Wednesday, Jan 18 2006 | 16:48

A mystery to most, Darondo records are high on the wants-lists of many collectors. He is spoken about in hushed-tones by other Bay Area musicians. Back in the day he was seen cruising around town in a white Rolls Royce (with a “Darondo” license plate). He opened-up for James Brown and lived a colorful lifestyle hanging with folks like the notorious Fillmore Slim. Take a listen to these tracks, released for the first time together on an album, and you may agree that he could have been the next Al Green or Sly Stone. But about 25 years ago Darondo disappeared.

Releasing three singles in the early 1970s (as Darondo, Darondo Pulliam, or the miss-spelled Dorando) he mixed low-rider soul with blues and r’n’b. He delivered in a variety of styles from the socially-charged “Let My People Go” to the sexually-driven funk of “Legs”. All three singles were recorded in the Bay Area, and both sides of each of the singles are fantastic productions.

“You can hear a little bit of everything,” says Darondo about his music style. “There’s a little jazz and a little soul. They say if you Black you supposed to have soul. I got Latin flavor in me so there’s some Latin in it. Definitely got the Blues in it. I sound kinda’ country but I grew up in the Bay Area,” he adds.

Growing up in Berkeley, California Darondo got his first gig at the age of 16 years. He played in a band at the Lucky 13 teen club, one town over in Albany. He credits Kenny Burrell as his main early influence on guitar. “That’s basically who I learned the guitar from. I used to put his albums on and play his chords.”

Hooking up with Bay Area legends Al Tanner (producer) and Eddie Foster (guitarist) took his musical career up a notch. “I met up with Al Tanner through Eddie Foster who was a mutual friend of ours. We used to always get together at someone’s house and play chess,” reminisces Darondo, laughing. “We just sat around all the time either playing chess or playing music and that was it. Chess just kept our minds sharp.” Foster had already worked with Okampo Records boss Leroy Smith on a few releases before introducing him to Darondo to record “How I Got Over” and “I Want Your Love” for a single. Local station KSOL picked-up on the release. “They gave me my first break and every record I punched up I sold,” says Darondo.

He remembers a big string section assembled in the room to record “Didn’t I” and “Let My People Go”. At that session he also recorded versions of standards like “Luscious Lady”, “I Don’t Understand It”, and “Sayonara” which were never released. While recording at the Music City studios, producer, label owner, and promoter Ray Dobard brought him through the Berkeley Community Theatre where he opened up for James Brown, and also had him play at the famous Bimbos 365 club in San Francisco. Darondo caught the ears of Johnny Morris of the legendary Bay Area soul station KDIA and Chuck Johnson at Soul Beat.

But after the release of his three 45s Darondo stopped recording. “It was mostly me, just having a good time with a real good hobby,” he says. “It wasn’t about money but about having fun. Something I just liked to do. Maybe your dream is to be a James Brown or Frank Sinatra but those were just mostly dreams to me. I thought about it, but this was just a hobby for me. I liked competing musically with my friends. That was fun.”

Outside of the music business Darondo was living life to the full. “Everybody was driving Mercedes Benz’s and Cadillacs. So I was out in Modesto and the folks at the Godfathers Club got me a Rolls Royce. If I drive a car I need to like it and this car was it. You could kick it in style, because that car had a lot of strength and was a fun car to be in. I was up in Reno once when Frank Sinatra saw the car and gave me a nod. Boy, I knew it was cold when Frank gave it the approval. The folks up at the hotel there gave me a permanent spot to park in too.” But eventually the good life caught up with Darondo who realized he needed to take a break. “In order to get yourself together you had to get away from all the fastness. I was a fast young man,” he says. Unwilling to divulge or unable to really remember those times, he reminisces more freely about leaving them behind. “In the early 1970s I started traveling. The ABC Islands, Caracas, Venezuela, Trinidad, Grenada, St Thomas, San Juan Puerto Rico, Acapulco, and Mexico. I even went out to London and Paris for six months,” he remembers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was back in the Bay Area and starred in local Cable TV shows. These included “Darondo’s Penthouse After Dark” which aired music videos with comedy skits plus a childrens show called “Tapper the Rabbit”. “Later in the 1980s I went out to the Fiji Islands where I met my wife. I love traveling to places where they be cutting up. Just good people out there.”

After returning to the Bay Area, Darondo went back to school. “I went to Merritt College for a little while but decided to get physical therapy training at John Muir Medical Center instead. I used to incorporate the music with the therapy,” he says. “I’m very versatile so I’d sing everything to them; pop, country and western, jazz, etc. I worked with head trauma cases, amputees and folks like that. I’d bring my guitar in and watch miracles happen. Once, I told a patient of mine, who was in some serious shape, that she’s going to be dancing by Halloween if she just listen to me and do what I say during therapy. The director and I fought about what I told her, but three months down the road she got up out of her wheelchair, did her little dance and lip-synched a Madonna tune, and then walked back over to her chair and sat down. That thrilled me so much and put so much love in my heart.”

Darondo now lives in Northern California with his wife and family and is delighted to hear his music is getting a second wind courtesy of DJs and collectors like the UK-based Gilles Peterson who recently picked “Didn’t I” for his “Digs America” compilation. Bay Area music fanatic Justin Torres helped us track Darondo down. “I had called around looking for a Darondo Pulliam for the past two years. Initially I called every D. Pulliam in the Bay Area. I then tried every W. Pulliam after I saw the credit on the “Legs” 45,” says Torres. “I got nothing. No one knew him, and I wasn’t the only one looking.” After much investigation with fellow-researcher Dave Gabriner and a conversation with Willie Hoskins (owner of Bay Area Funk label Boola Boola) Torres got a lead on another telephone number. “I tried and left another message,” he says. “Two days later while watching a movie and eating my lunch the telephone rings … Hey man is this Justin Torres? Maaaan, this is Double D Darondo! Heard you been looking for me …”

Tracking artists is always easier when you have a real name, spelled properly in-full to work with. This was not the case with Darondo, who explains how he ended up his performance name, “I always dressed kind of sharp. Folks would say ‘Daron got that dough … Daron Do … that’s how I got the name. I used to get my suits tailor made, one of a kind, like my rings. A player can’t have the same ring as someone else. Got my rings specially made with diamonds and stones. Used to dress in those London type clothes too. Even had one of those Sherlock Holmes hats. I used to always wear a tuxedo with a top hat. I was dressed!”

The six tracks from the three original singles are featured here, along with three previously unreleased songs that were recently discovered on a demo reel. The demo reel was sitting in a box of VHS copies of his cable TV shows which we had requested to use for images in the CD booklet. Recorded in the early 1970s, tracks from the demo reel were taken into a San Francisco studio in the summer of 2005 for enhancement. Darondo over-dubbed missing background vocals and guitar parts alongside up and coming San Francisco soul man Bing Ji Ling. Darondo warmed up quickly, he hasn’t lost his touch. After the session Darondo confessed that he was inspired to start playing again…so there is hope for a full-blown Darondo revival! (Andrew Jervis, Ubiquity Records)


01. Let My People Go
02. Legs
03. Didn’t I
04. I Want Your Love So Bad
05. How I Got Over
06. My Momma and My Poppa
07. Sure Know How To Love Me
08. Listen To My Song
09. True

The album DarondoLet My People Go” (Luv N’ Haight) is going to be released January 20, 2006.

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