Don Robey

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Don Deadric Robey (November 1, 1903 – June 16, 1975)[1] was an American record label executive, songwriter and record producer, who used criminal means as part of his business model.[2] As the founder of Peacock Records and the eventual owner of Duke Records, he was responsible for developing the careers of many rhythm and blues artists in the 1950s and 1960s.

He has been credited with writing or co-writing many of the songs recorded by Duke/Peacock artists, either under his real name, or under the pseudonym of Deadric Malone. However in many cases, he was merely a publisher and was not involved in the writing. Many other label owners paid little for songs and controlled the publishing, but Robey was one of the few to disguise the real writers, making it nearly impossible to assess who wrote what on Duke, Peacock, Backbeat and his other labels.[3]


Robey was born in Houston, Texas. His grandfather Franklin, the son of a plantation owner and a slave from South Carolina, settled in Houston where he practiced medicine and lived in the town's Third Ward. During the early and mid 1930s, Don Robey established himself in Houston's black business community, opening his first amusement parlor, the Sweet Dreams Cafe in 1933 in the Fifth Ward. In 1934 he opened the Lenox Club and, around that time, changed the name of the Sweet Dreams Cafe to Manhattan Club, and began to hire bands from out of state for entertainment. Together with partner Morris Merritt he opened the Harlem Grill, hiring, among other acts, Walter Barnes and his band as well as Don Albert, and in 1941 began building a relationship with Indianapolis promoter Denver Ferguson.[4] In 1945 he opened the Bronze Peacock Dinner Club in 1945. Soon he began to promote dances. The Peacock was soon featuring stars such as Ruth Brown, Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, and T-Bone Walker.

In 1947 he became manager for blues singer Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and two years later started Peacock Records, with Brown as his first artist. He found success both with Brown and with other R&B artists, the biggest success coming with Big Mama Thornton's #1 hit "Hound Dog". The label also provided Little Richard with his second recording contract, after he left RCA Camden.

In 1952, Robey merged his Peacock label with Duke Records of Memphis, and Duke-Peacock was born. Robey took over full ownership of the label the following year. Initially the company's biggest star was Johnny Ace, but after Ace's death the gap was filled by other artistes including Junior Parker, Bobby Bland, and Johnny Otis. He is credited with co-writing "Farther Up the Road" with Joe Medwick Veasey, which was initially a hit for Bobby "Blue" Bland in 1957, and later became a live staple for Eric Clapton. Robey also claimed credit for writing Bland's "I Pity the Fool", which it is suggested was in fact written by Veasey.[5]

Besides blues and R&B, Robey's label was responsible for issuing gospel music, with successful artistes such as the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, and the Swan Silvertones. Robey also started Back Beat, an R&B label that had hits with O. V. Wright and Roy Head. He sold his labels to ABC Dunhill Records in 1973.

Under the pseudonym Deadric Malone, he was given songwriting credits for many of the songs recorded on his labels, including "Turn On Your Love Light", which became popular with Van Morrison & his band Them in live sets, Bob Seger on Smokin' O.P.'s, The Grateful Dead in their live sets, and The Blues Brothers on the soundtrack for Blues Brothers 2000.

Robey died of a heart attack in June 1975.[1]

According to Jerry Leiber of the songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller, Robey was a gangster who managed his various entertainment enterprises using violence, the threat of violence, and murder.[2]


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