Written by Sebastian Whyte.
In 2011, in the early stages of my binge of the sensation that was “Breaking Bad”, I was immediately struck by the moving and soulful end credits of the show’s fourth episode. Like the very meth addicts I was previously watching I was instantly hooked and desperate for more.
This for me, was my first dose of Darondo.
As with all addictions I wanted to have every possible thing that there was to digest at my disposal. However, I quickly discovered that the Darondo supply was not as bountiful as I anticipated. This peaked my interest even further - why was there such a finite amount of his material? What was there to this man that I didn’t know, that the world did not know?
This curiosity is principally how Darondo’s music has emerged out of obscurity thirty years later, bringing his small but intriguing legacy with him. The birth of this revival can largely be credited to Gilles Peterson, who held Darondo’s most renowned single “Didn’t I” in such high regard that he added the tender ballad to his 2005 radio playlist and a “Digs America” compilation album.
This acted as a catalyst to the resurgence and this is where many people’s journeys into the mystery behind Darondo began.
As with any mystery, there appears to be different tellings of Darondo’s tale, his life is still very much a mythological thing, with varied accounts and rumours surrounding aspects of his life, we may never truly have clarification of the truth...
William Daron Pulliam, grew up in Berkeley, California, inspired by artists such as Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, Pulliam began writing his own R&B ballads and sexual rock’n’roll. This eventually led to an artist with a huge range of stylistic influence, which somehow combined to create something altogether unique. Darondo himself stated that within his music:
“There's a little jazz and a little soul. They say if you Black you supposed to have soul. I got Latin flavour in me so there's some Latin in it. Definitely got the Blues in it. I sound kinda country but I grew up in the Bay Area"
This unique sound coupled with his flamboyant personal style and attitude shot Darondo into local fame. This eventually led to an opportunity to record with producer Ray Dobard at San Francisco's Music City studios, whose sessions led to the creation of the majority of the Darondo songs we are blessed with today.
Despite this rising profile - including a show opening for James Brown at Bimbo’s 365 Club in the early 1970s - Darondo played just four shows while he was in his prime. In his brief musical career, the San Francisco Bay native only released three 7-inch singles, throughout the late '60s and early '70s.
As a result, only a select group of sweet-soul enthusiasts and Bay Area music collectors had any awareness of his existence. Pulliam’s music career petered out by the late ’70s, principally due to an arduous legal dispute with Music City studios and his former producer Dobard, who held the masters to much of his work and notoriously refused to pay anything back to his artists.
But the real myth to Darondo surrounds his personal life and profession. Rumours of Pulliam’s life as a pimp still circulate, largely due to the fact that this was a topic the man himself consistently avoided during interviews.
It is said that for many years, Darondo was a local pimping legend, throughout both his rise and his fall from stardom. Regardless of whether this myth is true or not, Darondo certainly gave people good reason to believe the rumours: Darondo was renowned for dressing in a white fur coat, white snakeskin shoes, a matching snakeskin cane and a variety of flashy jewellery, and on top of all this he was said to have driven a white 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud with a personalised number plate which read: "DARONDO". Darondo referred to this era as the“fast life” days, a time in which he was in contact with many infamous locals, including Sly Stone and Fillmore Slim, the latter being a friendship that seemed to add credibility to the theories surrounding his lifestyle.
However, this fast lifestyle eventually took its toll. After finishing a run on local television, with his show “Darondo’s Penthouse After Dark”, Pulliam found himself having to confront a cocaine addiction. In an attempt to “cool down” Pulliam took to travelling to shake the addiction. He travelled to the UK, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Fiji, as well as France, Venezuela, and Mexico. During this time he met his wife, returned to the Bay Area and went to University to become a physical therapist, settled down, and permanently mellowed out. He worked at various local hospitals before retiring, and by all accounts led a very happy life.
During his final decade, in 2006, Pulliam’s funk-infused “Let My People Go” album was released and the Darondo renaissance began. This compilation album drew from the three 7-inches that he’d previously recorded with Music City back in the early ’70s, plus three additional songs. Pulliam was thrilled by the renewed interest in his music and even took to performing once again before he sadly passed away on 9th June, 2013.
A mystery to most, Darondo truly encapsulates the forgotten talent of the past. What might have been had Pulliam turned his hobby into a full time career? But more importantly, what other hidden masterpieces are there still to discover from the neglected artists of the past? In an age where artists are forever preserved in the recesses of the internet, perhaps in thirty years time it will be easier uncover such hidden gems and breathe new life into forgotten music.
Get your taste for Darondo below: