The Dealers back in the day
The Dealers back in the day

By Janice Malone
Special to the NNPA

They shared the stage with Kool and The Gang, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Pointer Sisters, Ray Charles, Teddy Pendergrass, the Eagles, Eddie Kendricks, the Supremes and other music legends. They recorded an album for CBS Records in 1985. They were label mates with Michael Jackson. The soul/funk band, The Dealers were right on the verge of superstardom. But what happened? What why aren’t they household names?

The answers to those questions is lovingly documented by award-winning journalist A.J. Dugger III, in his just released book, The Dealers: Then and Now.  A.J. knows the story well because The Dealers are members of his family, which includes his parents. The book tells the explosive story of this popular band from Memphis, which featured Brothers Stanley and Elton Johnson, who fell in love with music at a young age. Together with their younger sister, Meeky, their cousin Darrell Hunter, and close friends Ricky Townes, Kenneth “B.C.” Blackwell and George “Pieface” Wilburn, they became The Dealers, a Memphis funk band whose popularity soared outside of Tennessee to places such as New York and Canada.

During the 1970s and ’80s, the Dealers often shared the stage with many of the music legends they idolized.  In the book A.J. recalls the time Marvin Gaye kissed his mom’s ear after he performed with the Dealers during a concert in New Orleans.

But just as the Dealers touched the brink of worldwide fame, things began to go awry for the multi-talented young family group, which prevented them from major stardom. But the music never stopped, and still continues to play on. “Through all the triumphs and tragedies, The Dealers never lost the beat,” says A.J.

A.J. sat down the discuss his new-found success.

Q:  Why did you decide to write the book?

A.J.:  “My family has a story that needs to be told. The book is filled with stories the public has never heard before about household names in music such as Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, the Jacksons, Michael Jackson, the Supremes and others. There’s just an abundance of details and stories that haven’t been told until now. I don’t want the music and hard work The Dealers band achieved to go unnoticed. The group had several songs played nationally on the radio. Also, since I’m the journalist in the family I feel that God really wanted me to write this book. It was such a labor of love to interview my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents during the research of the book.”

Q: Where are the other members of the Dealers group these days?

A.J.: Most of the remaining original members are retired, like my parents are. There’s one former band member who’s now a pastor. They’re now parents and grandparents. My mom is now singing in church and still has the most amazing voice that gives you chills. But there are two original members who are still performing, along with some younger members. They’re the new generation of the Dealers. They perform a lot of shows and they’re also working on a new album project that will be released to coincide with the promotion of this book…Last year my mom performed with the band for the first time in 21 years. My sister and her friend were the backup singers for her. It was such a special night.”

Q:  This group/band had all of the ingredients to make it big to superstar status. What happened?

A.J.: They were really close to reaching worldwide fame. In the book I wrote about how major fame affected some of them, through alcohol, excessive partying, and inner-turmoil among group members. But today, for the most part, the original members are doing fine and are living in the Memphis area. They’re very supportive of the new book.”

Q: Give us the titles of some of the songs from the Dealers that received airplay.

A.J.:  Their biggest hit was “Don’t Keep Me Waiting.”  They did a cover of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” song that was also very popular. Many people liked the Dealers version of the song more than the original. Another one of their songs was Miss Foxy. The Dealers had a nice run from the 1970s until about 2005. They had brief periods of a hiatus in between those years. Their lawyer was also the manager for country music star Charlie Rich. The band was really self-contained. They wrote and produced most of their own material and had some outstanding musicians. The guitarist could even play guitar with his teeth. And actually had just as many white fans as they did African American fans.”

Q: Have any of the members of The Dealers expressed any regrets of not making it to the superstar leagues in music?

A.J.: Believe it or not, I’ve heard the members say not reaching superstardom was probably the best thing that could’ve happened for them because they would’ve destroyed each other. With the success they did achieve it was already affecting them negatively. They were bickering and turning against each other; there was alcohol, bad influences, and rivalries. But if they would’ve made it big I know Grammys, American Music Awards, and all of the accolades would’ve followed.

Q: Are there any music videos on You Tube of The Dealers?

A.J.: Unfortunately, there are none. But that’s one of the other main problems as to why they didn’t get the major stardom. During the height of their career, they didn’t get any promotion money from the record company. It was during the 1980s and if you were a singer or band, it was mandatory to have a music video. Most of the promotional music video money went to singers like Michael Jackson.”

Q: That’s totally how the music industry works though. I understand that when you were just a little tyke, you were also a part of the show.

A.J.: “That’s right. I was actually a part of the show. They would put the spotlight on me and I would do my Michael Jackson dance/impersonation. I loved it!”

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