Duffy Power — “Mary Open the Door”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 12, 2022


636) Duffy Power — “Mary Open the Door”

This stunning number from the British blues legend “is a fine soulful blues-rock Power original” (Richie Unterberger, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/duffys-nucleus-mn0001805601), unlike pretty much anything he ever recorded. Diana Donald comments on YouTube that:

Duffy and I wrote this together, not that I got credit for it! Always suspected it was about me as it was my middle name and he used to say this a lot! Love it. . . . He was way ahead of his time, before Clapton, Mayell et al and with his problems I think it was just the wrong time which was a shame.


As to Duffy, Dik de Heer tells us that:

Duffy Power was one of several British vocalists . . . signed to the Larry Parnes stable. When Parnes, Britain’s first rock impresario, visited a Saturday morning teenage show . . . to hear a band early in 1959, he also saw the young Ray Howard win a jive competition. Parnes was so impressed when he heard him sing that he signed him up. He was 17 . . . . wearing leopard skin jackets and gold lame waistcoats . . . . Duffy made no headway as a recording artist although his stage performances were stunning. It was while with Parnes that he met Billy Fury and Dickie Pride and the three became firm friends . . . . Convinced he was never going to make it under Parnes’ management, Duffy parted company with him in late 1961, but things did not go well. . . . “My gigs as a rock’n’roll singer . . . were getting weaker. I was going out in blue and gold lame suits, but the girls’ screams were dying out. . . . [T]he money wasn’t coming in . . . .” One night he tried to commit suicide by gassing himself, but was rescued by a chance call from a friend, who took him to a blues club to recover and there, for the first time, he discovered the music he really wanted to play.

He teamed up with the newly formed Graham Bond Quartet featuring Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce (both later members of Cream) and John McLaughlin. . . . [H]e later supplemented his solo career by joining Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. . . . [But] by 1968 Duffy was out of work and broke again. Only this time his troubles were aggravated by drug taking and he succumbed to mental illness. For a time he became a recluse, writing songs alone in his flat . . . .


Colin Harper adds that:

Duffy was born Ray Howard in . . . London . . . . Coming into music through skiffle and dance competitions, he was discovered by Parnes . . . and renamed. The six singles he then recorded on the Fontana label between 1959 and 1961 were typical ersatz American numbers of the era. Duffy left Parnes . . . and during his career’s second phase on Parlophone recorded five superb singles between 1963 and 1964, revealing a hugely versatile, emotive voice, on material (some self-written) finally worthy of it.

In parallel with his mainstream pop career, Duffy had become consumed with the blues. Alexis Korner was his early mentor. Duffy was by then suffering from mental health problems. Ian Anderson, now editor of Folk Roots magazine, recalls seeing Duffy give extraordinarily intense mid-60s performances at the London folk cellar Les Cousins where he appeared to be a man “with the Devil in hot pursuit”.

Temporarily without a record contract in 1965, Duffy threw himself into songwriting and blues-based performing. After fronting an LP by Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Sky High (1965), he began recording a series of remarkable publishing demos for Marquis Music, with a world-class pool of collaborators [including “Mary”] . . . . “The resemblance to Billie Holiday is the most striking thing about Duffy Power,” suggested a Gramophone writer, when some of these recordings emerged as the surprisingly successful LP Innovations in 1971. “At his finest he communicates the same sense of emotional involvement, the same distraught lyricism.”


Duffy recorded three versions of “Mary”. As Richie Unterberger writes:

In 1966 and 1967 he was the head of a temporary group called Duffy’s Nucleus . . . . There was just one single billed to Duffy’s Nucleus, “Mary Open the Door”/”Hound Dog,” in January 1967. . . . The best and most rock-oriented take [of “Mary”] came out on the 1970 album Innovations (although it had been recorded in the mid-’60s) . . . . The Duffy’s Nucleus version is differentiated from the Innovations one by the presence of horns and female backup singers, and in 1969, he did an acoustic rendition for the Spark album Duffy Power.


Here is the greatest version, the first, released on Innovations:

Here is the Duffy’s Nucleus single version:

And here is Duffy’s third version:

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