The Duke in his domain

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June 20, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

Downtown's 'funkdoobiest' DJ, 9-inch heels and all

On Friday night, June 3, at about 10, five young ladies walked into The Front, 15 NE 4th St. The women ordered two-for-one drinks and took a booth beside the front windows, beneath the shadow of the red-lit mezzanine.

One of them, Jennifer Caruso, walked across the empty dance floor to the bartender. "Is there a DJ tonight?" Caruso asked.

The barkeep, Patrick Morris, told her what she wanted to hear: "Yep. He should be here any minute."

"He" is the Dirty Duke, the "funkdoobiest mutha in town," according to the Duke himself.

Caruso and her friends had come to dance to Dirty's mix of '70s and old-school funk and R&B, as well as modern requests such as Fifty Cent, Black-Eyed Peas and Outkast.

"In an hour, this dance floor will be packed," said Rachel Zane, a big fan. "It's beautiful."

Suddenly, he arrived. The Dirty Duke strode in through a private door - walking tall in his black-and-white platform shoes, striped to match his referee-style pimp suit and gigantic hat.

Dirty greeted the bartender and took a request from Zane as he crossed the room to his DJ station. KC and the Sunshine Band burst over the speakers. While he favors classic R&B and funk, Dirty plays whatever his fans want to hear. "A DJ shouldn't hate on a request," the Duke said.

Dirty sipped cognac from a giant snifter, larger than his head (but not his hat). It didn't take an hour for the dance floor to fill.

Morris said the Duke is semifamous.

"Dirty Duke never pays full price," he said.

For all his glory, few know the man behind the music. His past, his daytime activities, even his age - "none of your damn business" - seems a mystery.

The Dirty Duke got his name at a club called Dukes, "out East," he said. "Some Carrie Nation types used to complain that the music was 'dirty at Dukes.'  The name stuck on me."

The Duke said music is his only gig.

"I've tried the nine-to-five thing. It just didn't work out. You try finding 5-inch-platform black wingtip shoes or animal-print business suits."

[Note: the 5-inchers are his "short heels," as opposed to the 9-inchers he also wears.]

Other things keep Dirty busy.

"I got me a special lady out of town and that's all I can say about that 'cause I'm pretty sure most of my Twin City honeys can read," he said. 

Dirty enjoys the finer things in life, like his black 1971 "drop-top" Cadillac El Dorado with zebra-skin roof and upholstery, leather seats and "real authentic faux mink fur," he said.

Among the finest of the finer things are his shoes: custom-made platforms to match his custom-tailored outfits. "If they aren't at least 5 inches tall, they get sent back to the cobbler," he said. 

The Duke said his pad above the bar includes a pool, a Jacuzzi, a well-stocked bar, shag carpet, velvet wallpaper, "fine art velvet paintings" and "the finest hi-fi stereo money can buy from a guy named Butch."

Above all, the Duke is about the music, and the people.

"I don't hide away in a DJ booth avoiding people and their requests. I'm out there with the people layin' it down," he proclaimed.

"I love the R&B and funk that came out of the '60s and '70s: Stevie Wonder, Aretha [Franklin], Earth Wind and Fire, Ohio Players, Al Green; and you can't go wrong with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

"Hell, I'm not even cooler than James Brown," said the Duke.

Although he digs all kinds of music, from Frank Sinatra to Jay Z, Dirty said you can't beat the "old school" music.

"The great R&B Funk bands could tour with 10 or 15 expert musicians," he explained. "So much of today's popular sound is created with music studio magic. I'm down with today's sounds, but I do miss those fat horn sections from way back in the day."

But with The Front gig his only job, how does the Dirty Duke rate?

"I'm like a co-owner of The Front, so I'm tight with management," Dirty explained. "The Dukester does what he wants when he wants."

"He walks around here like he owns the place," said Mark Wild, who has owned the place for 11 years. "DJ Dirty Duke is not a co-owner of The Front."

The club's front man and behind-the-scenes owner are quite a contrast.

"I don't think they like each other much," said Morris, the bartender.

In fact, rumor has it the two have never been seen together. But Wild - who stands at least 5 inches shorter than the Duke on any given night - puts up with Dirty's "antics" because he draws a crowd.

"He draws 21-year-old club neophytes and 30- and 40-something suburbanites," Wild said.

On this night, the eclectic crowd - "odd in their lack of oddity," said Morris - had one thing in common: they were all shaking their groove things.

"Let's face it, he's a show in himself," Wild said.

Dirty Duke spins funk on Fridays and a mix of funk, R&B and house beats on Saturdays after 10 p.m. at The Front, 15 NE 4th St.