Don Robey was the owner of the Peacock, Duke and BackBeat labels that released some important R&B records in the 50s and were also the home of some of the best Gospel artists of the day. He was a tough man to deal with and made a lot of money by giving himself co-writing credits on his artists’ songs, allegedly using violence and threats to enforce his will. Don had a good ear for a tune, however, and usually signed singers with strong Gospel-influenced voices that combined with great material to produce a string of R&B hits.
In common with many label owners, Don would give himself credit as a co-writer on his artists’ records, often under the name ‘Deadric Malone’. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s big hit ‘Farther On Up the Road’ was completely written by Joe Veasey (a.k.a. Medwick), but Don got at least half the royalties. Songwriter Jerry Leiber, who provided a lot of material for Duke/Peacock artists, has described Don as ‘a gangster’. He certainly carried a gun, and it is said he put Little Richard in hospital after a ‘problem’. In 1957, Don formed the Backbeat label and after a couple of years it started to issue Soul music, as Gospel discovered its secular side. Joe Hinton and OV Wright enjoyed almost a decade of success on BackBeat, while Junior Parker and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland continued to do well on Duke. With his good ear for talent, Don was helped by the producing and arranging skills of trumpeter Joe Scott, who was responsible for the punchy, danceable tracks that typified the labels’ 60s output. In 1973, Don sold the labels to ABC records, and he died from a heart-attack two years later.