Dyke and the Blazers: the Pioneers of Funk Music



Dyke and the Blazers were an R&B and funk group formed in 1965. One of their first singles “Funky Broadway” became a Top 20 R&B hit and broke into the Hot 100 as well in 1967. The Blazers subsequently issued other singles, and all of them having the characteristic James Brown-ish riffs – “Funky Walk,” “We Got More Soul,” “Let Woman Be A Woman,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Uuh,” and “Runaway People,” many of them became minor hits. In 1971, founder Dyke Christian was shot to death in 1971, ultimate putting the end to the Blazers.

The formation of the Dyke and the Blazers

Dyke and the Blazers are one of the most influential funk groups. In fact, they are credited as probably the first act other than James Brown to play funk music. They were often seen as the younger version of Brown’s act the JB’s

The Blazers were borne out of an unfortunate incident. Arlester “Dyke” Christian (born on June 13, 1943) who originated from Brooklyn, New York, played bass for Carl LaRue and his Crew. In 1964, band came to Phoenix, Arizona as a invitation to provide backup music for the O’Jays. But by the following year, when the O’Jays couldn’t afford to give them the means to bring LaRue back to New York, half of LaRue went back to their hometown, while the other half (including Christian) remained stranded in Phoenix. And so they stayed there, and Christian and his group formed a band together with the Phoenix’s local musicians and called themselves the Blazers. Taking their riffs from their James Brown and Brown and the JB’s, in 1967 they eventually came up with a track called “Funky Broadway,” echoing Christian’s memories of his hometown in Buffalo, New York.

“Funky Broadway” — the revolutionary funk record

“Funky Broadway” was released on Original Sound label (as was their prior single “So Sharp”). It went to #17 on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and made it also to the Hot 100 for the first time at #65. The record was distinctive in that it was the first song to mention the word “funky,” and for that some radio stations banned the song as being offensive. Others, such as future funk star Rick James hailed the song as being “revolutionary.”

The Blazers’ second reincarnation

The Blazers had begun touring and having the life on the road. However, the stress of playing took its toll on the band, and culminated at the Apollo Theater where the Blazers had been playing a series of gigs. Afterwards, they split up sometime in the summer of 1967. Which is rather funny enough — shortly after the Blazers disbanded, R&B and soul singer Wilson Pickett turned “Funky Broadway” into a top 10 pop and R&B hit.

Christian returned to Buffalo and formed a new Blazers band. They were consisted of newer members — Willie Earl (who was a previous drummer of Carl LaRue’s band), second drummer Wardell “Baby Wayne” Peterson, bassist Otis Tolliver, keyboardist Ray Byrd, and trumpetist Maurice “Little Mo” Jones. But as like the first reincarnation of the Dyke and the Blazers, this second one also quickly fizzled by 1968 or 1969.

The band’s third (and final) reincarnation

Christian attempted to revitalize the Blazers legacy once more by assembling a group of new musicians, which he called Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. The group composed of drummer James Gadson, guitarists Al McKay and Roland Bautista, and bassists James Smith and Melvin Dunlap. These musicians hailed from Los Angeles; they and Christian usually engaged in lengthy jam sessions that produced singles whose lengths were pared down to fit into the 45 rpm vinyl format.

With this lineup, Dyke Christian achieved a few more hits with “We Got More Soul” (#35 pop, #7 R&B, 1969) and “Let a Woman Be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man” (#36 pop, #4 R&B, 1970). They continued to chart but with only more minor hits.

Dyke Christian’s death and the band’s legacy

Tragically, Christian was fatally shot on a street in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 13, 1971, and from this tragedy the Blazers ultimately dissolved. His body was brought back home to Buffalo for the burial. Christian was only 27 years old at the time of his death.

While the Blazers somewhat prematurely ended, their legacy remains alive and will never be forgotten. The band was inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, and their music (“Let a Woman..” in particular) has been periodically sampled by many hip hop artists

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