By Daniel Margolis | Published July 2021
Funk bands lost to history are legion, as the recorded works of many were issued as singles and one-off albums that landed in dustbins all over the U.S., then were later coveted by crate-diggers and beat-makers, and, luckily, compiled for those lacking the patience to crawl through thrift stores and online auctions.
Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, Dyke & The Blazers are beneficiaries of one such act of musical excavation, emerging on the mid-’60s soul scene alongside artists like James Brown and The Meters. They were characterized by tight guitar riffs, grooving jazz organs, upbeat horns and frontman Arlester “Dyke” Christian’s coarse yet commanding vocals.
Craft Recordings has handed the public not one but two compilations of this act: the 20-track Down On Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966–1967) and the 21-track I Got A Message: Hollywood (1968–1970). Together, they span the group’s short career with new stereo mixes of their handful of hits and jams, previously unreleased material including demos, radio spots and previously unreleased songs and remastered audio.
The four sides of Down On Funky Broadway: Phoenix display a deftly funky band, with Christian issuing the funkiest possible plea for solitude on “Don’t Bug Me,” while “Uhh” (full-length version) is six minutes of up-and-down grinding as Christian makes his romantic intentions clear — all in thick, glorious mono. Elsewhere, Dyke and the band playfully pay homage to the filthy yet fun venues one encounters in every town on “City Dump.”
The true star of the show, though, is “Funky Broadway,” which was covered by Wilson Pickett, The Supremes, The Temptations, Jackie Wilson, Count Basie and Steve Cropper. L.A. was interested.
But Dyke & The Blazers’ original lineup dissolved by the end of 1967. From then on, Christian would be the sole remaining member of the group, accompanied by a variety of touring and session musicians. He recorded his new material in Hollywood at Original Sounds, where he was backed by The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
This brings us to I Got A Message: Hollywood. The music is immediately less scrappy, tighter, more social in its politics. Christian name-calls other leaders in his field like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. His track featured here, “Let A Woman Be A Woman–Let A Man Be A Man,” a kinetic treatise of gender roles, hit the r&b Top 10 and the pop Top 40; breaks from the song were sampled by hip-hop groups and artists including Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, Cypress Hill, Stetsasonic and Tyler, the Creator.
Dyke died young. On March 13, 1971, the 27-year-old artist was fatally shot in Phoenix. At the time, he was prepping for a tour of the U.K., as well as a recording project with Barry White. One wonders what might have been.