Four Great Solos – George Duke

There’s nothing quite like a good synth solo to get the blood racing, and one of my favourite proponents of such things is the incredible George Duke. The man had chops, as they say; acceptable to jazzers, but there are enough soulful blues in his lines to appeal to the non-connoisseur. Not to mention the great sounds that emanated from his ARP Odyssey. I’ve picked four, but there are many more, but these just hit the spot for me. Whenever I hear these I whip out the air synth, open my shirt and get my stank face on.

Solo 1 – Festival (Follow the Rainbow – 1979) Solo starts at 04:16

This track kind of stood out from the rest of the album with it’s Brazilian fusion stylings. It features a fantastic acoustic guitar feature from, correct me if I’m wrong, Icarus Johnson, a crazed high energy percussion break and a memorable Rhodes outro jam from Duke. But it’s the ARP solo following the percussion orgy that melts me every time. It glides majestically over an ever evolving chord progression that leads euphorically to the Rhodes solo. Simply sublime stuff.

Solo 2 – Life & Times (Billy Cobham, Life & Times – 1976) Solo starts at 02:29

On this largely under looked Cobham record, Duke is credited as ‘Dawilli Conga’ presumably for contractual reasons. I’m fairly certain he plays the big solo on the title track – it reminds me of his work with Zappa, in particular ‘Inca Roads’ (see below). If it is in fact Cobham himself, then it’s still bloody great. This one builds from the ground up and enters galaxy levels by the end, all underpinned by Cobham’s frenetic and passionate drumming. It’s funky, spiritual and psychedelic all at the same time.

Solo 3 – Inca Roads (Frank Zappa, One Size Fits All – 1975) Solo starts at 07:10

A spiritual precursor to Life & Times in some respects; the complex up-tempo rhythms with a glorious, ever evolving synth solo that lifts the fidgety, angular and clever song into space. Duke is just a God on this track, with incredible Rhodes comping and soloing, and of course his effortless falsetto. Avant Garde Fusion doesn’t get much better than this.

Solo 4 – Corine (Follow the Rainbow – 1979) Solo starts at 01:44

Another one from the more overtly R&B album ‘Follow the Rainbow’. The track is a smooth concoction which is the perfect early summer evening starter (with a glass of Prosecco, of course). By the time the solo kicks in (a plucky, sensual banger),  I’m ready to get my beige, viscose flares on, a pair of Ray-Bans and start up the old XJ-S (White of course) for a drive to the beach. Wonderful.

1984: Musician George Duke performs onstage in circa 1982. (Photo by Jon Sievert/Getty Images)


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