Happy Birthday to the Left Rev. McD

(photo credit by Bryan Bruchman/Hillytown – @subinev)

Today is the birthday of Gene McDaniels. Eugene Booker McDaniels was born in 1935, which would have made him 80 today. What a fantastic accomplishment that would have been, but it certainly would have been a sweet icing on an already rich cake.

In his career, Gene advanced music, art, pop culture, social awareness, and the incendiary issues of racial divide that seemed to mark his entire time on this earth. Gene always got there before anyone else, defined the space he was in, and left seemingly before anyone else arrived. He did this in several chapters in his life to history-making success. Gene McDaniels was exceptional at everything he did.

Since Gene’s passing, I think of him frequently. The sense of loss is significant, as I had just gotten to meet and work with him in the last 2 years of his life. I have a lot more about Gene to share, but have been at a point of pause for some time now. I’ve been focusing my efforts on a gift to Gene that I had hoped would be complete by today so I might offer it as a birthday gift. Alas, this one will have to be slightly belated, as many homemade things are…

So, to celebrate Gene today, I’ve collected some of my favorite work of his in to a playlist. This is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive; it just is a tiny scratch on the surface of a huge body of work. I’m enjoying these songs today, and hope you do, as well.

“I have just begun to know the meaning of my being…” – Gene McDaniels, “Follow You Down”

Thanks, Gene. Take it slow.

How I Invited Gene McDaniels to my Wedding

first dance

On Saturday, November 2nd, I married the love of my life, my best friend Kirah. The day was, as many say, a whirlwind. At our ceremony, she entered to a rare live performance of “I Hear a Symphony” by the Supremes. We recessed together to “In France They Kiss On Main Street” by Joni Mitchell, a favorite of ours as well as my Uncle John’s.

At last, after an unforgettable ceremony and cocktail reception, we finally found ourselves at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge, on the lit disco dance floor in their back room.

To thank Gene for the part he has played in my life, and to honor his absence, Kirah and I chose “Feel Like Makin’ Love” as our first dance, and it was magical. Even the Rice Krispie guys thought it was sweet.

“Everything You See Is Me…”

rasa

On the anniversary of his birth, I feel it is only appropriate to give love and respect to the incomparable London McDaniel, son of Gene McDaniels. London wove himself in to my story via an amazing record that I came across under rather humble circumstances.

London is guitarist, writer, and producer of an album called “Everything You See Is Me,” by a project called RASA. I happened upon it, honestly and truly, in the Salvation Army in a pile of records marked $.50. Always one for a good pick or crate dig, I bypassed the Roger Miller stuff (forgive me) and came across this cover bearing what appears to be a setting sun, graced by a shadow of a passing bird. It filled the cover with color, and had a simply typeset title and artist on the front. I was already sold.

But, in flipping the record over, a few names immediately caught my eye, namely bassist Anthony Jackson and saxophonist Michael Brecker. What I missed in the credits at that moment were two McDaniels brothers, Chris and London.

Later on, after many weeks or months of good listening, I was finally ready to share this burner of a record with my brother Travis, who just happens to front a pretty tight funk outfit. I shared it with the whole Miss Fairchild band and ended up discussing it with our longtime engineer Jim Begley, who offered two major points of significance. He confirmed that Chris and London were indeed related to Gene; his sons. The reason he knew this is because the actual real Gene McDaniels was a client at the very Studio we were currently working at. Stunned, I think, might be the word. The only other one that I think felt this significance out of us was my pal and outstanding DJ/producer Sammy Bananas.

The confluence of just these things; from the record, to the listens, to the Studio, to Gene… this is all astounding to me. When you start adding all of the other elements that pointed toward Gene, it became obvious and inevitable that I would meet him.

I met London at his father’s funeral, the anniversary of which I recalled a few weeks ago. While much was a blur that day, I do remember trying to offer a few words to London, never thinking that at that particular moment, I could fully share what his amazing record had meant to me.

Truthfully, there’s so much more to be told leading up to this moment, this acceleration of gravity. Years of orbits through so many people and through so much music. But, for timeliness’ sake, I had to share this story to give thanks and appreciation to London on the anniversary of his birth. For being such a great part of the story.

The Orbiting of Gene McDaniels

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(image courtesy of Matthew Robbins Photography)

There was a period of time when I was not fully cognizant of the man and the artist that everyone calls Gene. Eugene McDaniels, however, has become one of the most significant forces in my music and daily life. Before I was even aware of Gene, I was orbiting him. His music was surrounding me. His influence was finding ways to reach me, having the graciousness to send intercessors.

This orbit lasted decades, weaving through other artists and points of entry (including his producer, his producer’s son, the artist that became his “voice,” his longtime studio engineer and collaborator, and his own son, among others) before threading the needle and opening a moment where I could connect with the man himself.

At first, I was not actively seeking Gene, or these people in his life. Rather, they met me on my journey, and all of them pointed to Gene. It almost seems a little like “Alice in Wonderland” or perhaps “Wizard of Oz.”

When gravity finally won after this long orbit, and I was drawn in to contact with Gene, I should have anticipated at that point that our time together would be brief.

Since his passing in the summer of 2011, I have rewound and replayed every spare moment I shared with Gene… every phone call, every unreleased note we listened to in the quiet of his car, and every piece of sushi between us. One might say that the tape in my mental recorder is showing a little wear from dragging it across the playhead repeatedly. But, these recollections have proven to sharpen my picture of Gene, and contribute to my better understanding of why our orbit was so long, and why our actual connection in person seemed so damn quick.

As brief as it seemed, Gene has obviously given me a lifetime of music and thoughts to understand and actualize. I am hardly the only one. The man was a sublime and wide-ranging vocalist who wrote some of the most genre-defining love songs in popular music. He learned the art of interpretation from his early pop career, and then wrote music that others wanted to interpret for themselves. He was a keen producer who understood how to make memorable artist-centered records. He has been hailed as an activist for social, political, and racial issues. His own recordings were so groundbreaking that, despite some of their label-imposed obscurity, are some of the most sampled and lauded records in hip hop music.

As this world approaches 2 years on without the person of Gene, it almost has become easier to see his presence everywhere in pop music, art, and culture. I’ve been looking, and I see him constantly.