Monday, August 01, 2011

R.I.P. Gene McDaniels

Gene McDaniels, at 76; soared up charts as versatile singer, writer of Roberta Flack hit


NEW YORK - Eugene McDaniels, whose mellifluous voice brought him high onto the Billboard charts several times in the early 1960s and who later wrote “Feel Like Makin’ Love,’’ which Roberta Flack took to the top of the charts in 1974, died Friday at his home in Kittery Point, Maine. He was 76.

With his four-octave range, Gene McDaniels, as he was first professionally known, hit number three in the spring of 1961 with “A Hundred Pounds of Clay’’ and number five later that year with “Tower of Strength.’’ He last hit the Top 40 with “Spanish Lace’’ in late 1962.
Mr. McDaniels’s songs, including those he wrote for other artists later in his career, jumped from jazz to blues to ballads to gospel and could be laced with cultural criticism and political protest.
The lyrics of his bluesy up-tempo song “Compared to What,’’ recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 by the pianist and singer Les McCann and the saxophonist Eddie Harris, include:

“The president, he’s got his war Folks don’t know just what it’s for Nobody gives us rhyme or reason Have one doubt, they call it treason’’ After hitting number one in 1974, Flack’s rendition of Mr. McDaniels’s swooning “Feel Like Makin’ Love’’ (“Strollin’ in the park/Watchin’ winter turn to spring/Walking in the dark seein’ lovers do their thing’’) was nominated for a Grammy. It has since been covered by numerous artists. Eugene Booker McDaniels was born in Kansas City, Kan., to Booker and Louise McDaniels. The family later moved to Omaha, where his father was a minister. He sang in the church choir, became enthralled by jazz, attended the Omaha Conservatory of Music, and moved to Los Angeles when he was 19. There he began performing jazz as a solo singer before meeting and performing with his jazz idol, McCann. That led to his signing with Liberty Records. Later in his career, Mr. McDaniels became a producer for, among others, organist Jimmy Smith and singers Nancy Wilson and Merry Clayton. Mr. McDaniels’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Besides his wife, the former Karen Thompson, he leaves five sons, Dylan Patterson, London, Christopher, Django, and Mateo; a daughter, Dali; a sister, Patricia Nichols; and nine grandchildren. Although Mr. McDaniels was absent from the charts as a performer after the early 1960s, his writing continued to leave its mark. His songs “have substantial melodies and rich, useful harmonies,’’ Don Heckman wrote in The New York Times in 1970, adding that it was “difficult to think of any other composer since Bob Dylan who has managed so well to find musical expression for the swirling cultural currents that envelop us.’’

A video for "Tower of Strength"