March 8th, 2008 | Interviews

Luke McGarry

Darondo “Let My People Go”


Darondo recorded three singles and played four shows in the ’70s and then stopped and drove home in his Rolls Royce after he opened for James Brown. Later he traveled the world collecting interesting artifacts, became the king of Bay Area cable with three shows per day, and worked as a physical therapist coaxing patients to walk again. He plays tonight, Sat., Mar. 8, at Crash Mansion for his first-ever L.A. show.

So what did Frank Sinatra think of your car?
Well, you know—they eyed on it til we was outta sight. They said, ‘Boy, you got something there!’ We were in Reno, cutting up and playing and gambling. I went up there before and they’d seen the car and they gave me a parking place, and everytime I’d go there I’d park for free, and Ol’ Blue Eyes and his entourage saw me—‘Boy, you got something goin’ on!’
How many ladies did you ever fit in the Rolls at once?
Ah, gosh—a few times I couldn’t get in the car. Those was the days. I got it in Modesto—they had a used car lot and across the street was a club, and we’d go down to the club, and the guy took me across the street and said, ‘Let me show you something! Check this here!’ I didn’t know what kind of car it was—he said ‘This is a double R! This is what you need to be in!’ So I came out with a white Rolls Royce—a Silver Cloud! I had an old Cadillac and I left it there and I came back with the Rolls. Driving on the wrong side!
So you had a couple bucks.
A pocket full of money!
What’s the most you ever spent in five minutes?
Probably gambling—I threw $2,000 on the table when I was shooting dice and I lost. Every night I was up there quite regularly. I had a thing going on with the dice. You took $1,000 up there with you, but you have to be disciplined with yourself and your money. I mght throw $10 and if I don’t hit, I come back with $20. And if I’m not hitting, maybe $100—and every time I hit, I start right back over! At the end of the evening—five hours or something—you won maybe two or three thousand dollars!
What’s the most money you ever held in your hand at once?
One time—fifty or sixty thousand in hundred-dollar bills! I was coming up selling real estate, and sometimes I made money and went to the bank. ‘I want the money in cash!’ It’d take ‘em about four or five hours. And then I’d walk out to the Rolls Royce and go home.
What’s the best gift you ever got yourself?
It was Martinique or maybe St. Thomas—where everybody goes and buys the jewelry at? All you see is military police because they got some of the biggest diamonds in the world. I went in there and the woman thought I was Little Richard—I had my hair up in the air! ‘Hey, Little Richard!’ I just played it on—‘Yeah… Little Richard!’ They had a gold stone ring—a gold stone with gold dust in it. It’s so rare it’s pitiful—you can’t even buy them anymore!
How did you start your first band?
Everybody wanted to be like the Temptations and have a group of something—you had the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, all the groups coming out. So I got with a little group. They had a club for teenagers—they served stuff called ‘near beer’—and that was really where I started gigging. ‘GLORIA—G-L-O-R-I-A!’ And Wilson Picket—‘Wait! Til the midnight hour!’ And we was getting paid—as teenagers! I was the only black guy in the group. I was singing and they were just playing instruments. We met a guy—a midget—his name was Mike—he could play drums! He was a midget who could play the shit out of the drums! He had it going on!
So you had a midget drummer?
Yeah, and we was doing good!
Is he on the records?
I hadn’t made records—I was a teenager.
So you had a teenage midget drummer?
He was the same age of all of us—about 18—but the man could play! Everybody loved him!
Was ‘Legs’ banned from the radio for being too dirty?
Yeah. Because of what I was talking about. They played the other side—‘Let My People Go.’ But ‘Legs’—they’d play it in the speakeasies! After two in the morning, you’d hear nothing but ‘Legs!’
And you only played four shows ever?
I didn’t do too many. I opened for James Brown—that was my best thing. Yeah, I talked with the Godfather of Soul—he said, ‘Keep on doing what you doing! You on the right track!’ And I said ‘Thank you, Mr. Brown, and thank you for putting me on your show!’ And after that I didn’t wanna do no more. I’d did it with James!
What did you think of that voodoo ritual you saw?
That was scary! That was on the love boat—that cruise I went on. I would never stay with the boat—they tell you don’t ever leave the group, but I said ‘I wanna find out what these people are doin!’ So I met some brother out there and they seemed pretty cool—I bought ‘em everything—Coca Cola, whatever they want—and got their trust and saw how they were living—terrible! So they had a little ceremony and showed me some stuff—scary stuff! You can’t take no cameras—that’s voodoo, and the soul do this and that stuff, and I watched ‘em walk on fire and eyes looked like it went up into their head! I was scared. It was real—it wasn’t no fake! That was the craziest thing I ever saw in my life. It was adventure—it was like Indiana Jones! I know what Indiana Jones is talking about now! And Caracas was exciting—I went in the jungle with the brothers there! I’ll tell you about the jungle—the jungle is so pretty it’ll blow your mind away. I used to watch Tarzan movies and the woman would go out in the jungle—I can see why. It’s so beautiful. You would do that.
I heard if you stand still in the jungle you can feel all the bugs start crawling up your legs.
I never did stand still! I kept moving!
What songs did you sing when you worked in the hospital?
The physical therapy? I’m a doctor in physical therapy.
Dr. Darondo?
They called me the miracle worker for a while. I went to one hospital—the lady had been sitting in the chair so long, acting like she couldn’t move her leg, so I kind of massaged her foot and was talking the talk, and I said ‘Stand on up!’ and she stood right up! Some patients—they won’t do it for anybody, but if they get to like who they’re talking to, they’ll do so much for you it’s pitiful!