Daddy B. Nice's #85 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"Salt In My Sugar Bowl"
Composed by Floyd Hamberlin
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The best song Earl Duke ever recorded has never made it onto an Earl Duke album. Ask DJ Handyman, WMPR's (Jackson, Mississippi) now senior Southern Soul deejay, who played the tune with a regularity bordering on the obsessive in the summer and fall of 2004, the same year Duke's debut CD, Down For You (which omitted the song) brought the name Earl Duke to the attention of the Southern Soul record-buying public.
The reason "Sugar Bowl" didn't make it onto the DOWN FOR YOU CD was because it hadn't been recorded at the time. Instead, the slinky, funky, lowdown-sounding, mid-tempo masterpiece would occupy the final niche in one of the strangest albums ever produced in the Southern Soul industry: Charles Wilson's 2005 sampler on his short-lived Wilson Records label, If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It.
Charles Wilson, a connoisseur of Southern Soul as perspicacious as DJ Handyman, did not really intend IF IT AIN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT as a sampler. The album was the brainchild of fellow Chicagoan and Southern Soul writer/arranger Floyd Hamberlin, Jr. The bulk of the songs were penned by Hamberlin, and the project was Hamberlin's until Wilson more or less co-opted it.
What made the record a "sampler," so to speak, was the inclusion of two "bonus tracks" also written by Hamberlin. The first was the now-legendary original of "Mississippi Boy," another roughhewn and supremely obscure blockbuster (by Will T.) that DJ Handyman, Daddy B. Nice and a few other record mavens pushed like a drug to anyone willing to listen.
The second and less-publicized "bonus" track--like "Mississippi Boy" also written and arranged by Hamberlin--was "Salt In My Sugar Bowl," performed by Earl Duke. Over one of the most seductive guitar and bass hooks to ever grace a Southern Soul song, Duke sang:
"When I came home last night,
I knew something was strange.
Oh, my little sugar bowl,
She wouldn't answer when I called her name.
I said, 'Tell me what's wrong.
Tell me what's on your mind.'
She just gave me the evil eye,
As though I just committed a crime."
Like "Mississippi Boy," for which a preacher unwilling to use his real name was brought into a Hamberlin session as a singer for a quick take and then marketed under the pseudonym "Will T.," "Salt In My Sugar Bowl" has all the rough edges, simplistic guitar work, tentative vocal work and last-minute keyboard-and-strings background of a first take.
Maybe this is why Duke was never able to publicize and capitalize upon its deep-groove authenticity, a genuineness Duke has never quite captured on any of his other, more polished and focused work.
"She was so sweet this morning,
But now she's cold as ice.
She just turned her back to me,
She didn't even say good night.
I don't know what's going on,
Why she acts so mean to me.
But I got a funny feeling
Somebody's been telling on me.
Somebody poured salt
In my sugar bowl."
The fact remains that "Salt In My Sugar Bowl" has a musical power that dwarfs any of its first-take crudeness, not to mention any of the slicker but more generic songs in Earl Duke's catalog. In that respect it's closer to true blues, late 50's/early 60's rock and roll, and transitional Southern Soul classics like Z. Z. Hill's "Down Home Blues." The chassis of the vehicle may be beaten up, but under the hood "thrums" a world-class engine.
That same bracing sense of reality can be heard on "Truck Driver," another Earl Duke song that breaks the Earl Duke mold, and a working-class anthem that could easily be remade as a contemporary country tune.
"Here I am,
I'm driving down this lonesome highway.
I get so lonely sometimes,
Driving all night and day."
Duke's delivery can be silky-smooth or carnival-barker harsh--both extremes sharing Duke's peculiar, rich-in-fats-and-sugars tenor. It's a style meant to please audiences.
On "Truck Driver," very much like "Sugar Bowl," all that explicit and implicit showmanship is buried, sublimated in the simpler style and acoustic texture given the guitar riff.
Hearing Earl Duke's sinuous, Will T.Morris Day-slick tenor in such a country-sounding song as "Truck Driver" is jarring at first, yet, on subsequent listenings the vocal sounds perfectly natural and even more original due to its singer's eccentricity. (After all, there are all kinds of truck drivers.) The irony is that more of Earl Duke's soul emanates from "Truck Driver" than his more typical chitlin' circuit themes.
What is the Earl Duke "mold?" The typical Earl Duke song focuses on all the usual stud-through-cuckold sexual issues, and includes songs like "Mr. Fix It Man," "Let Me Fix It," "Drop It Like It's Hot," "Living In The Shadows" and "Southern Soul." They're songs meant to be sung onstage, songs meant to goad and ingratiate audiences.
At its best ("Turn It Up," "Somebody's Getting It", "Living In The Shadows") the Earl Duke mold features an upper-register tenor against a programmed but well-thought-out, usually atmospheric, arrangement. At its worst ("Bounce, Bounce, Bounce," "Stay (Out Of Me & My Baby's Business"), the formula becomes transparent. But middle-ground Duke songs like "Drop It Like It's Hot," although not memorable beyond the current season's playlists, have undeniable charm.
The best Earl Duke album--and the one most of the songs noted here are from--is Somebody's Getting It.
But the best Earl Duke song to date is "Salt In My Sugar Bowl," the little tune that still hasn't made it onto an Earl Duke album.
--Daddy B. Nice
About Earl Duke
Earl Duke is the performing name of Louisiana native Earl Jenkins, Jr. Duke entered the Southern Soul music scene via New Orleans indie label Mardi Gras Records in 2004 with his debut album, Down For You. The album spawned two or three singles, notably "Mr. Fix It" and "Let Me Fix It."
Song's Transcendent Moment
"I pulled up the covers.
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Honorary "B" Side
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