That song was “Hope You Love Me Like You Say” and Bob immediately saw its potential for Huey who went on to record three of Mike’s songs, including the big hit “Doin’ It All For My Baby” and “Let Her Go And Start Over”, all three of which appear here in their original versions with Mike on vocals and piano and band members that include Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall on sax. Those three songs appear in a run of tracks 2-4 and it is immediately clear why Bob was attracted to the songs which sound like a combination of Boz Scaggs, early Southern Rock and Muscle Shoals productions. Apparently there were over 60 original songs under consideration for this retrospective collection but the 15 selected are certainly worth hearing.
Four songs were re-recorded in June 2019 with Kid Andersen producing and involving experienced musicians such as Angela Strehli on backing vocals, Jim Pugh on organ, Kevin Hayes on drums and Steve Ehrmann on bass; Elvin Bishop adds a slide solo to the attractive “I Can’t Let You Go” and on “Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight” and the Zydeco Flames bring a real New Orleans feel with accordion and washboard. The relaxed tribute to all things Southern “That’s What’s So Good About The South”, recorded in 1991 with former Allman Brothers guitarist Jack Pearson, was apparently pitched to Dr John and the earliest song here, 1977’s “Coming Round Again”, was offered to Gregg Allman when he broke up with Cher: both songs would have fitted their intended recipients well, the former having a tongue-in-cheek attitude and the latter being a real tearjerker with superb brass and guitar accompaniment.
There are also recordings from across the intervening years: highlights include the bubbling “Little Miss Ponytail” and the tender solo piano/vocal “When You Had It All”, Mike taking a nostalgic look back in time. The collection closes with “Nicasio”, a short live piano instrumental named after and recorded at the roadhouse set up by Bob Brown where for more than twenty years Mike has been a regular performer and manager of the general store.
In the sleeve notes Bob Brown details how he met Mike and continued to work with him over the years. Mike’s debut release has indeed taken a while but demonstrates that good things are worth waiting for. Not really blues but for anyone with broad tastes there is plenty to enjoy here.