James & Bobby Purify were an R&B singing duo that originally comprised cousins James Purify and Robert Lee Dickey. It was these two who recorded their biggest hit, "I'm Your Puppet" in 1966. Dickey retired because of health problems at the end of the decade and James Purify re-recorded the song with a new "Bobby Purify," Ben Moore in 1976. This time, it was a hit in the UK peaking at #12 and also charting highly in The Netherlands.
Dewey "Spooner" Oldham and Dan Penn wrote the song with the latter also producing the track. Other hits penned by the pair include "Cry Like A Baby
" by The Box Tops and "It Tears Me Up" by Percy Sledge. It was Penn who introduced Purify to Moore.
Speaking with The Tallahassee Democrat in 2000, Dickey admitted that he despised singing the song. "I hated it," he said. "It was originally intended to be the B-side. But things got changed ... I sang it for 23 hours straight (in the studio), that's why I hate it."
Somebody who is much more enthusiastic about the song is music writer Dave Marsh, especially its laid-back tempo, (listen to how far behind beat the snare drum is). Here's what he wrote in his book The Heart of Rock & Soul regarding the writers and performers of this soul classic: "All of them make it sound so easy, you can believe it's all just a matter of 'Pull them little strings and I'll do anything.' if the best definition of cool is that which never has to expand any energy defining itself, 'I'm Your Puppet' may be the coolest soul classic ever recorded."
The original James & Bobby Purify followed up this song with three more Hot 100 Top 40 entries, "Wish You Didn't Have to Go," "Let Love Come Between Us." and a cover of the Five Du-Tones' "Shake a Tail Feather." After Moore replaced Dickey they had no other big hits, but remained popular on the tour circuit in the 1980s. After Purify retired, Moore went solo but in 1998 he went blind from glaucoma. However, with the encouragement of Ray Charles, he continued performing and recording before joining the gospel band Blind Boys of Alabama in 2005.
After retiring, Dickey returned to his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, in 1972 where he became a custodial crew supervisor at the Tallahassee Police Department. He continued singing with his church and as a member of the Bethlehem Male Singers. Dickey died on December 29, 2011.
The song came out of nowhere. "We ate dinner at this barbecue place across from Fame studio and then went back. I broke out, this cheap 12–string, cooked up the rhythm, Spooner got behind the piano and the magic happened," Dan Penn recalled to Mojo. "Who knows where it came from, but I was walking around singing, 'The Puppet,' and we cut the demo right then and there."