GENE McDANIELS (By Colin Kilgour)
Born Eugene Booker McDaniels, 12 February 1935, Kansas City, Missouri
Gene McDaniels is a class act. Inherent talent, a tremendous background including gospel, jazz and pop with ample experience in all of those fields. A unique song stylist and dynamic big voiced baritone, whose 1960s recordings defied pigeon-holing, appealing as they did to fans of R&B, pop and easy listening music. His music successfully crossed many musical barriers and one stat has him with seven top ten records as either artist, producer or writer.
His US chart span was from Spring 1961 to the end of 1962. Only some twenty months but he made quite an impact and he is held in surprisingly high regard by many Brit pop pickers, given he only just bothered the scorer as regards UK chart action, 'Tower of Strength' scraping just inside the fifty, late in '61.
Eugene Booker McDaniels was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 12, 1935, a month after Elvis. There are two Kansas Citys which sit opposite each other - different states but weight of opinion has it that Gene hails from the Missouri version. His father, the Reverend B.T. McDaniels, divorced Gene's mother and remarried when the boy was only three. Gene stayed with his father and stepmother Louise ("...... in many ways my saving grace, a wonderful lady") and in his formative years often listened to gospel recordings by such greats as the Swan Silvertones and Soul Stirrers.
The Reverend relocated the family to Nebraska in the early 1940s, firstly to the township of Lincoln and then on to Omaha. From an early age, Gene sang in his father's church choir and when he was just eleven formed a gospel quartet, The Echoes of Joy. He sang lyric tenor and played saxophone for the group who, during their nine-year existence, changed their name to The Echoes and then The Sultans. To increase their bookings they extended their repertoire to include such secular musical forms as jazz and folk, and were not averse to also performing many of the popular tunes of the day. Gene had a four octave range which could accommodate everything from top tenor parts to bass.
Despite a hectic touring schedule, Gene did not let his education slip and managed to continue studying music theory at the Omaha Conservatory of Music, Nebraska University and Omaha University from where he graduated. Whilst there he also studied voice and trumpet (as well as playing sax and trombone).
Gene toured with a group of a capella performers which worked its way to the West Coast. On leaving and hanging out in San Francisco he saw Johnny Mathis sing at a club, almost getting signed on by Mathis' manager (the club owner) but was summoned back to Omaha by the draft board. Worried that he might be killed in the Korean conflict, Gene hastily married. When it was decided that the Army didn't require his services after all, the young couple moved back out west to Los Angeles.
He eventually landed a gig at a club where the outfit drew large crowds that included Hollywood celebrities like Marlon Brando but only earned $100 a week each for their efforts. When they sought a $25 a week raise, they were fired and the club folded. A fan named Don Reardon used to come in regularly and arranged for Gene to audition for his friend Si Waronker, president of Liberty Records. Gene said "Si was the nicest guy I ever met. Very emotional, music was his life. When I sang for him he cried and signed me on the spot".
Having been rejected by several record companies, signing to the burgeoning Liberty label in 1959 was a big break and he eventually came under the remit of Tommy 'Snuff' Garrett, who also worked with another of the label's most successful acts of that era, Bobby Vee. Although Gene's first two singles, 'In Times Like These' and a revival of Jim Lowe's US million seller 'Green Door', attracted relatively little attention, Garrett and McDaniels were confident that success was imminent. For his third release, this son of a preacher man recorded a quasi-spiritual song. `A Hundred Pounds Of Clay' co-penned by producer/ songwriter Luther Dixon (known for his work with the Shirelles).
It was a neo-gospel song about God creating the human race and quickly climbed into the US Top Ten in the spring of 1961 where it took up residence for the next twelve weeks or so, becoming a gold record and reaching a high of number 3 in the States
In the UK, however. it received no BBC airplay as they strongly objected to three lines of its lyric. They had no problems with "God rolling his big sleeves up" as may have been expected but the lines concerning the creation of woman bothered their sensibilities. Gene was shocked by their decision "I don't know how anyone could read anything wrong in those words" he said, adding "My minister father thinks it's just wonderful". In those days before commercial radio, no BBC plays usually meant no sales and when UK chart regular Craig Douglas recorded a BBC-approved lyrically amended version, Gene's superior recording was left standing at the starting gate. His own view was that the song was 'mickey-mouse compared to the music I'd been involved with .... although being from a religious family, the reference to God was the one redeeming feature'.
Gene's next US single, another Dixon-penned ditty called `A Tear', also cracked the Top 40 in July 1961 and its follow-up, the melodramatic Burt Bacharach and Bob Hillard song 'Tower of Strength' reached the Top 5 on both the US Pop and R & B charts. In Britain, however Gene was again a victim of the cover version war. This time by the high-kicking all-round entertainer Frankie Vaughan (who in 1956, had the UK hit of `Green Door') and went all the way to No. l, while McDaniels had to be content with a placing at the lower end of the Top Fifty. The song was covered unsuccessfully by UK teenager Paul Raven, who had to wait until the 1970s to find success as Gary Glitter.
Gene liked this one "because of the humour and the trombone solo in front .......... you never hear a trombone intro to a song and there it was, and it was a hit! Blew my mind".
Gene also had US chart hits in 1962 with a Jeff Barry song, 'Chip Chip' (which completed a trio of Top 10 entries in less than a year), 'Funny' and Goffin & King's smooth and jazzy `Point Of No Return'. Other notables were 'Spanish Lace' and `It's A Lonely Town'. On most of his hits he was ably backed by the Johnny Mann Singers whose version of 'Up Up and Away' gave them a British Top Ten entry in 1967.
In his love/hate routine, Gene " ........ hated Chip. I thought it wasn't me but they'd put money into trying to do good albums and needed a hit". 'Point Of No Return' was Gene's favourite among his hits, in part because of his admiration for songwriter Carole King
Being one of the hottest artists of the time it was no surprise when he was included among the hitmakers in the 1962 plotless Anglo-American teen exploitation movie 'It's Trad Dad' (called `Ring A-Ding Rhythm' in the States) starring alongside other US headliners Chubby Checker, Gary `U.S.' Bonds, Del Shannon and Gene Vincent and British artists Helen Shapiro, the trad jazz trilogy of Ball, Barber and Bilk plus Craig Douglas who had earlier hit with Gene's `A Hundred Pounds Of Clay'. In the movie Gene can be seen singing the beautiful Bacharach/David ballad 'Another Tear Falls' which was the flipside of 'Chip Chip'. The next musical project that the film's director, Richard Lester, handled was The Beatles' big screen debut `A Hard Day's Night', going on later to make 'Help' with them.
At this peak time in his popularity, Gene came to the UK in a Spring 1962 tour headlined by Johnny Burnette. It also featured US Bonds, Mark Wynter and Roly Daniels.
Then there was 'The Young Swingers' movie from 1963, a US film 'musical romp' with Gene and Molly Bee. A punter on imdb tells us ............... "The only point of interest in this otherwise snooze inducing film is the presence of Gene McDaniels, and he doesn't even get to sing 'A Hundred Pounds of Clay". So there.
Gene covered other artists' outstanding songs such as `It's All In The Game', `Are You Sincere' and the haunting Earl Grant hit `The End'. Added to these are Gene's distinctive interpretations of Dorsey Burnette' 1960 US hit 'Tall Oak Tree' plus others such as 'I Don't Want To Cry', `A Little Bit Of Soap', 'You Can Have Her' and `Raindrops'.
Sadly it appears that Gene was caught in a trap some way behind Bobby Vee on Snuffy's priority list and he left Liberty in 1965 after releasing eight albums, none of which charted. No one at the label seemed quite sure what to do with him for best. Maybe the sheer diversity of his talents was his undoing .............. he said of himself "I've always been a jazzer".
I agree with the summary in Donald Clarke's Encyl. of Popular Music "His big voice deserved better use". Gene possessed a wealth of 'round pegs' of talent which never really quite fit into the 'square holes' available to him.
He briefly recorded for Columbia/CBS before quitting the business because of its "flesh peddlers" and did not re-appear again until 1970, when he signed to Atlantic Records under his full first name Eugene McDaniels. He did an album titled 'Headless Horseman Of The Apocalypse' which was angled more towards the work of Curtis Mayfield in its black pride social direction. But McDaniels discovered that while such work was soulful and socially aware as well as being aesthetically laudable, it may not be commercially acceptable. Pretty much the same fate awaited his second Atlantic soul album, 'Outlaw'.
In 1972 he made an album for MGM/Verve as lead singer of a band called Universal Jones. Increasingly however singing was taking a back seat to his other musical pursuits, particularly songwriting and production. One of his biggest successes was writing Roberta Flack's million selling 'Feel Like Making Love' which won a Grammy Award and topped the US singles chart in 1974, going platinum.
The man that Billboard called "The Best Kept Secret in Music" was however soon in demand, to some extent as a vocalist but also as a producer/arranger and songwriter. During the 1970s and 1980s he worked with artists such as Gladys Knight, Merry Clayton, Melba Moore, Vikki Carr and Nancy Wilson.
He worked as a record producer for CBS/Sony, Capitol, Motown, A&M, MGM, BMG and many independent labels. Other artists with whom he pooled his talents were Cannonball Adderly and BB King.
In 1986 Gene received an award at BMI's Annual 'Million Airs' function for creating, producing and publishing 'Feel Like Making Love' - which had achieved over three million playback performances. The song went on to reach four million and continues to grow, having been recorded on hundreds of different artists' albums. Flack also recorded his 'Reverend Lee' about a preacher who was unconventional. 'Compared To What' is a modern day jazz standard written by Gene for jazzmen Les McCann (an old friend) and Eddie Harris. That song has appeared in some eight major films including 'Casino' starring Robert DeNiro and was featured in an international Coca-Cola campaign. Gene published his own and personal friends' music through his first music publishing firm Sky Forest Music BMI, in New York City and thus started a new career writing and producing films using a body of work personally created and developed by himself and his partner.
Tom Simon on the web delivers the latest news I could locate saying 'In the early 21st century Gene kept busy writing screenplays. Although a good friend at one point suggested to him that he give up Gene refused, citing his belief that an angel was on the way'.
Gene with five children all of whom expressed interest in the music business, summarised his own career by saying "I sold records and became well known but I was never really part of the mainstream scene. I preferred hanging out with guys like Quincy Jones and Miles Davis. I was one of the few singers to work with Miles, and we'd talked about making an album together before be died. That could have been my career highlight. I don't believe in looking back over my career though. I can still sing and I love to sing, but since my stay with Liberty, I've become a writer-publisher-producer and my life today is something completely different, but I did love those days".
Oldies website has some more info but seeing as they credit Gene with writing 'Before You Accuse Me' instead of the other McDaniel aka Bo Diddley, I take it with the proverbial pinch of salt http://www.oldies.com/artist-view/Gene-McDaniels.html
http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Gene%20McDaniels.html seems better, telling us that "Gene's final album 'Natural Juices' (on Ode Records in 1975) contained his own version of 'Feel Like Making Love' "
Then you have http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_McDaniels
As well as enjoying all of Gene's US pop hits I really like 'Come on Take a Chance on Love' and the lachrymose pair 'A Tear' and 'Another Tear Falls'. Especially the latter ......... a great song, superb arrangement and McD's vocal is just amazing. All in all, a glorious record and one of my all-time favourite pop music experiences.
With acks. to CD sleeve notes penned by:
Colin Kilgour, May 2007, for Shakin' All Over
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