Darondo, a once-forgotten hero of Bay Area soul who lived a colorful life and saw a renewed interest in his music in recent years, died yesterday, according to his label, Ubiquity Records. He was 67.
Darondo's best-known song was "Didn't I," a moody, aching ballad that showed off the singer's sweet falsetto. Released in 1973, the song sold 35,000 copies after getting heavy support from local radio. That success helped Darondo get opening slots for James Brown in San Francisco and become friends with Sly Stone.
Always known for living a flashy lifestyle -- and for having plenty of ladies around -- the man born William Daron Pulliam insisted that his main source of income was his work as a hospital janitor. Most others claimed he was also a pimp, a charge Darondo always denied:
"When people see something, they're going to think one way or they're going to think another way," he muses. "When they saw a chauffeur driving me around in a Rolls, they said, 'That boy is a pimp.' I made money, but I was working. I had a job ... I was a janitor. I drove up [to the hospital] in the back of my Rolls with my mink coat on ... and I'd take the elevator down and change in [the janitor's locker]."
And the fleet of girls who reportedly stayed plastered to his arm? "I had a bunch of girls around me; I won't say they weren't. But I didn't want to keep a bunch of [guys] around!" And the girls who lived in his penthouse? "It was a cold pad. I had about four or five girls, but I was renting rooms to those girls." And the cash transactions? "Sometimes the girls would run up to me on the street and give me their money. I wasn't asking nobody to stay on no streets. I ain't hit nobody upside the head."
Darondo never quite managed to beat the success of "Didn't I," and left music in the late '70s, partly as a result of a dispute with his manager, and partly because he always saw it as a hobby. From there he produced and starred in a series of late-night local TV shows, earning him more attention than his music ever did. But eventually even that life became too fast, and Darondo went abroad, playing clubs in Europe and taking a gig playing guitar on a cruise ship.
Upon returning to the States, he went to college, became a physical therapist and speech pathologist, and settled in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove with his family, where he lived until his death.
In 2005, British DJ Gilles Peterson discovered "Didn't I" and put it into rotation on his radio show. Ubiquity Records heard the song, loved it, and put together 2006's Let My People Go, a collection of reissued classics and unearthed demos. The album won praise in the national press, and Darondo performed live shows to support it, backed by locals the Park -- including at Outside Lands in 2009.
"I never imagined this," he told SF Weekly in 2007 about his return to the stage. "People give me all kinds of shoes and clothes, everywhere I go. And I read all this and look at all this stuff on this MySpace. I think I must've done something. I thought, let me jump back into it. So here I am again."