Darondo – Didn’t I
Music City USA Cat#45-894 Year 1972 Upon learning of the recent loss of the great and mighty Darondo, I thought it an appropriate time to praise what I think, is one of the most beautiful and soulful songs you will ever hear in your lifetime, by this unknown master.
Born October 5, 1946, William Daron Pulliam was raised in Berkeley, California, where his mother bought him his first guitar when he was around eight. When Darondo hit his later teens, he and a bunch of high-school friends formed The Witnesses, who became the house band for a strict early night “teenage nightclub” in Albany called the Lucky 13 Club. He fell in love with the R&B and rock that was popular at the time, but it wasn’t until he picked up Kenny Burrell’s 1963 album Midnight Blue that he found his niche. “I learned guitar from listening to Kenny Burrell,” Darondo says. “Him and Wes Montgomery. I got my chords from them. Kenny Burrell was cold“.
Darondo may have trained to be an electrician in his twenties, perhaps doubting his abilities to reach a professional music career, but obviously there was a light within him that needed to rise up and out into the world…and indeed, there certainly was an incredible and important voice that needed to be heard.
His friends may have treated his determination for releasing his own record with skepticism, however he insisted “I’m going to show you suckers something. I don’t care if I have to do it myself; I’m going to put this thing out.”
Darondo’s big break came when he met experienced jazz pianist Al Tanner, who was impressed with Darondo’s style and suggested that he should go into the studio. That session produced the great “Darondo Pulliam” two-sider, I Want Your Love So Bad, flipped with the mover How I Got Over, on Leroy Smith’s Ocampo label. Although the song didn’t exactly light up the charts, it caught the attention of Ray Dobard, who owned the record label Music City.
Darondo and Tanner recorded nearly an entire LP in one session at Dobard’s studio. The session produced the fat funk Black Power anthem Let My People Go and the killer jam Legs, but it was the soul pouring “Didn’t I” that became Darondo’s 7″ release in ’72. Local radio put the song into heavy rotation, and the single went on to sell 35,000 copies. Unfortunately, no LP ever came out of that session. “We did about ten tracks,” says Darondo. “I think [Dobard] stole the records. I don’t know what happened to those songs, I don’t know what he did with it.”
But in ’74, there was a third and final single to come out from those sessions, his rarest 7″, recorded for the uber-obscure Af-Fa World imprint (Let My People Go/Legs). By this time, Darondo’s voice had matured, settling in with a refined falsetto that harkened to his years listening to and singing gospel, or what he calls, “spiritual things.” “Spiritual and rhythm and blues—it’s two different things,” he explains. “If you can sing a spiritual thing, you can mostly sing anything, because you are hitting so many more…high pretty notes.”
During his early-’70s run, Darondo opened up for James Brown, became a close acquaintance with Sly, and by all accounts, lived the high life. He’d purchased his signature Rolls Royce from a “cold” car dealer. “This Rolls had racing lights,” he recalls. “It had a bar in the back …I put all the scanners and other mess up in it, so that if the police pulled up behind you, you could hear everything they say. It was too cold. At that time, I had mink coats, diamond rings. I stayed sharp.”
While it may have seemed Darondo was living a little too well for a fledgling regional star, it is rumoured he had other sources of income, as a successful pimp, though it’s a topic he himself refused to speak about, neither confirming nor denying, though he did elliptically refer to it as his “fast life” days. “When people see something, they’re going to think one way or they’re going to think another way,” he muses. “When they saw a chauffeur driving me around in a Rolls, they said, ‘That boy is a pimp.’ I made money, but I was working. I had a job … I was a janitor. I drove up [to the hospital] in the back of my Rolls with my mink coat on … and I’d take the elevator down and change in [the janitor’s locker].”
But back to Didn’t I. It only takes one listen to this haunting, down-tempo breakup ballad to realise that there is something pretty special happening here. And to tell you the truth, I actually don’t play this very often, even in the company of no one else but me and my dog…and it’s a 45 that’s never left the house. Darondo’s wiry falsetto, his lonely guitar chords and understated, melancholic orchestration makes it all just too personal and devastatingly beautiful. I don’t know really what else to say, only that this composition deserves respect. This means if I’m going to play this record, I’m doing nothing else but sitting back with your eyes closed and my soul wide open.
Ubiquity Records put together 2006’s Let My People Go, a collection of reissued classics and unearthed demos. The album won praise in the national press, and Darondo after so many years away in another life, was once again performing live shows. “I never imagined this,” he told SF Weekly in 2007 about his return to the stage.
Darondo died of heart failure on Sunday June 9, 2013.
Be sure to read the following references from Sam Chennault and Oliver Wang.