Houston Record Mogul Don Robey Sells Duke-Peacock Records

Maile Carballo / KUTX

by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State

Don Robey sells Duke-Peacock Records to ABC-Dunhill
Courtesy of Michael Corcoran

On May 23, 1973, mogul Don Robey sold his Duke-Peacock Records empire to ABC- Dunhill, concluding a tumultuous tenure that had made Houston a national center of rhythm and blues.

Robey came to the music industry through the nightclubs. In 1945, he opened the Bronze Peacock in Houston’s Fifth Ward, famed for its raucous socializing and backroom gambling but also for launching the career of Gatemouth Brown. Robey was Brown’s manager and had been unhappy with how Aladdin Records had promoted him. So, in 1949 Robey launched his own Peacock Records to showcase Gatemouth’s exuberant guitar.

Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

The label and its offshoots grew, and in 1953 Robey also acquired Duke Records of Memphis, a move that brought the city’s blues stars—Bobby Blue Bland, Junior Parker, Johnny Ace—to Houston. Robey and partner Evelyn Johnson also launched the Buffalo Booking Agency that made Houston key to touring rhythm and blues acts. It was also in 1953 that Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” on Peacock, an early rock ‘n’ roll anthem, especially after Elvis covered it in 1956. During this period, Duke-Peacock was the premier Black-owned record company, paving the way for Motown and others to follow. And Detroit’s Motown did follow, eclipsing Peacock’s success by the early 1960s. When Robey finally chose to sell in 1973, the deal covered 2700 copyrights and 2000 unreleased masters. Having put Houston on the musical map, Robey died two years later in 1975.

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