The Aristocrats are renowned in deep funk circles for their legendary and impossibly rare 1974 single "Don't Go," of which only one copy is known to exist.
Sometimes credited as the Aristocrats Organization, according to the Autumn 2003 issue of Grandslam Magazine, the group originally formed in Louisville, Kentucky during the late 1960s, a vocal quartet in the mold of the Drifters and the Coasters; comprising Albert Workman, Robert Ford, William Bradley, and Gary Rogers, they performed at local venues like the Club Louisvillian, the Elk's Lodge and the Infirmary, the latter owned by car salesman and aspiring producer Mel Yarmuth, who subsequently became the foursome's manager. Often backed bythe Mind Liberators -- a local instrumental outfit consisting of guitarist Ollie Kirby, bassist Wayne Stewart, saxophonist Rick DeBow, trumpeter Ted Plunkett, and drummer Charles Curry -- the Aristocrats also began sharing the stage with vocalist Linda Blakely, a former winner of the Louisville Defenders' Exposition Beauty Contest, and a recent high school graduate. The group cut its lone studio session for Yarmuth's Rondo label in early 1974, soon after issuing its debut single "Be My Lady"; recorded at the same date, "Don't Go" -- actually the B-side to the original foursome's rendition of the Billy Paul Philly soul classic "Me and Mrs. Jones" -- was, in fact, a solo showcase for Blakely, backed by an incendiary funk combo including saxophonists Jonas Jarrett and William "Mitch" Mitchell, guitarist Ray Hickman, bassist Donnie Bridges, trombonist Gary Tifford, trumpeter George Grimes, drummer Maurice Tyler, and percussionist Bobby Davis. Speculation is that Yarmuth pressed no more than 1,000 copies of the single, with distribution limited to the Louisville area; the Aristocrats never recorded again, and eventually went their separate ways. Bradley and Blakely ultimately wed, with the latter dying during the early 1990s; sometime during the late 1970s Workman died of congestive heart failure, and a few years later Ford was struck by a car and killed. The Aristocrats enjoyed a renaissance in 2000 when "Don't Go" was included on the BBE compilation Sister Funk, generating much excitement among funk and rare groove aficionados -- the lone known copy was acquired a few years earlier by New York City-based collector Jeff Silverman, and is currently held by collector Ian Wright. The Now Again label also reissued "Don't Go" on vinyl, backed by the Mind Liberators' "Comin' Through, Pt. 2." ~ Jason Ankeny