DUKE WILLIAMS AND THE EXTREMES-MONKEY IN A SILK SUIT IS STILL A MONKEY.

DUKE WILLIAMS AND THE EXTREMES-MONKEY IN A SILK SUIT IS STILL A MONKEY.

Last September, New York based record label, SpinSpinNYC, released a six track compilation entitled Nutritious Presents Duke Williams and The Extremes. SpinSpinNYC had rediscovered the music of Duke Williams and The Extremes. They wanted to share their love and belief in this music with a much wider audience. For many people, this was the first time they’d heard Duke Williams and The Extremes’ music. Not everyone was a newcomer to Duke Williams and The Extremes’ music. For many people, Nutritious Presents Duke Williams and The Extremes was a welcome and timely reminder of two long forgotten soulful gems, including their brilliantly titled 1973 debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey. This marked the start of Duke Williams and The Extremes recording career. What seemed like a long and successful career following the release of Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, proved not to be the case. 

When Duke Williams and The Extremes were looking for a record company, they must have thought they’d end up signing for a record company who’d made their name releasing Southern rock. That’s what happened. Duke Williams and The Extremes signed to Capricorn Records. Previously, they’d established a reputation with Southern rock bands. This included The Allman Brothers, Elvin Bishop and The Marshall Tucker Band. So, signing Duke Williams and The Extremes was something of a departure for Capricorn Records. It was also a risky move for Duke Williams and The Extremes. After all, marketing Southern rock and soul, took different skills and different personnel. Added to that, Duke Williams and The Extremes were no ordinary soul group.

The best way of describing Duke Williams and The Extremes’ music, is a fusion of Philly Soul, funk and Southern Soul. It would be this fusion of musical genres that would feature on their 1973 debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey. It was the first of two albums Duke Williams and The Extremes would released on Capricorn Records, with Fantastic Fedora following in 1974. For their debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, Duke Williams and a Philly Soul legend would provide six of the album’s ten tracks.

For Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, Duke Williams and Philly guitarist T.J. Tindall contributed six tracks. T.J. had made his name as a session player, and can be heard on many Philly Soul classics. He’s also a talented songwriter, penning I’m Ready For You and Clouds. With Duke, T.J. cowrote If Loving You Wasn’t So Easy (To Do), First High Of The Day and Ain’t No Ladies On The Street Tonight. They also cowrote Chinese Chicken with Bob Hortnagle. Duke cowrote Depend On Me with Bob Bradbury. Other tracks included Arlester Christian’s Funky Broadway and a cover of Otis Redding and Jerry Butler’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long. Closing Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, was Slippin’ and Slidin,’ which Albert Collins cowrote. These ten tracks became Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey. Accompanying Duke Williams and The Extremes, were an all-star band of Philly’s finest musicians.

When recording of Duke Williams and The Extremes’ debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, two sets of musician played on the album. This included two rhythm sections. One was the Ron Baker and Earl Young of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. The other were drummer Andy Newmark, bassist T.J. Tindall and guitarist Bobby Hartnagle. T.J. Tindall also played guitar, while Duke Williams played organ. Among the other Philly musicians were Larry Washington on bongas and congas and Carlton Kent on clavinet. Skip Drinkwater added percussion and trumpeters Bowleg Miller and Wayne Jackson were part of the horn section. Vocals were split between T.J. and Duke. Producing Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey were T.J. Tindall and Skip Drinkwater, which was released in 1973.

On the release of Duke Williams and The Extremes’ debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, the album was well received by critics. However, it wasn’t a commercial success. Neither was the cover of Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, which was released as a single. It seemed that Duke Williams and The Extremes had stalled, before it had even begun. Why was that? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey.

Opening Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey is the explosive Funky Broadway. Here, Ron Baker and Earl Young provide a funk-laden backdrop for Duke Williams’ powerful, vampish vocal. It’s full of yelps and hollers, delivered with power, passion and confidence. While Ron Baker and Earl Young provide the funkiest of backdrops, while screaming, riffing guitars, percussion and clavinet provide a tough, edgy sound. Soaring, dramatic testifying backing vocals, Hammond organ and growling horns provide the finishing touch to this explosive fusion of funk and soul.

Chinese Chicken picks up where the opening track left off. Describing this track as funky is an understatement. Chiming guitars join Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drums in creating a thunderous, pounding backdrop. With searing guitars, pounding drums, Hammond organs and clavinet combining, hollers are unleashed as funk, Southern rock and soul become one. At breakneck speed, this arrangement unfolds, revealing a hidden funky gem.

I’m Ready For You marks a change in style. T.J. Tindall takes charge of the lead vocal as soul and Southern Soul and rock combine. Crystalline guitars and the rhythm section set the scene for T.J. before delivers an impassioned vocal. Drums add drama, reinforcing the sincerity in his vocal. Making the track, are the dramatic, soaring gospel harmonies. Together with the guitar that weaves its way across the arrangement, and T.J’s heartfelt pleas, this fusion of musical genre results in one of the highlights of Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey.

Clouds has a pensive, melancholy sound. Waves of keyboards and slow, moody drums combine and T.J’s vocal is dreamy and melancholy. Guitars riff, Ron Baker’s bass buzzes and guitars chime. Soon, the arrangement references seventies rock and psychedelia. There’s even a hint of Pink Floyd, although there’s always a soulful quality to T.J’s vocal. Although very different from other tracks, it’s a wonderfully moody, wistful sounding track that you can’t help but lose yourself in. It demonstrates just how versatile and innovative a group Duke Williams and The Extremes were.

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, which closes Side One of Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, was the only single released from the album. Covering such a classic track isn’t easy. After all, you either risk blindly copying the original or end up with a cover version that brings nothing new to the track. Not here. This is much better. There’s a real injection of enthusiasm, passion and soulfulness. Duke throws himself into the track, delivering a growling, inspired vocal. Meanwhile, Ron Baker and Earl Young are at the heart of the stomping arrangement. They’re joined by tight, sweeping and deeply soulful harmonies, as Duke struts his way through the track, delivering one of the best covers of this track, as Southern Soul and gospel are fused seamlessly.

Side Two of Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, opens with If Loving You Wasn’t So Easy (To Do). The rhythm section, blazing horns and chiming guitars join with percussion, before Duke’s gnarled vocal enters. Soon, the band are locked in the tightest of grooves. They’re mixing Southern Soul and funk with searing rocky guitars. It’s an impressive sound. Duke’s vocal plays a secondary role to the band, as they demonstrate their combined talents. Good as Duke’s vocal is, here his band steal the show.

From the opening bars of First High Of The Day you realize something special is unfolding. The arrangement literally bursts into life. Guitars drive the arrangement along, before thanks to the rhythm section, things get even better. They provide the track’s heartbeat. T.J. delivers a joyous vocal, that’s one of his best. Then when the horns enter, they provide the finishing touch. They rasp and cascade, adding a jazzy sound to this genre sprawling track. Joyful and uplifting sound, describes what proves one of the sweetest and soulful songs on Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey.

Depend On Me sees a real change in style and sound. Again, it allows Duke Williams and The Extremes to showcase their versatility. Guitars open a track that has a real Southern sound. Southern rock and soul are the reference points, with the guitars at the heart of the track’s success. Indeed, the guitars and Duke’s vocal are crucial to the track. Just when you think things can’t get any better, harmonies sweep in, adding the finishing touch to this fusion of Southern soul and rock.

Ain’t No Ladies On The Street Tonight has an understated, melancholy opening. Just subtle hi-hats give way to Duke Williams’ Hammond organ. Then as the arrangement starts to swing, Bruce Steinberg blows a bluesy harmonica. When it combines with the piano, Hammond organ and chiming guitars, the result is a jazzy track that swings along, showing yet another side to Duke Williams and The Extremes’ music.

Slippin’ and Siidin’ closes Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey on a bluesy high. Key to this is Ralph Schuckett’s piano which drives the arrangement. Horns kick, while Duke’s rasping vocal is reminiscent of Dr. John and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in their prime. Later, Duke Williams and The Extremes’ kick loose. They unleash a myriad of growling horns, jangly piano and that gnarled vocal. With its combination of vintage jazz and blues, it’s a captivating and enthralling way to close the album.

Although Duke Williams and The Extremes’ debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey showcases a tight, talented and versatile band, that’s may have been part of the problem. On Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey sees Duke Williams and The Extremes fuse everything from Southern Soul, Southern Rock, funk, jazz, Philly Soul and psychedelia. With such an eclectic range of influences, marketing Duke Williams and The Extremes couldn’t have been easy. After all, Duke Williams and The Extremes couldn’t be pigeonholed. It wasn’t as if they could be marketed as a soul or funk band. There was much more to their music. That meant people who loved Southern Soul or funk might not have bought Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, because there music veered off into many other musical genres. This wasn’t the only reason for the commercial failure of Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey Another possible reason for the commercial failure of Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey was that Capricorn Records were the wrong label for Duke Williams and The Extremes. Given Capricorn Records had made their name with Southern Rock bands, then Duke Williams and The Extremes wasn’t their typical signing. Even if Duke Williams and The Extremes were a soul band, Capricorn weren’t used to marketing soul bands. So trying to market Duke Williams and The Extremes was even harder. After all, how do you define their music?

Despite struggling to define Duke Williams and The Extremes’ music, there was nothing wrong with the music on Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey. Nor was their anything wrong with Duke Williams and The Extremes’ sophomore album Fantastic Fedora. It too, was a commercial failure. Fantastic Fedora, like Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey demonstrated how talented and versatile a band Duke Williams and The Extremes were. Indeed, Duke Williams and The Extremes’ debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey is something of hidden musical gem. It’s the best of the two albums Duke Williams and The Extremes released for Capricorn Records. Over the ten tracks on Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, Duke Williams and The Extremes demonstrated that they were a tight, talented and versatile band. Unlike many bands, Duke Williams and The Extremes wrote many of their own songs. While other bands featured just one vocalist, Duke Williams and The Extremes featured two talented vocalists. T.J. Tindall and Duke Williams shared vocal duties on Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey.  In many ways, Duke Williams and The Extremes had everything going for them. Despite this, Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey wasn’t a commercial success.

Although critics spotted just how talented Duke Williams and The Extremes were, Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey wasn’t a commercial success. Then in September 2012, somewhat belatedly, SpinSpinNYC rediscovered the music of Duke Williams and The Extremes. SpinSpinNYC wanted to share their love of this underrated and forgotten music. They released Nutritious Presents Duke Williams and The Extremes. That resulted in a resurgence of interest in Duke Williams and The Extremes’ music. Now forty years after the release of Duke Williams and The Extremes’ debut album Monkey In A Silk Suit Is Still A Monkey, it remains an underrated and almost forgotten reminder of a hugely talented, versatile band. Standout Tracks: Funky Broadway, I’m Ready For You, Clouds and Ain’t No Ladies On The Street Tonight.

DUKE WILLIAMS AND THE EXTREMES-MONKEY IN A SILK SUIT IS STILL A MONKEY.

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