Disco music—elemental, formulaic, lucrative—has become a perfect genre for the artistic hustle. Ex-porn queen Andrea True exercised her deep pipes on More, More, More; blues veteran Johnnie Taylor provided a dance-floor Kama Sutra, Disco Lady, which sold around 3 million. But the ultimate quackery comes from a 26-year-old deejay from Memphis named Rick Dees—his cutely vocaled, heavily thudding r & b Disco Duck has been the No. 1 hit this fall.
As gimmicks go, Dees’s Duck is, if nothing else, G-rated. Esthetically, though, his methods hover somewhere between obscene plagiarism and painting by numbers. But criticism just rolls off his back: “I researched this a lot, went to discos, listened for trends that made people dance, and I added my own little chuckle, the duck idea—and the voice [not Dees’s]. But the music’s there—solid Memphis-sound r & b,” he states correctly. “I just think that people can dance and laugh at the same time.” The management at WMPS (where he had twice the ratings of his 6-10 a.m. rival) was doing neither. Having warned Dees not to play or plug his own cut on the air, they canned him early this month when he announced his upcoming national TV appearances.
However, “a barrage of offers came in,” he says, and Dees has signed up with ex-rival WHBQ—at close to double his previous $30,000 income. Dees’s versatile voice is a genetic instrument for galloping inflections like “It’s 72 Dees-grees” or “Hope your breakfast is Dees-licious.” But radio is just “away to get recognized and practice as a comedian.” Rick’s real Dees-ire is stand-up comedy, and he has performed monologues in local clubs, done TV and commercials. His one-liners make him something of a Confederate Woody Allen (“My mother’s the original Mouth of the South; every winter she has a Sears DieHard battery installed under her tongue”).
Typecasting as a duck, of course, could prove Dees-astrous, so Rick’s next single will cross over to primates (Discorilla). His other songs include a deft impression of Elvis OD’ing on jelly doughnuts. Rick insists that the portly Elvis has them delivered to his Graceland mansion or, as Dees renames it, Waistland. Rick grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., himself a self-conscious fatty who “never knew if people were laughing at or with me. It was a horror.” Dees began jockeying locally at 16, then at the campus station at the University of North Carolina. He married a fellow major in radio, TV and movies, Carolyn Craft, three years ago. (She has since done TV commercials and sings with him onstage.)
Dees, probably the only rock star keeping farmer’s hours, rarely dances with Carolyn around town because they get mobbed. The monster image doesn’t appeal to him anyway: “It’s still easy to get to me. I want to be the same. Anyway, these stars, they all have this thing around their heads—what is it, anyway, an aura, a halo, a Van Allen belt? Who needs that?”