James Purify, R&B Singer of ‘I’m Your Puppet’ Fame, Dies at 76

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Singer James Purify, half of the duo James and Bobby Purify, whose single “I’m Your Puppet” landed at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B chart in 1966, died on Jan. 22, 2021. Purify (his real name) reportedly died of complications of Covid-19 at age 76. His death was confirmed by WEAR-TV in Pensacola, Fla., where Purify lived and passed away.

“I’m Your Puppet” was the first, but not the only hit logged by the duo, whose other member, Robert Lee Dickey, Purify’s cousin, died in 2011. It was followed by eight further charting singles, none of which reached the top 10. Of those, the most successful were a raucous cover of “Shake a Tail Feather,” which reached #25, and “Let Love Come Between Us” (#23), both in 1967.

James Lee Purify (born May 12, 1944 , in Pensacola) and Dickey, who was nearly five years older, began singing as a duo in 1965, The following year, they were signed to Bell Records, and released “I’m Your Puppet,” written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn and produced by Penn at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. It spent 14 weeks in all on the Billboard pop chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1967.

The pair also released two albums for Bell, neither of which charted. They continued to work together until 1971, when Dickey retired from singing professionally.

Related: What were the top radio hits of 1966?

Purify continued to work, as a solo singer, until 1974, when he teamed with Ben Moore, a veteran singer, who assumed the name Bobby Purify. They continued to perform together until the 1980s, releasing a remake of “I’m Your Puppet” in 1976, among other songs.

James (left) and Bobby Purify

“I’m Your Puppet” has remained a staple of oldies radio and has been covered by Dionne Warwick, Mickey Gilley, Sam & Dave, the Box Tops, Donny Osmond, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Yo La Tengo, Bobby Womack, Cliff Richard & Percy Sledge, and the duo of Elton John and Paul Young, the latter on John’s 1993 Duets album.

Watch the kids dance to “Shake a Tail Feather” on American Bandstand

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  1. clevelandrox
    #1 clevelandrox 26 January, 2021, 09:55

    Bobby Purify didn’t really retire from singing…in fact, shortly before his death, he released a blues album that was critically acclaimed.

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