The Original Funky Broadway
August 27, 2020
Arlester Christian (June 13, 1943 – March 13, 1971), nicknamed "Dyke", was born in Buffalo, New York. In 1960, he started playing bass in a Buffalo band, Carl LaRue and his Crew, which played local bars and clubs and released a single, "Please Don't Drive Me Away", on the KKC label in about 1963. In 1964, LaRue was invited by Phoenix, Arizona disc jockey Eddie O'Jay to take his band to that city, to provide the backing for the vocal group that he managed there, The O'Jays.
By 1965, however, the O'Jays and their manager had moved elsewhere, and LaRue's band fell apart. LaRue returned to Buffalo, but Christian and two other members of the band, guitarist Alvester "Pig" Jacobs and saxophonist J.V. Hunt, had no means of traveling and stayed in Phoenix. They joined forces with an existing Phoenix group, The Three Blazers, and, became known as "Dyke and the Blazers."
Playing in local clubs, the group picked up on the rhythms, bass and organ innovations of James Brown's band, and through improvisation developed a riff-based song that became "Funky Broadway", the lyrics reflecting singer Dyke's memories of Broadway in Buffalo as well as Broadway Road in Phoenix.
In summer 1966, Art Barrett heard the band and became their manager. He had them record “Funky Broadway” the Audio Recorders Studio in Phoenix. Barrett released the record on his own Artco label. It became popular locally, and was reissued by Art Laboe's Original Sound label in Los Angeles.
The record steadily climbed the Billboard R&B chart early in 1967, reaching no. 17 in a 24-week stay on the chart, and also reached no. 65 on the pop chart. The record was the first to use the word "funky" in its title, and for that reason was banned by some radio stations as offensive. Its music was described by Rick James as "revolutionary", and Dyke developed a dance routine to go with it. The band added bass player Alvin Battle, freeing Dyke to concentrate on vocals, and toured widely on the back of its success. However, in the summer of 1967, the stresses of playing a series of engagements at the Apollo Theater in Harlem caused the band to split up, shortly before Wilson Pickett had a bigger hit with his own cover version of "Funky Broadway.” Pickett's recording reached no. 1 on the R&B chart and no. 8 on the pop chart.
After 1968, Christian made Dyke and the Blazers records with a variety of Los Angeles studio musicians later known as the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, which included drummer James Gadson, who also performed with Charles Wright and Bill Withers, guitarists Al McKay and Roland Bautista, who later became members of Earth, Wind & Fire. The resulting records, including "We Got More Soul" (no. 7 R&B, no. 35 pop) and "Let A Woman Be A Woman, Let A Man Be A Man" (no. 4 R&B, no. 36 pop), were among their biggest hits. Most of the singles resulted from lengthy jam sessions that were edited down to fit the format of 45 rpm records. Dyke and the Blazers continued to have less sizable hits into 1970, with a style described by critic Richie Unterberger as "gut-bucket funk... with scratchy guitar riffs, greasy organ, hoarse vocals, and jazzy horns.”