Gene McDaniels was even before my time. The singer had his 3 Top 10 hit ballads in those pre-Beatle early 60s. Gene was a dude, he was suave (& that’s good). A handsome young man with a strong assured voice he worked out of Los Angeles with producer Snuff Garrett, a young Texan tyro with a facility for the confectionery pop of the day. In 1962 the role models for young African-American artists were Nat King Cole & Sammy Davis Jr. Sam Cooke wanted to play the Copacabana nightclub before realising, too late, that a change was gonna come. Gene’s trademark dramatic delivery was certainly more pop than R&B, his background more jazz than gospel. Liberty, his label, got 5 LPs out of him in 2 years. When the winds of change blew through US black music he was too far into the mainstream to take advantage. There were less successful 45s but no LPs for 7 years.
“It’s Trad Dad” (1962) is a British musical film, an early work by the great American director Richard Lester. The anemic line-up of Brit acts is augmented by American imports so cue Gene McDaniels with the over-emotional “Another Tear Falls”, beautifully shot in black & white, wreathed in cigarette smoke like a Herman Leonard photo come to life. Lovely. Looking on are the precocious teenager Helen Shapiro & the milkman turned teen idol Craig Douglas. Ironically it was the ineffectual Douglas who had appropriated McDaniels’ first hit “A Hundred Pounds Of Clay” for the UK market. The same thing happened to another hit “Tower of Strength”, when Frankie Vaughn, an “all-round entertainer” (huh !) made the Top 10 with a distinctive & punchy song.
Gene had access to some good songs. “Another Tear Falls” is by Bacharach & David. In 1966 the song was a hit for the Walker Brothers, lead brother Scott obviously picking up a few pointers from the original. A year earlier a Goffin & King song he recorded, “Point Of No Return” was covered by Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames. However , while the mid-1960s soul explosion brought success to many new artists, McDaniels was stranded on a golden oldie nightclub circuit. Frustrated by a lack of respect for his music & by the political situation in the US he left to live in Scandinavia where he applied himself to his songwriting. In 1969 a song of his recorded by Roberta Flack became a hit when covered by 2 jazz artists.
Well OK. Gene may have been oh so square that no-one cared but with “Compared To What” he was in the vanguard of the conscious black music which punctuated the end of the decade. The urgency & frustration matches both Marvin & Sly. Pianist Les McCann & saxophonist Eddie Harris expand the Jazz-Soul palette of Ramsey Lewis & Cannonball Adderley, introducing a militancy which hauls it from the path to the supper club & back out on to the street. This incredible clip is of the Montreux Jazz Festival concert, recorded for the hit LP. It’s almost a happy accident, trumpet Benny Bailey sitting in & fitting in where he can. An absolute classic.
There was a new bag of royalty money, a new confidence, a contract with Atlantic Records & a new name. It was Eugene McDaniels who began a second, more mature, phase of his career free from the nightclubs. His 2 LPs with Atlantic from 1970/71 were this great.
“Jagger The Dagger” is from “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse” a wonderful stew of psychedelic soul, funk & jazz. The rhythm section from Weather Report, drummer Alphonse Mouzon, bass Miroslav Vitous, kept the music away from any well-travelled path. Eugene’s lyrics were always conscious & considered. In fact the legend is that vice-president Spiro Agnew contacted Atlantic to protest about the incendiary lyrics. “No amount of dancing is going to make us free,” seems to be a fair & balanced opinion but back then Spiro preferred both the majority & the minority to be silent. There was a lot of very memorable African-American music around at this time. “Headless Heroes” fits right in with Sly’s “Riot Goin’ On” & Miles’ “On The Corner”. It’s good.
Eugene continued to write & in 1974 Roberta Flack recorded his song “Feel Like Making Love” which went to #1 on any chart it was eligible for. He got some producing gigs. Flack’s hit & the 250 plus covers & samples of “Compared” allowed him to live comfortably as a self-confessed “hermit” in Maine. He appeared in 2010, an engaging, still handsome 75 year old happy to talk about his career & to perform this charming, edifying version of his first hit “A Hundred Pounds Of Clay”. Eugene died in the next year, 2011, a talent who got & took a second chance after a first career at a time when any artistic development was a very poor second to selling some records. From this clip he seems to be a man comfortable in his own skin & that’s enough.