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.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Corcoran