We lost George Duke earlier this week. Just 67 with so many good years ahead, I find his passing very sad. He was such a gift to the music world. What a keyboard player! All smiles and laughs backstage and in the dressing room. He’d make his way to the stage and piano waving and grinning to all in the crowd. But, as soon as the music started, he was a funky, focused, one of a kind master at the piano. Watch out, “Dukey” was on stage!
I was first introduced to George’s playing in my old progressive FM radio days. In one of those little FM studios with dim lights, incense, freaky artwork, beads hanging around the turntables and always GREAT speakers blasting, we’d play cool stuff on the air. In between Led Zep, Steely Dan and the Beatles we’d slip in Nick Drake, Brand X, and the Flying Burrito Brothers…and then, there was Zappa. Frank Zappa always had the best bands going. He hand picked special cats to be on his records and in his band. Sitting at the Fender Rhodes electric piano in my favorite Zappa period was Northern California’s George Duke. A boatload of talent with the tastiest licks, fills and solos that always seemed just perfect no matter what tune Frank had just called out.Duke swam in many musical seas; jazz, pop, rock, R&B, Brazilian, and progressive music. A truly inspired player who could nudge along a band and make them take whatever tune they were in the midst of playing and make it special. Cannonball Adderley to Zappa, to Milton Nascimento and even Michael Jackson, he played with all the greats. He even had a big top forty hit with bassist buddy Stanley Clarke called Sweet Baby. A bittersweet pop, R&B masterpiece from the early 1980s that yours truly probably played once too many times on the air. But, I never got tired of his energy, creativity and soul.
I’m about to order his last CD (DreamWeaver) which was just released about a month ago and deal with the fact that I’ll never see the smiling George Duke hit a stage and brighten up a room and audience ever again.
And, thank you!