After releasing less than a handful of singles and playing about the same amount of gigs in the early 1970s (including an opening spot for James Brown), the musical career of William Daron Pulliam, aka Darondo, seemed to be over before it began.
Tired of dealing with a particular unscrupulous producer, he left the music business and went on to careers as diverse as Bay Area cable-television celebrity, cruise ship entertainer and physical therapist.
This year, a small record label in Los Angeles known as Omnivore Recordings dug up a total of 16 sides made in two different sessions at the Music City Recording Studio in Oakland in 1973 and 1974.
Darondo’s released single from those sessions, “Didn’t I,” and an earlier cut, “How I Got Over,” were collectibles among soul/funk collectors ever since they surfaced. The R&B/hip-hop magazine “Waxpoetics” has profiled Darondo in recent years, so for those who love the raw emotion and energy of vintage soul and funk, this year’s Omnivore release of “Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions” is like opening a Christmas gift that’s been sitting in a closet unopened for 37 years.
Darondo, who got his nickname from a waitress who was impressed with his habit of leaving big tips (“Daron-dough”), presents a range of R&B styles, from crunching James Brown-style funk to string-laden yearning balladry. He takes his moaning tenor down low and also lets out a lamenting falsetto, sometimes in the same song.
The sessions were produced by Ray Dobard, who promised a full album on Music City Records, named after the two-branch record store chain he owned. When Darondo never saw the money from the sales of “Didn’t I,” nor the promised long player, he hired an accountant to investigate Music City for a complaint filed with the California State Labor Board. Dobard filed charges against Darondo for “threatening his life” on Aug. 24, 1974, when the singer was at his wit’s end.
Greed and deceit apparently hampered a very promising musical career, as heard through the aforementioned single and adventurous cuts like “I’m Lonely,” accentuated by weeping organ and harmonica, and the aggressive dance number “King’s Man.” You can imagine “Bronco Bill” (the only name by which Darondo ever knew his bassist for these sessions) breaking a sweat on that track, as well as Bill’s workout on “Sexy Mama,” riding high in tandem with the drumming of Danny Williams.
Williams’ talents on the trap set are just as much a reason to pick this disc up as is Darondo’s street-jive singing. Darondo’s own guitar work, either staccato strumming to give the funk a swift kick, or laying on a thick, bluesy tone, is also impressive.
“Didn’t I” is certainly a gem on a collection that shows singles were made from the best cuts at one time in the music industry. Co-penned by arranger John Tanner (as are most songs on the collection), a cascading guitar line is a comforting shoulder for Darondo’s falsetto delivery, which instantly dips down into that low tenor on ad-libs (“uh!”). Backing vocals give the single a doo-wop quality, but the smooth groove and cavernous production, replete with flutes, make it unmistakably 1970s soul.
1. I Don't Understand It
2. I'm Gonna Love You
3. Didn't I
4. Luscious Lady
5. Saving My Love
6. Gimme Some
7. Get Up Off Your Butt
8. I'm Lonely
9. Do You Really Love Me
10. Listen To My Song