The mystery of one of the more enigmatic 45s here – Duke’s “Runaway Girl” – was cleared up recently when Michelle Moffett, daughter of “Duke” Dukett, contacted me, and filled me in on her father’s life (and “Runaway Girl”). Many, many thanks to Michelle for her memories, patience, and work in gathering the details, stories, clippings and photos of her father. Read on.
Guitarist, keyboardist, singer, songwriter and music teacher “Duke” was born Richard Earle Dukett in 1943 in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Richard’s mother was an artist and painter, his father was in the Army, but, of both generations of parents, Richard would be the one with the strong musical inclinations. A self-taught guitarist, Dukett also played keyboards. Though he grew up in Baltimore, “Duke,” as he would long be known, would begin playing professionally in his teens with New Jersey groups, including Duke and the Handjivers, the Off Keys and the Peppermint Stix. Later, in the ‘60s, he would tour, perform and record, as guitarist, with a wide variety of touring bands, even orchestras. Among the better known would be the Bill Black Combo (they would play on the same bill as Bill Haley & the Comets, one of Duke’s heroes, in that time), Al Allen, Ronnie Dove & the Beltones, the Lettermen and the Al Wallace Orchestra.
Duke’s home regularly shifted over the course of a long career, with spells in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southwest, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. In the early ‘70s he moved his family to the San Diego area. There his work as a professional musician would continue apace, with a live repertoire based in rock, jazz, country, pop, oldies, Hawaiian and Latin fare. A versatile entertainer – Duke would also perform impersonations as part of his show – he was a popular draw in the nightclubs and lounges of Southern California and beyond, including places like Don the Beachcomber in Hawaii, the Dunes and the Sands in Las Vegas, El Cortez in the Sky Room, the Catamaran and the Coronado Cays Yacht Club in San Diego and the Crown Room in El Cajon, CA.
Incidentally, along with regular news mentions of him, several print ads featuring Duke appeared in this time. One was shot for Fanfare Studios, with Duke listening to his own recording with the pitch San Diego artists are using Fanfare quality sound for their record projects. ‘Duke’ Dukett recorded his original for Joy Records at Fanfare Studios. You too should record at Fanfare. You’ll like the sound. Another ad would be photographed for Toppix hair products, with Duke holding a can of hair product with the following line: A good musician must always be conscious of his appearance and ‘Duke’ Dukett is one of the best. The ad later appeared in Esquire magazine.
“Runaway Girl” was recorded and self-released by Duke in 1975 on his label Joy Records (named for Joy, his wife). Hand-delivered to various Los Angeles record companies, and rumored to have received radio play, “Runaway Girl” demonstrates a startlingly original side to Duke that wasn’t necessarily reflected in the popular favorites of his live repertoire. An avid Martin Denny collector (among his repertoire was “Quiet Village”), it’s hard to point to anything in Duke’s resume that would anticipate the otherworldly sound of “Runaway Girl,” but, in its own way, the dreamy quality of exotica bleeds over a bit into “Runaway Girl” (and more so “Malagueña,” the 45’s flipside).
He would follow “Runaway Girl” with another 45 – “Playing the Part,” an original, with an instrumental version of the Western classic “Riders in the Sky” on its flipside (with vocals by a singer named Wendy, and added studio instrumentation). It was recorded at El Cajon’s Fanfare Studios, and released in 1976, again on Duke’s Joy Records. It stirred some interest, but in the end received no further distribution. Two other 45s would be recorded in this time, again with Duke on guitar and vocals with rhythm machine accompaniment: “Where Are You Going” (another Duke original) b/w “Love Is the Reason,” released on the Santee-based label Loraine Records, and “Lord Remember Me” b/w “Merry Merry Christmas,” recorded for Ed Woolsey Productions.
Duke remained in Southern California, playing there professionally, and mostly as a solo performer, into the ‘90s, before moving to Tucson. Duke was “an enigma wrapped up in a mystery of soulful skill and talent,” as Michelle Moffett, his daughter, writes, and was beloved by his audiences and those who knew him. Richard Earl Dukett succumbed, at age 57, to alcoholism-related complications in 2000.