There aren’t may artists who’ve worked with such an eclectic range of artists as George Duke. Among the artists George Duke has worked with are Frank Zappa, Anita Baker Flora Purim, right through to Jean Luc-Ponty, Cannonball Adderley, Billy Cobham and George Clinton. Whether it was jazz, rock, soul, disco, R&B or funk, George was the sideman go-to-guy. Singers, producers and musicians had his phone number and would regularly give George a call. It’s now wonder. After all how many musicians were true multi-instrumentalists like George Duke. Piano, keyboards, trombone, contrabass and synths, George could play them. He was also in demand as a producer. Then there’s George’s solo career.

By 1978, George was thirty-two, and already had recorded thirteen solo albums since his 1966 debut George Duke Presented By The Jazz Workshop. He’d signed to Epic and released his two album in 1977, From Me To You and Reach For It. 1978 saw George begin work on album number fourteen, Don’t Let Go, which was recently rereleased by WEA Japan. Joining George were a tight, funky, all-star band, who helped make Don’t Let Go one of George Duke’s most successful albums.

For Don’t Let Go, George wrote eight of the eleven tracks and cowrote two other tracks. He penned We Give Our Love with Leon Ndugu Chancier, Byron Miller and Charles Johnson. Leon Ndugu Chancier and George cowrote Yeah We Going. Pete Escovedo of Azteca and Sheila Escovedo, who later reinvented herself as Sheila E and worked with Prince cowrote Percussion Interlude. Recording of the eleven tracks would take place at Paramount Recording Studios, Los Angeles.

At Paramount Recording Studios, Los Angeles, George was joined for the recording of Don’t Let Go by some of the hottest musicians in town. The rhythm section alone, contained drummer Leon Ndugu Chancier, bassist Byron Miller and guitarists Charles Johnson and Wah Wah Watson. Carol Shive played violin and Sheila Escovedo congas and percussion. Backing vocals came courtesy of Pattie Brooks and Petsye Powell, while Josie James and Napoleon M. Brock add lead vocals. Once Don’t Let Go was recorded, George was about to enjoy one of his most successful albums.

On the release of Don’t Let Go in 1978, it reached number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200, number five in the US R&B Charts and number seven in the US Top Jazz Albums Charts. Things got even better when the lead single Dukey Stick Pt. 1 reached number four in the US R&B Charts. Then Movin’ On reached number sixty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Don’t Let Go had proved to be one of George Duke’s most successful albums. You’ll realize why, when I tell you about the music on Don’t Let Go.

Opening George Duke’s fourteenth solo studio album Don’t Let Go, is We Give Our Love. A dramatic crash of thunder gives way to a snake like bass, frenzied percussion, keyboards and guitars. Then urgent harmonies enter, before George unleashes a keyboard solo. At breakneck speed, his keyboards weave their way across the arrangement. Percussion and harmonies reflect the sense of urgency and drama, as jazz, funk and Latin music unite. Later, a searing, sizzling rocky guitar from Wah Wah Watson and pounding bass line join the fun, playing their part in grabbing your attention. George does this dramatically, urgently and with aplomb.

Morning Sun sees a change in style, but no drop in tempo. George delivers a heartfelt vocal. It veers between tender, sassy and powerful, sung call and response style with backing vocalists. Meanwhile, crystalline, wah wah guitars dance along the arrangement while the rhythm section and keyboards drive the arrangement along. Harmonies join George, adding a joyful sound, before a ballsy vocal takes charge. It’s fiery, sassy and confident and adds the finishing touch to this explosive slice of musical sunshine.

Percussion Interlude is a two minute track where percussion and congas courtesy of Sheila Escovedo join chanted vocals. TImbales are added by drummer Leon Ndugu Chancier. The result is a track, with an authentic real Afro-Cuban sound.

It’s almost ironic that Dukey Stick, which George delivers with his tongue placed firmly in cheek, gave him one of his most successful singles. His playful, sassy vocal is delivered against an arrangement which is uber funky. A pounding, funky bass, hissing hi-hats and equally funky guitars, are joined by squelchy synths and sweet, bubblegum harmonies. The interplay between George and the harmonies playful, good natured and littered with innuendo. Although something of a novelty track, hooks and innuendo aplenty are in-store for the listener.

Starting Again sees George get back to his usual style. He delivers a tender, hopeful vocal against an understated backdrop. Just the rhythm section, percussion and melodic keyboards accompany him, as the arrangement builds. The taking their lead from George’s emotive soaring vocal, the arrangement grows. This signals the arrival of impassioned, soulful harmonies. By now, George’s vocal is needy, pleading and filled with hurt, resulting in one of the highlights of Don’t Let Go.

The tempo rises on Yeah We Going, which George and Leon Ndugu Chancier cowrote. Here, funk, jazz-funk, soul and R&B combine. George and backing vocalists soulfully and joyfully scat, as the rhythm section, keyboards and percussion provide a pounding, pulsating and action-packed backdrop. Funk later becomes jazz-funk, with the keyboards taking charge. Never does George miss a beat. Neither does he let the tempo drop. He encourages, even cajoles, his band of multitalented musicians to keep this majestic musical juggernaut en route to its destination.

Josie James takes charge of the lead vocal on The Way I Feel. The tempo drop, with the arrangement unfolding in roles. Her ethereal vocal soars elegantly above the jazzy backdrop provided by rhythm section and keyboards. Then as cascading harmonies enter, you sense things are about to change. They do, a Latin infused arrangement unfolds. Quickly, the tempo increases and the arrangement heads in the direction of jazz funk. Just as quickly, things slow way down, the arrangement meandering along Josie and punchy, then soaring, cascading harmonies combining. From there, this musical roller coaster gathers speed, taking you on a musical journey via jazz, jazz-funk, Latin and R&B.

Movin’ On has a jaunty, uptempo introduction. Just keyboards, rolls of drums and George’s vocal combine. Like other tracks, George delivers a curveball. His vocal becomes fiery, sassy and grizzled. Behind him, just the rhythm section, keyboards and harmonies combine. Soon, he’s unleashing a soaring, powerful with harmonies augmenting his lead. When Josie takes charge of the lead vocal, her vocal is a mixture of power, passion and control. It’s as this spurs the band and backing vocalists on to even greater heights. She takes the song to another level. A good song becoming a very good song, and another of Don’t Let Go’s best tracks.

Napoleon Murphy Brock takes over the lead vocal on the title-track Don’t Let Go. It’s  another uptempo track, that unfolds at breakneck speed. Both Napoleon and George’s vocal are delivered rapidly. It’s like a musical duel. The band manage to keep up. They seem to rise to, and enjoy the challenge. George’s jazz-drenched keyboards are at heart of the action. Indeed, this is George Duke at his best. He gives a virtuoso performance, with the rhythm section for company. Later, George  and Napoleon continue they’re musical duel, but it’s too close to call and is declared a draw.

Preface is just a ninety-second track that you wish was longer. Just keyboards, rhythm section and harmonies produce a dramatic, melancholy and pensive sounding track. It gives way to The Future, which closes Don’t Let Go. Like the preceding track, it has melancholy sound, that meanders blissfully along. Keyboards, rhythm section and crystalline guitars mix jazz and jazz funk. One last time, George and his all-star band demonstrate their talents, producing a wistful, space-age sounding track. It’s the perfect way to close Don’t Let Go.

So, Don’t Let Go was George Duke’s fourteenth solo album in a twelve year period. Given how prolific an artist George was during this time, not just as a solo artist, but  as a sideman, the quality you’d expect from George Duke is there. It’s as if George set high standards, and only his best music was released. On Don’t Let Go, he fused everything from jazz, R&B, soul, funk, Afro-Cuban, Latin and his trademark jazz-funk. Much of Don’t Let Go is innovative and bold. Not for George Duke churning out album after album of similar music. Instead he was a musical pioneer, a leader not a follower. Listening to Don’t Let Go, you realize how brave, bold and innovative George Duke’s music was. He wasn’t afraid to fuse musical genres and influences. Neither was he afraid to take advantage of advances in technology. Indeed, George embraced synths and used them properly, utilizing their potential, while producing music that has aged well. With a cast of multitalented band and guest vocalists, Don’t Let Go proved to be one of George Duke’s most successful album. Now Don’t Let Go was recently rereleased by WEA Japan. My advice to anyone buying Don’t Let Go, is Don’t Let Go of what is one of George Duke’s most innovative, genre-sprawling albums. Standout Tracks: We Give Our Love. The Way I Feel, Preface and The Future.


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