Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Robbie Steals Away A Hot Rod Heart

The 1980 hit ‘Steal Away’ could have been right out of the Doobie Brothers songbook. But it was very much the talents of singer/songwriter Robbie Dupree behind the finely crafted pop song. But it was not only the musical style, full of smooth slick chorus harmonies, that evoked the Doobie Brothers sound, but Dupree’s vocal cadence bore all the hallmarks of one Michael McDonald. Considering the Doobie Brothers classic ‘What A Fool Believes’ had been a worldwide #1 just a year earlier, ‘Steal Away’ was destined to steal a high chart position.

Born Robert Dupuis in Brooklyn, Robbie Dupree began his career in music singing in various a cappella groups on street corners. This was followed by a period in the late 60s/early 70s during which he played in a number of blues and R&B groups in and around New York’s Greenwich Village. One of the group’s he played in, called New World Rising, also featured a young guitarist by the name of Nile Rodgers (see earlier Chic post), who would reunite with Dupree many years later on record. A talented vocalist in his own right, Dupree soon turned his hand to developing his song writing craft. Leaving the hustle and bustle of New York City, Dupree relocated to the quieter surrounds of Woodstock in 1972, finding it a conducive environment to work in. He became a key figure in the local music scene, both as writer and performer in bands such as The Striders, and in 1976 his song ‘When You’re Down’ won the American Songwriting Festival Award for ‘Best R&B Song’. But by the late 70s Dupree set his sights on taking his songs to a wider, and more commercially rewarding audience.

Settling in Los Angeles in 1978, Dupree met up with former Woodstock cohorts Rick Chudacoff and Peter Bunetta, who had formed a well respected production team. With a decade of quality songs in his kit back, Dupree was signed to Elektra Records soon after. Chudacoff and Bunetta produced his eponymous debut album which was released in 1980. The lead single was the brilliant ‘Steal Away’ was an instant hit, rocketing to #6 in the U.S. (OZ#24) by mid year. The follow up single ‘Hot Rod Hearts’ (US#15/OZ#58) followed the same radio friendly formula, that music buyers lapped up in droves. Call it ‘blue eyed soul’ if you like, ala Hall & Oates, but whatever the label it worked - for a time. With a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist behind him, it seemed that Robbie Dupree was set to be at the top of the charts for some time.

Then came the tough job of producing a second album, worthy of all the hype that surrounded the first. ‘Street Corner Heroes’ was released in 1981 and once again featured a strong track listing of finely crafted, but also at times very evocative pop songs. This was a song writer possibly at the peak of his powers, but sadly the album made little impact on the charts (US#169), and featured only one minor hit in ‘Brooklyn Girls’ (US#54).

Following the relative disappointment of his second album ‘Street Corner Heroes’ and contractual complications with Elektra, Dupree turned his back on the pop music business for almost ten years, re-emerging in 1989 with his third album ‘Carried Away’, now on a new contract with Capitol Records. But the sound that had been so well received at the start of the decade, was now largely shunned by the market at the close of the 80s. Dupree then signed on with the Japanese Polystar label, recording the album ‘Walking On Water’ in 1993, featuring none other than the aforementioned Nile Rodgers as a guest guitarist. The title track and ‘Goodbye To L.A.’ showed Dupree had lost none of his skill in writing quality material, but aside from exploring the lower reaches of the adult contemporary charts in the U.S., Dupree’s days of mainstream chart success were behind him.

1995’s ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ saw Dupree start what would prove a long term creative partnership with keyboardist David Sancious, with whom he would record as a duo in 2003. 1997 saw the release of the limited edition EP ‘Vintage’ which featured several previously unreleased tracks from Dupree’s early career. Dupree also branched into a production role for other artists during this period, working with Artie Traum and Bill LaBounty. Touring remained on the agenda also, leading to the 1998 double live album ‘Live All Night Long’. Dupree’s latest offering to his loyal fans is 2008’s ‘Time And Tide’.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out what someone turned his hit "Hot Rod Hearts" into... www.hotrodhearts.net hahahaha. Good stuff.