Friday, 16 August 2013

Gene Summers- The Rockin Texas Cat

Gene Summers is one of those artists you sort of stumble across by accident, on a destination to another musical point you discover something else along the way. He has a really interesting catalogue of 45's that were released on small labels from 1958 into the late 60's, and they cover the gamut from rockabilly to R&B. It follows a lineage many rockabilly artists took when the rockabilly fad died out, they either took the country path or the more urban path of rhythm and blues. Some of those artists crossed both divides and in doing so created an amazing body of work.

Gene Summers was born in Dallas Texas in 1939, Texas is a place that doesn't get it's due when it comes to music, because anything that came out of Texas had a unique style. A bit like Louisiana, Texas music had a few extra ingredients, there was the ever present influence of Mexican music, in terms of blues they pioneered a very strong down at home bare to the bone style of playing. Bob Willis revolutionised music with his version western swing that mixed country and jazz. So when you listen to Summers' early rockabilly records you are struck by how primitive and raw they sound, there are all the elements of rock and roll but they have an intensity that is different from the rockabilly records recorded in Memphis and Arkansas. His first release was the brutal School of Rock and Roll which was released on the Jan label in March 1958. It has a pounding piano sound that dominates the record but also a brooding rumbling rhythm section that propels the record, the middle of the song has some jungle drums which became familiar to me on some of Buddy Holly's records.

Going under the name Gene Summers and the Rebels he recorded the song nervous which was released in July of 1958, this song has a real bluesy feel to it, it sounds more polished with some nice doo-wop style backing vocals. Twixteen was recorded in Dallas the same year and sees a return to the rockabilly sound of his first record, it's one of those great rock and roll records that focuses on the drama's of adolesence. For some reason Gene didn't release another record for three years, in 1962 he started releasing records on a variety of labels, Almost Twelve O'Clock came out on the Texas based Lafayette label. There is a definite shift in his musical style, the song has a distinct R&B feel and sounds like an uptempo version of Bobby Day's Over and Over.

The following year he released a cover of the Red Perkins song Big Blue Diamonds which was first released as a 78RPM single on King Records in 1950. Summers' version has a more pop styling but it has a distinctive organ melody which gives it more of a soul feel, the single was initially released on two small Texas labels before being picked up by the Jamie label out of Philadelphia, a label that was home to the great Duane Eddy. The follow up Alabama Shake was issued on the Capri label, this is a more uptempo beat styled number with some nice triplet style piano, the guitar solo features some funky Chuck Berry style licks. The B side Just Because is a slower more bluesy ballad with a nice sax interlude. Being 1964 it would have been hard for this type of 45 to break out of the local region. Gene summers continues to record and tour and lot of his material has been reissued on the collectibles label and the brilliant ACE.

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