The name Eugene McDaniels is an indelible stamp on the face of modern music. His career as an artist, songwriter, and producer not only spanned decades and genres, but entire generations, weaving its way through the work of fellow artists, often marking their successes as well as taking its own trailblazing path.
Eugene McDaniels always arrived in the first wave - seeking then finding new, and sometimes strange, territories. He will always be known as one of the pioneers, wherever his work and words take him. Even from its inception, his career was destined to rattle the establishment. His first Billboard hits as Gene McDaniels, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” and “Tower of Strength,” shot to the Billboard Top 10 on the mainstream pop charts in an era where music by black artists was relegated to “race music.”
A decade after his initial successes, Eugene planted a flag for the emerging black consciousness movement, reclaiming his name, his identity as an artist, and declaring a new purpose for the socially explosive “Outlaw” and “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse” albums.
“Headless Heroes” is rife with missives railing against colonialism in history, “The Parasite (for Buffy)” and colonialism in pop music, “Jagger the Dagger.” The album, famously rankled the Nixon White House to the extent that Spiro Agnew personally called Atlantic Records’ Ahmet & Nesuhi Ertegun, requesting that “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse” be pulled. In a most interesting echo, the album features a proto-hip hop track, “Supermarket Blues,” where Eugene raps over a staccato beat about his run in with the law at the local market over a “lousy can of peas.” Decades later, in a newly-defined era of black awareness, the album became highly collectable by hip hop producers, and has been used by Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Organized Konfusion, Jungle Brothers, Beastie Boys, De La Soul and countless others.
His first hit as a songwriter, the groundbreaking “Compared to What,” was a major hit for Les McCann and Eddie Harris, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival on June 21, 1969 and released on their ‘Swiss Movement’ album the same year. “Compared to What” was one of the first quantifiable hits for the emerging soul jazz movement and became an anthem for the rising anti-war sentiment of the time and still today is considered by many to be one of the fifty most important protest songs of the last 50 years.
“Compared to What” would serve to introduce Eugene’s music to the singular talent that is Roberta Flack. In the years since she chose that track to kick off her debut album, “First Take,” Flack has recorded or performed some 18+ tunes of McDaniels. The most famous of these, “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts, helped define R&B music in the 70‘s, and has since been recorded over 400 times. Both “Compared to What” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” have been recorded hundreds of times over since their first releases by artists as varied as D’Angelo, Lumidee, Bob James, Terence Blanchard, Mushroom, John Legend, Larry Coryell, Bobby Hutcherson, Richard Roundtree, George Benson, Lou Rawls, Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Lou Rawls, to name just a few.
Eugene McDaniels was more than happy in his role as a producer, with a list of production credits that includes Roberta Flack, Merry Clayton, Melba Moore, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Phyllis Hyman, and Jimmy Smith – in total, over 35 productions.
After a substantial hiatus, McDaniels recorded “Evolution’s Child” in 2009. It was written with McDaniels’ longtime collaborator, pianst Ted Brancato and brings back long time ‘McDaniels’ friend, bassist Ron Carter, who last recorded with Eugene on his “Outlaw” release in 1970, and drummer Teri Lyne Carrington, as featured rhythm section. Together, they demonstrate fantastic restraint, offering spare piano -and-vocal takes on known themes, newly voiced by McDaniels. In total “Evolution’s Child” spans decades of work and composition, threading the needle of Eugene’s many incarnations, inspirations, and motivations. With it’s powerful vocals and emotive approach by a 74 year old McDaniels, it perfectly bookends his massive career. In his last two decades on this planet Gene often said that he was in his “spiritual trimester”. This recording perfectly encapsulates what that was for him. Look for a 2016 vinyl and digital release.