Blueblood young men turned musicians, this aggregation got together sometime in 1973 jamming on obscure rhythm & blues titles for fun and somehow it clicked. The name Duke & the Drivers evolved out of one of their myriad parties where they played for friends and consumed a cocktail called an Orange Driver, grain alcohol vodka and some orange drink. When people asked the name of the band, it was up to the harmonica-playing saxophonist who doubled as comedian, Rhinestone Mudflaps (birth name Ando Hixson), to say "Duke's not here." When people asked where Duke was, they got the standard reply: "Out drinking the orange drivers," and thus the name Duke & the Drivers was born.
Contemporaries of the J. Geils Band with album jackets less ominous than the diesel-drivin' Bachman-Turner Overdrive, it was the original bassist and owner of the Boston-based Jelly Records, Greg Morton, who got them booked at the legendary Western Front outside of Central Square in Cambridge, MA. They went into the club with only 25 minutes of music in their repertoire, extending the tunes into an early version of what would become jam band style, taking an intermission, and going back to perform the same elongated set again. Rhinestone Mudflaps would wear lights on his head, rubber gloves on his hands, and trampoline skates, honing an identity as the comic out front. Other bandmembers included drummer Dr. Feelgood Funk (birth name Danny McGrath), Sam Deluxe on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals, Jo Lilly on electric and slide guitarist and vocals, Cadillac Jack (born Henry Eaton, later to be a newscaster and district attorney), and Mississippi Tom Swift on keyboards and ARP strings.
With success on the club level, the goal shifted to obtaining a major-label recording contract. By December 1973, they were opening for Lou Reed's legendary Rock N Roll Animal band at Boston's Orpheum Theater and generating a buzz. They performed dates with the Leslie West Band as well as Blue Öyster Cult, with ZZ Top opening for Duke & the Drivers on the Blue Öyster Cult show. Personal manager Peter Casperson of Boston's Castle Music Productions signed them to ABC Records in 1973, with their debut album produced and engineered by Eddie Kramer appearing in 1974. That album, Cruisin', featured a minor hit song, "What You Got," and the band started to make some real noise. Prior to the recording, Greg Morton was replaced by bassist Koko Dee, the first of many personnel changes. A second album was recorded, Rollin' On, with percussionist Dr. Feelgood Funk being replaced by the drummer from the band Orphan, the late Bobby Chouinard (dubbed Bobby Blue Sky for his role with Duke), who would go on to work with Billy Squier, Alice Cooper, and many others.
Rollin' On failed to generate another radio hit and the band started feeling the pressure. Shortly after the LP's release in September 1976, the group broke up. With bookings to fulfill through 1977, Tom Swift contacted drummer Mark Hylander, who had opened for Duke & the Drivers with his group the Connection in 1975, both artists being managed at one point or another by the man who orchestrated Aerosmith's comeback, Tim Collins. Ando Hixson left, as did Koko Dee, with Greg Morton coming back to play bass. Vocalist Jo Lilly took a leave of absence and was replaced by his brother George Lilly and a reconstituted band holed up at the legendary Cambridge Music Complex practicing for three to four weeks until their debut at three sold-out shows over the 1977 July 4th weekend at the Frolics Ballroom in Salisbury Beach, MA. In August 1977, they recorded the 45-rpm "Looking for a Fox" b/w "Wonderful Love" at Northern Studios in Maynard, MA. Their summertime tour took them to Cleveland's Agora Ballroom, a concert broadcast live on WMMS. They opened for Starz at the Tomorrow Theater in Youngstown and performed on bills with Elvis Costello, Pat Travers, and others.
Worcester/Boston radio station WAAF broadcast the group live from Northern Sound on the day Elvis Presley died, August 16, 1977, with approximately 1,000 people jammed into the studio atop a Woolworth's five-and-dime. Despite the success of the live broadcast, their popularity began to wane and the group filled out its contractual obligations, ending it all at a high-school gig in April 1978. There were reunion shows in the '90s, and in 1993 a 20th anniversary commemorative live CD of a performance on a radio show from the '70s (Rock Around the World) was released featuring Bobby Chouinard on drums. The band still gets attention, the 45 of "Looking for a Fox" used on a national televised broadcast of the New England Patriots football team in 2001. Drummer Mark Hylander is still active, teaming up with bassist Danny Klein of the J. Geils Band for their blues group, Stonecrazy. ~ Joe Viglione, Rovi