94. Not the Same – Roby Duke


Roby Duke

The day after Christmas, 2007 Roby Duke suffered a heart attack and went home to be with the Lord. Two days before this he was sharing the stage with his musician son. Many, if not most, in the world of CCM did not know of his passing, nor did many even remember what a wonderful artist they had in their midst for three decades. He was 51 years old.

Never did Roby Duke fit the mold of pop star. He did not posses those album cover gracing good looks, he didn’t create music for “today” and he didn’t fit the Nashville scene. Even the rerelease of this great album sported a new cover without his picture and just a painting of a guitar!

Though growing up in Mississippi he wrote and performed the music of a Californian wearing an Hawaiian shirt and looking more like a Jimmy Buffet fan that a killer jazz and soul musician and singer. His greatest accomplishment may have been never sounding like he was part of the Nashville machine.

In 1980 he signed with Songbird records, a joint effort between Sparrow Records and MCA for artists with a decidedly mainstream sound or potential. Roby Duke’s music was so out-of-place in CCM, with its clear soulful and jazz influence and a cool factor that was through the roof.

The album sported a host of who’s who musicians and vocalists including Hadley Hockensmith, Marty Walsh, Harlan Rogers, Keith Edwards, Dan Huff, Alex MacDougall and Rob Watson. How can anyone go wrong with two members of Daniel Amos and nearly the totality of Koinonia? CCM sweetheart Kelly Willard also appears on a great duet.

Produced by the legendary Jonathan David Brown, the only artist even close was Bruce Hibbard who also added some songwriting support for the project. Tom Keene’s string arrangements are just flawless. The album also marked the increased involvement of the great Wally Grant, another engineer/producer that deserves a heap of praise for his amazing tenure of work. From songwriting to performance this is nearly a perfect album!

Kicking of the a simple electric keyboard and silky vocals “Love Is Here to Stay” makes a quick transition into a killer jazz groove that doesn’t let up for another ten songs. Driven by Hockensmith’s funky riff and the killer brass section the song is the definition of “put the top down” California coast jazz.

“Time to Stand” shows the strength of Duke as songwriter and vocalist. The simple arrangement is carried by Duke’s voice and Patitucci’s amazing bass line. This song oozes with cool.

“Season’s of Change” remains my personal favorite of all of Duke’s great songs here and elsewhere. Live this song was great as Duke was a very underrated guitar player and his upbringing on the bass lead to a “thumping” style acoustic guitar playing that was a real treasure live. This song lent itself to a great live “thumping guitar” experience. It was also one of the three or four songs from the album that stayed on rotation at KYMS for many years.

The ballad, “Carpenter” shows exactly what a great song in the hands (or throat) of a master can be like. The vocal inflections and willingness to let the song’s nuances deliver the feeling is shown perfectly here. There are times when his vocals are restrained in order to make the bigger moments work as well as they do in such a simple and lovely song.

For some reason the re-issue of this album replaced the title “Feel It Comin'” with “You Love Me.” It a great song and features Kelly Willard on a duet. Not sure why the change?

What should have become a praise and worship staple, “O Magnify the Lord” was just a bit too “jazzy” I guess. Lyrically it is nearly straight Scripture and the breezy Seawind like jazz arrangement is just stunning. Here we also get a taste of just how smooth and cool Harlan Roger’s keyboard work can be.

“Can’t Stop Runnin'” is a Bruce Hibbard composition that Marty McCall and Fireworks also performed. “Love is Here to Stay” is also a Hibbard tune. That funky yet smooth groove here just works perfectly.

“Rested in Your Love” is my favorite ballad from the album. Keene’s string arrangement works so nicely in support of Duke’s soulful sound.

the title track returns to the killer groove that are the hallmark of Duke’s music. The chorus just sticks with you and the backing vocals on the chorus really move the song. I still remember roller skating at Christian music night to this song. It’s disco tinged groove combined with the great jazz infusion is very good memory stimulator. The song, like the whole album creates an image of not only a time but a place in history.

The album closer, “Promised Land” is Duke’s finest vocals on the album. There is an emotional tinge that really shines through on this plaintive call of the Gospel presented in the lyrics. This, coupled with Brown’s best backing vocal production and arrangement, makes this call believable, authentic and musically realized. It has a real Bob Bennett quality to it. The slow vocal fade at the end just stays with you.

For all the criticism CCM has thrust upon it (some justified, some not) it is the lack of any real understanding of history and those that went before us a generation previous that frustrates me the most. This, I believe, stems from a Church (universal) that thinks Church History started when their Pastor graduated from Bible School. There is little to no sense of history within the halls of Christendom, so why should the music it creates reflect something different?

I should know better…

That is a such a shame!

But despite that the album remains of the best ever recorded in CCM and more than deserving of its placement in this list.

  1. shawnuel
    April 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for that last paragraph. I have been writing similar things to people today, in light of the struggles Terry Taylor is going through. As you well know, David, our industry’s past label owners did an unconscionable job giving fair royalties to artists in the CCM market, pretty much making them indentured servants. I think the industry is just as complicit in this problem as the church is.

  2. Jacob
    April 6, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I found out about this album thanks largely to someone who had uploaded the project onto YouTube, and it is a crying shame that Roby was never really appreciated (as a recording artist or producer) while alive and largely forgotten long before his sadly premature departure.

    As for “Feel It Comin'”/”You Love Me”; due to what I heard on YouTube, I had thought the two songs were one and the same (and thus was thinking the former title probably made the people responsible for the re-release somewhat nervous).

  3. John Knopp
    April 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I miss this man so much… His music has touched me since I first heard his Blue Eyed Soul cassette ( I’m old… I know). If you get the chance, find a copy of his last CD, Relaxed Fits. It’s like a best of cd… acoustic… I think some of his best songs find a new life as an acoustic arrangement.
    Thank you for this list. You are bringing back alot of good memories and creating new ones as well. Peace…

    In Him,

  4. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Roby did a terrific, impromptu (because an artist didn’t show up) main stage performance at the Christian Musician Summit a month and a half before passing. Killer version of “One Embrace”

  5. Brett C
    April 27, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    This is a great album. It’s also one of the best produced and sounding albums from this period in CCM, IMHO. Definitely deserves a place in the top 100, possibly a bit higher than 94 though. 🙂

  6. Doug D.
    December 31, 2011 at 1:04 am

    “For all the criticism CCM has thrust upon it (some justified, some not) it is the lack of any real understanding of history and those that went before us a generation previous that frustrates me the most. This, I believe, stems from a Church (universal) that thinks Church History started when their Pastor graduated from Bible School. There is little to no sense of history within the halls of Christendom, so why should the music it creates reflect something different?”

    Killer statement, my friend. Hits the proverbial nail directly on the head. I was largely unaware of this album, but I learned of Roby from his “Down to Business” album, which I regard as one of the best Christian records I’ve ever listened to. It was a number of years before I found out what the guy looked like – the Christopher Cross of Christian music. You’d never place that image with this music, but it shouldn’t matter. The guy put out some incredibly amazing tunes, and I’ll be listening to them forever. Thanks again for paying homage to some of the long, lost greats.

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