Arrow Brown at his desk in the Bandit office with his daughter Tridia, fourth from the right, and his son Deno, the little boy in the pink suit in the middle. Photo courtesy of Numero Group.
Between 1969 and 1981, the Bandit soul and funk label put out some of the choicest cuts Chicago’s South Side had to offer. It was run by Arrow Brown, a charismatic, womanizing hustler in a black fedora, the youngest of 22 children in a family originally from Mississippi. In Chicago, he got married and did the 9-to-5 thing, but it wasn’t for him. As his town’s scene exploded, he decided that music was where he’d make his fortune. He didn’t want to work too hard though, and finding that, with his languid smile and ability to exploit weakness, he had a peculiar hold over women, he established a harem on Martin Luther King Drive. A revolving cast of women lived there, did his chores, and funded his musical exploits with their welfare checks. What he established was a personality cult in which he was the revered figure and his acolytes were his wives, daughters, and anyone who happened to be sent to him to make it in the soul game.
Despite being one of the most polygamous men in the US, he was a jealous guy who couldn’t stand it when any of his women became too attached to other men. This was to be the downfall of many of his groups, none of whom really hit the big time. In the end, Arrow’s women left him and he died alone. His daughter, Tridia, was in the most successful of these groups, the Majestic Arrows (Arrow’s acts tended to have Arrow in their name), as well as in a later group, Touch of Love. With a new anthology of Bandit’s music being released by Chicago’s Numero Group, I got in touch with Tridia to find out the real story of Arrow—one that involves guns, surveillance, and underage sex.
VICE: When did you start spending time with your dad?
Tridia Clark: I saw my dad when I was two years old, but I didn’t see him after that until I was 21, when my mother found out he was a record producer and got in touch with him because she knew I loved music. This was in the 70s. He had a group called the Majestic Arrows and he told me that I should try out for them. I rehearsed with them, joined them, and we turned out pretty good until we broke up.
The Majestic Arrows was split up because two members had been getting a little intimate with each other, right?
Dad had a policy about no fraternizing, but of course he was pretty outgoing himself. There was a young lady and a young man in the group who got together and they were both married. Dad didn’t like that. But that didn’t really break the group up. What broke it up was that we did a show with a promoter who my dad didn’t like. They’d had some kind of discrepancy with each other over payment. We went there to do the show and we didn’t get paid. The rest of the group went back to my father’s house and when I got there, they told me that he’d got his gun out, shot over their heads a whole lot, and that the group was broken up.
Did Arrow not see that his “no fraternizing” policy was hypocritical, given that he was living with numerous different women?
Well, he was the leader and that’s the way it went.
Why did so many people go along with it?
Because he was quite charming. He had a very tantalizing smile and you know Dad had his good points too. He was a good guy—not in every sense of the word—but he was a good guy nonetheless, in certain circumstances. He liked a lot of attention and whatever he said went. Not always with me because we’re both stubborn, we’re both Aries. Not that I believe in any of that.
Well, I guess you should never underestimate the power of the Bull. What would you argue with him about?
I actually fussed to him when I found out about the ladies in the house. I thought that was very degrading. Some started as young as ten years old. But I didn’t find out about that until later. He would meet the girls’ mothers first and then he’d go from there.
He was sleeping with girls that young?
From ten years old. He told me because I cried one night I spent there. I heard something and I thought it was one of the young girls I was close to. I asked him why he did it, and he told me that her mother had said it was OK and that it was better that he did it because otherwise they’d meet someone in the street who’d mess them around. So, his logic was that it was better for him to mess them around than a stranger. It was so hard to hear that and the creeping around at night and all the stuff that was going on.
That’s a terrible kind of twisted logic.
Yes, and we were on edge when he was around because he could go off on anything. Dad had a habit of turning on intercoms to hear what everyone in the house was saying. I told this girl that everyone is a liar now and then, even my dad. He stormed down the stairs and he said, “Tridia, are you calling me a liar?" I said, “No, Dad, but everyone tells lies from time to time, even you.” He said, “Take it back, take it back.” I told him that I wouldn’t take it back, that my daddy’s mouth was not a prayer book. I went up the stairs, daddy pulls out a gun and tells me he was going to shoot me if I didn’t get out of his house or apologize. So I got out of his house.
He kept intercoms around the house?
Yes, he kept intercoms so he could listen to us. What he was afraid of was exactly what happened: that someone would come and talk to the ladies and they’d leave him. And that would destroy his empire.
Was there a lot of jealousy flying around between his women?
Oh, there was quite a lot of it, but they knew better than to act up because if they did he would punish them. Some of them were his cooks, some did other chores, and most had his babies. Everyone was on welfare, which he took, although Deno, my brother, made money for Dad from commercials and films. I can’t say for sure, but Deno’s friend told me he’d made a million dollars and that dad had squandered it all.
Did he take money from you?
There were a lot of times when we were doing shows that I would not get paid. Dad would tell me that they did not get paid, which was not the truth. I was the only one in the group who wouldn’t get paid and he felt like he could do that because I was his daughter.
Were you afraid when he pulled a gun on you?
Absolutely not! I just didn’t have the fear. He could have pulled the trigger, but I might have been a bit nutty at the time and I know God is good, so I didn’t worry about it.
I imagine I’d be way less brave about it. Did you ever live in his house?
I used to spend the night but I never lived there. His women were really pleasant. Some of them were sneaky but most of them were nice. I got along with them well. My mother didn’t care for me spending the night at Dad’s and she didn’t like that I got along with the women. But we went there because dad had the parties every Friday and Saturday night! We’d fry up some chicken feet, we’d sing and play music, and dad would get his women to go to the store and get all the drinks we wanted.
And if anyone tried to talk to his women, he’d get angry?
Yeah, he was very jealous, which was crazy because he’d get jealous and yet he’d still try to put you together with somebody.
In the end, your father’s women left him.
I talked to some of them and told them that they were in an awful situation and that they should get out. I told them their children were too young for him to be doing what he was doing to them, even though the mothers agreed to it, which is why he did what he did. They got out in the end.
After the label ended and his women left, did you see him much?
I’d go and visit him because he was sick. He’d look at me and say, with a grin, “Why are you looking at me like that? I’m not dead yet.” He’d still try and grab the nurses in the hospital and I’d say, “Dad, leave the nurses alone.” He was a womanizer to the end. Before I met him, I was told he was a pimp.
And was he?
He acted like a pimp. He always had a brand new car and he always looked successful, so people thought he could do things for them. Sometimes he’d give one of his women to a man for a short time so he could get the money when she came back. But he wasn’t a pimp-pimp, if you know what I mean.
The box set of Eccentric Soul: The Bandit Label contains every track Arrow Brown had a hand in, and is out now. There’s also a paperback with a 15,000-word essay and 50 period photographs. For more information visit numerogroup.com
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