Singer and guitarist Robert Dickey was a journeyman R&B musician who had been playing professionally since his teens when he joined the Dothan Sextet, a regionally popular soul group based in Pensacola. After Dickey had settled into his gig, the combo added a backing vocalist, James Purify, who was also Dickey's cousin, and when lead singer Sam McClain (aka Mighty Sam) left the group, Purify was promoted as McClain's replacement. Don Schroeder, a producer, promoter, and radio DJ in Pensacola, checked out the Dothan Sextet on the recommendation of McClain, and he was impressed with Dickey and Purify, striking a deal to manage them as solo performers. Schroeder sent them to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to work with celebrated producer and songwriter Dan Penn, and while working on a session with Dickey, Penn suggested they try a song he'd written with frequent collaborator Spooner Oldham. While working out an arrangement for "I'm Your Puppet," Purify's backing vocals became a co-lead, with the two cousins showing an impressive give and take in the studio. Deciding they worked best as a duo, Dickey changed his stage name to Bobby Purify, and he and James Purify landed a deal with Bell Records, which issued "I'm Your Puppet" in September 1966. During the song's 14-week run on the singles charts, it peaked at number six Pop and number five R&B, and the new duo were overnight stars.
In 1967, they scored three more Top 40 Pop hits -- "Wish You Didn't Have to Go," "Shake a Tail Feather," and "Let Love Come Between Us" -- while "I Take What I Want" just missed the mark, peaking at 41. An album, James Bobby Purify, also arrived in 1967, and their second LP, The Pure Sound of the Purifys, followed in 1968. By the time the second album was released, the group's run on the Pop charts was near its end, with their most successful single of that year, "I Can Remember," only making it to number 51, though they fared better on the R&B listings. The pair remained busy as a live act until 1971, when Dickey retired from music due to health concerns.
James Purify continued as a solo act, but in 1974, he teamed up with Ben Moore, a veteran soul singer who had been recommended to him by Dan Penn. Taking over the stage name Bobby Purify, Moore and James Purify hit the road as James Bobby Purify, and landed a new record deal with Casablanca Records. The new iteration of the duo issued You Me Together Forever in 1975, and while the song "Do Your Thing" hit number 30 on the R&B Singles chart, the album came and went with little notice. They moved to Mercury Records for the 1977 long-player Purify Brothers, which included a re-recorded version of "I'm Your Puppet" that charted in the United Kingdom. However, it was essentially ignored in the United States, and it would be the final release from James Bobby Purify, though Ben Moore and James Purify would continue to work together as a live act.
Moore cut solo material as Bobby Purify in the 1970s, and would go on to have a career in gospel music, both on his own and as a member of the Blind Boys of Alabama. He also cut a soul album produced by Dan Penn, Better to Have It, that came out in 2005. Robert Dickey died on December 29, 2011, in Tallahassee at the age of 72. James Purify died on January 22, 2021 in Pensacola at the age of 76, due to complications from the COVID-19 virus. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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