History

Don Robey Built His Gospel Empire With Ruthless Street Tactics

Houston's Don Robey turned Peacock Records into one of the nation's preeminent gospel labels by pursuing a ruthless business strategy. Roscoe Robinson, who in 1960 replaced Archie Brownlee as lead singer of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi -- one of Peacock's cornerstone talents -- after the great shouter died of pneumonia at age 35, said Robey paid the group with a new car and performing uniforms, but they never received royalties. Like all Peacock acts, they made their money on the road.

"After our contract was up, we asked Robey for a new car and he said 'no,' so we signed with Chess Records up in Chicago," says Robinson, now 86. But after the Five Blind Boys made a record for Chess subsidiary Checker Records in '62, Robey had a scheme to defraud Chess by producing a contract with the Blind Boys that he had back-dated.

"He said he would cut us in on a lot of money [Peacock sued Chess for $450,000] if we signed the contract, but me and Shorty refused, so they kicked us out of the group," says Robinson.