Deadric Malone is the pseudonym of label owner, songwriter, and producer Don Robey, whose name should be on any serious list of early pop/R&B pioneers. His Duke/Peacock family of labels boasted an impressive roster: Johnny Ace, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Big Mama Thornton, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the Dixie Hummingbirds, O.V. Wright, Carl Carlton, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Inez Andrews, Memphis Slim, Little Junior Parker, Joe Hinton, and more. Robey bought and published many songs that would become smash hits for his artists. Although most of these songs were composed by other songwriters, those he owned got tagged as being co-written by him under the name Deadric Malone, including "Think," "Book of Love," "I Pity the Fool," "Trying to Make It Over," "Turn on Your Love Light," and many, many more.
Born November 1, 1903, in Houston, TX, Robey's entrepreneurial spirit was nurtured while growing up around the elite of Houston's black business community. Dropping out of high school, he tried his hand at being a professional gambler. After marriage and having a son, he opened a taxicab business. Combining his passion for music with his business sense, Robey became an event promoter, holding ballroom dances around the Houston area. During the late '30s, Robey left Houston for a few years for Los Angeles, opening the Harlem Grill night club. After returning to Houston in the mid-'40s, he opened the Bronze Peacock Dinner Club spotlighting top jazz talent.
Later Robey opened a record store and in 1947 he became a talent manager signing blues singer/guitarist Clarence Gatemouth Brown. In 1949, after a bad experience with Palladium Records, Robey decided to start a record label and asked Evelyn Johnson to do some research. Based on her work, Robey decided to start Peacock Records and recorded Brown as his first artist. The double-sided hit "Mary Is Fine" (number eight R&B) backed with "My Time Is Expensive" (number nine R&B) were hits during late 1949. More hits followed: Marie Adams "I'm Gonna Play the Honky Tonks" (number three R&B, summer 1952), Floyd Dixon's "Sad Journey Blues" (number eight R&B, late 1950), and Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton's "Hound Dog" (number one R&B for seven weeks, early 1953). Elvis Presley's 1956 triple-platinum cover of "Hound Dog" parked at number one R&B for six weeks and number one pop for a whopping 11 weeks.
In 1952, Robey merged his Peacock label with Dave Mattis' Duke Records of Memphis, TN, and Duke-Peacock was born. Robey took over full ownership of the label in 1953. Signed to Duke were legendary blues singer Johnny Ace and Roscoe Gordon. Ace had three number one R&B hits: "My Song" held the top spot for nine weeks during the fall of 1952; "The Clock" was number one for five weeks in summer 1953; and "Pledging My Love" was number one for ten weeks. The rest of Ace's singles were Top Ten R&B hits: "Cross My Heart" (number three), "Saving My Love for You" (number two), "Please Forgive Me" (number six), "Never Let Me Go" (number nine), and "Anymore" -- included on the film soundtrack of the 1997 Samuel L. Jackson film "Eve's Bayou" (number seven). The singer's legend only increased when he was fatally shot during a backstage game of Russian roulette at Houston's City Auditorium, dying the following day on December 25, 1954.
Another early Duke-Peacock star was Little Junior Parker. A cousin of Al Green and a bandmate of Howlin Wolf, the singer/harmonica player first hit the charts with "Feelin' Good" by Little Junior's Blue Flames on Sun Records, number five R&B, fall 1953. His first Duke hit was "Next Time You See Me," which was number seven R&B in spring 1957 and more followed: "Driving Wheel" (number five R&B), the double sided hit "In the Dark" (number seven R&B) b/w "How Long Can This Go On," and "Annie Get Your Yo Yo" (number six R&B).
Charting 45 singles on the R&B charts and 33 on the pop charts, Duke-Peacock's all-around biggest R&B star was Bobby "Blue" Bland. A bandmate of Ace, Gordon, and Parker in the Beale Streeters and a Duke artist before the merger, Bland first charted with "Farther Up the Road," which was a number one R&B hit in fall 1957. Bland's batch of Duke-Peacock hits also includes: "I'll Take Care of You" written by Brook Benton (number two R&B, late 1959), "I Pity the Fool" (number one R&B, early 1961), "Don't Cry No More" (number two R&B, summer 1961), "Turn on Your Love Light" (number two R&B, late 1961), "Stormy Monday Blues" (number five R&B, fall 1962), the double-sided hit "That's the Way Love Is" (number one R&B) b/w "Call On Me" (number six R&B, early 1963), and "These Hands (Small but Mighty)" (number four R&B, fall 1965), among many others. In '80s, Bland began recording for Malaco, releasing several albums including 1998's "Memphis Monday Morning."
No record label can have hits without talented personnel in the background. Robey's staff included promotion/sales reps Dave Clark and Irving Marcus, as well as producer/arrangers Joe Scott, Johnny Otis, and Bill Harvey. Evelyn Johnson ran Robey's Buffalo Booking Agency. The club and the label were located at 2612 Erastus St.
Robey began issuing gospel on Peacock; in fact, he issued more gospel music than blues or R&B. He assembled an amazingly rich and enduring roster of gospel talent: The Dixie Hummingbirds, the Sensational Nightingales, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Rev. Cleophus Robinson, Christland Singers (with original Soul Stirrers lead singer R.H. Harris), O'Neal Twins, the Highway QCs, Rev. W. Leo Daniels, Rev. Julius Cheeks, Swan Silvertones, Harmonizing Four, Willie Banks and the Messengers, Mildred Clark, Tessie Hill, Charles Fold and the Gospel Messengers, Sunset Travelers, and others. The Hummingbirds, who were still performing in the 1990s, made the R&B charts with "Loves Me Like a Rock." That same year, the group backed Paul Simon on his gold number two pop remake of the tune in late summer 1973. Robey also released gospel on his Song Bird label which was formed in late 1963.
In 1957, Robey started Back Beat, an R&B label having hits with O.V. Wright: "You Gonna Make Me Cry" (number six R&B, summer 1965) and "Eight Men, Four Women" (number four R&B, spring 1967); Joe Hinton: "You Know It Aint Right" (summer 1963), "Funny" (summer 1964), and "I Want a Little Girl" (early 1965); and Texas rock-country singer/guitarist Roy Head and the Traits: "Treat Her Right" (number two R&B, number two pop for two weeks, fall 1965). Also signed to Back Beat was the rock group the Rob Roys, which included future hit composer/producer Charles Fox ("Happy Days").
Carl Carlton, whose two biggest hits were the 1981 million-seller "She's a Bad Mama Jama" (number two R&B for eight weeks) and "Everlasting Love" (number 11 R&B, number six pop, fall 1974) got his first big break through Don Robey. Carlton, who started recording for Lando Records in his teens as Little Carl Carlton in 1964 in his native Detroit, was signed to Back Beat after the label picked up the Lando single "Competition Aint Nothin'." Carlton had hits in the '80s with a cover of the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Loving" and "Private Property."
While industry vets like Gus Redmond and Rick Roberts can tell of Robey's notorious ways, an important fact should not be overlooked. He was one of the first African-Americans to own a highly successful record label in the U.S., predating Motown's Berry Gordy by more than a decade.The music business can be extremely rough and Robey proved that he could be as rough as any of his peers.
Robey sold Duke-Peacock to ABC-Dunhill Records on May 23, 1973. He was retained as a consultant with ABC, which reissued the Duke-Peacock catalog. During the '80s, MCA Records purchased the ABC Records catalog including Robey's legacy.
On June 16, 1975, Don Robey died in his native Houston.