Born James Gene Barge, 1926, Norfolk, Virginia
Saxophonist / bandleader / producer / arranger / songwriter.
In high school, Gene Barge's ambition was to become a professional football player. In 1950 he graduated from West Vorginia State College, majoring in architecture. But he soon switched to music (first jazz, then R&B), having started to play the saxophone. In 1955 Gene wrote and recorded two sax instrumentals, called "Country" and "Way Down Home" which were released on Checker 839 in August 1956. Throughout the second half of the 1950s he maintained a band whilst holding down a teaching post at the Suffolk High School. This band comprised Emmett "Nabs" Shields on drums, Bill Ross on piano and Raymond White on bass.
Barge achieved some notoriety in 1957 by blowing a haunting, distinctive solo on Chuck Willis's "C.C. Rider", a # 1 R&B hit. A later session with Chuck Willis in October 1957 provided another fine sax solo on "Betty and Dupree". King Curtis was clearly influenced by Barge. By 1960, Gene was working for the Legrand label in Norfolk, which was founded in 1958 by Frank Guida and Joe Royster. From his jazz and R&B connections, Guida assembled a group of local musicians to form a house band for Legrand's recording sessions. Barge and the aforementioned Nabs Shields were among them, alongside pianist Willie Burnell, trombonist Leonard Barks, bass player Ron "Junior" Fairley, guitarist Wayne Beckner and another tenor sax man, Earl Swanson, who was married to Ruth Brown at the time. It was this group, minus Swanson and Burnell, that recorded the instrumental "A Night With Daddy G (Parts 1 & 2)" in 1960. Co-written by Barge, Guida and Royster, the record (Legrand 1004) bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1961 and was credited to The Church Street Five. "Daddy G" became Barge's nickname.
Legrand's big star was Gary Anderson, better known as (Gary) U.S. Bonds. On his first two singles, "New Orleans" (a Top 10 hit) and "Not Me" (did not chart), the sax player was Earl Swanson, not Gene Barge. When Bonds and Barge had a drink (or probably more than one) together in the Legrand studio, Daddy G asked Bonds to write lyrics for "A Night With Daddy G". Ten minutes later, Bonds had come up with some words and the band started jamming on the arrangement. This developed into "Quarter To Three", a # 1 hit for Gary U.S. Bonds in mid-1961. From that point on, Barge played a prominent role on all of Bonds's recordings. The Legrand sound was readily identifiable, the result of multiple overdubs and a live ambience created in the studio by producer Frank Guida. Another instrumental would inspire one of Gary's vocal recordings, namely "Trip To the Moon" (B-side of "School Is In"), which was created from the Church Street Five's "Fallen Arches" (Legrand 1010). Between 1960 and 1964, the Church Street Five had nine instrumental singles released on Legrand. After "A Night With Daddy G", these were all credited to Daddy "G" and the Church Street Five. Usually, these recordings sounded like backing tracks for Gary U.S. Bonds in search of a vocal and were mostly very similar. Throughout 1962 and 1963, Legrand's output was prolific. After Gary U.S. Bonds stopped having hits, Frank Guida achieved great success with Jimmy Soul, whose "If You Wanna Be Happy" went to # 1 (both pop and R & B) in the spring of 1963. Soul was backed by the same house band as Bonds, including Barge of course.
In 1964, after seven years of teaching, Gene Barge was hired as a producer, arranger, sax player and musical contractor for Chess Records. Some of the artists with whom he was involved were Little Milton, Fontella Bass, Muddy Waters, Billy Stewart, Koko Taylor, the Dells and the Soul Stirrers. During much of the 1960s and 1970s, Barge was active in the civil rights movement as a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization founded by Martin Luther King. In 1971, Barge moved from Chess to the Stax label, where he was put in charge of their gospel division, Gospel Truth. After Stax ceased operations, Barge was instrumental in launching the career of Natalie Cole (daughter of Nat King Cole), who scored many R&B and pop hits, including five number ones (R&B). Barge won a Grammy for co-producing Cole's "Sophisticated Lady" (1976). His co-producer, Marvin Yancey, married Cole. Barge appeared in eight movies, most recently in "The Guardian" (2006), starring Kevin Costner, and played cameo roles in the TV series "The Blues" and "Godfathers and Sons" (both in 2003).
(With thanks to Tony Wilkinson.)
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