All the pop-music-history chestnuts apply: Dyke & The Blazers were musical influencers who changed rhythm and blues; their contribution to Phoenix’s musical legacy is unequaled; the members of the group, a local nightclub staple in the late '60s, were funk pioneers.
Many of these platitudes are borne out in a pair of career-spanning collections documenting the band’s brief run and ongoing legacy. Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966-1967) and I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968-1970) compile 41 remastered Dyke tracks alongside nearly half as many previously unreleased cuts. Both will be available on streaming platforms and on vinyl this Friday, June 25.
Most of us have heard the band’s signature hit, “Funky Broadway,” a 1967 Billboard hit (Number 17 on the R&B chart; Number 65 on the Hot 100 singles tally) which made even more noise when Wilson Pickett covered it later in the year, taking it to Number 1 on the R&B chart and into the pop Top Ten. Some may also recall “Let a Woman Be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man,” a much-covered, often-sampled Top 40 hit from Dyke’s second act in 1969. Both tunes are collected in the compilations, issued by boutique label Craft Recordings on vinyl and digital platforms.
“Dyke & The Blazers is easily one of the best funky soul groups of the era,” says local record collector and music podcaster Samuel Barrett. “They’ve got a certain realism and rawness that many other groups lacked. They should have been a household name, like James Brown or Sly and the Family Stone.”
Instead, the band faded into R&B history after only five years when frontman Arlester “Dyke” Christian was fatally shot in Phoenix. It was 1971, and 27-year-old Christian was about to launch a U.K. tour. He’d just lined up an album project with soul star Barry White.
“They would’ve really put Phoenix on the musical map,” says retired studio guitarist Ernie Orlean. “A lot of people don’t know this, but ‘Funky Broadway’ is about Broadway Road in Phoenix, and not just Broadway in New York.”
Christian was playing with Buffalo, New York’s Carl LaRue and his Crew when Phoenix DJ Eddie O’Jay offered the band a gig backing the O’Jays, who had a standing club gig here. After the O’Jays moved on, so did LaRue, leaving Christian and two of his bandmates, guitarist Alvester "Pig" Jacobs and saxophonist J.V. Hunt, behind.
The trio hooked up with another Phoenix group called The Three Blazers. Renamed Dyke & The Blazers, they played James Brown and Little Richard covers in local blues clubs and the Phoenix Elks Lodge, and scored a record deal with manager Art Barrett, who recorded the band at legendary Phoenix studio Audio Recorders. Among their first sides was an original tune of Christian’s called “Funky Broadway.”
That tune, dug deep with Christian’s coarse, crowing vocals and Hunt’s jazzy sax riffs, became the band’s first single. Recorded on Barrett’s Artco label, the record took off with radio play in Los Angeles and grabbed national attention after it was reissued on L.A. label Original Sound.
Those tracks, which included charting singles like 1967’s “So Sharp” and 1968’s “Funky Walk” and Top 40 hits like “We Got More Soul” and “Let a Woman Be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man,” are highlights of this new set. Because there’s no great depth of material in the Blazers’ catalog — they recorded only the one album and a handful of singles — this new box set acts as both a worthy compendium and a fine introduction for casual fans. For dyed-in-the-wool Dyke fans, there are the usual stereo mixes of mono singles, unreleased material, and demos. Everything’s been remastered by superstar engineer Dave Cooley, and the accompanying booklets bring unpublished photos and an essay by the compilation’s producer, Alec Palao.
The grooves collected here tell a larger story, though, about the influence Christian’s style had on Pickett, and on Rick James, the Fatback Band, and the late local soul legend Small Paul Hamilton, who may have had the last word on Arlester Christian.
“There would hardly be no grit and grime in funk if it weren’t for Dyke,” Hamilton told Cashbox magazine in 1985. “Most people don’t remember Dyke & The Blazers, but they hear those guys every time they play a record by pretty much any other funk band.”