|Gene Summers, School of Rock 'n' Roll
Gene Summers, born 3 January 1939, Dallas, Texas
Gene Summers has been a recording artist for over 50 years. Still, I doubt if any of our readers had ever heard of him in 1958. Like so many rock 'n' roll artists of the fifties, Gene was an artist who recorded for small local US labels whose output received very little exposure. I think that the man most responsible for bringing Summers to a wider audience is Dutchman Cees Klop. He undertook several trips to the USA in the late 1960s and came back with enormous piles of obscure R&R and rockabilly records. Among these were the Jan recordings by Gene Summers and Cees issued six of these on Side One of the LP "Rock And Roll, Vol. 2" in 1971 (Collector CL 1009). Like all early Collector releases, this was a bootleg LP, but it must have contributed greatly to Gene's popularity in Europe.
Gene Summers was an only child, born in 1939 in Dallas, but he went to school in Duncanville, Texas. Having mastered the guitar in his high school days, he formed his own band in 1957, the Rebels (Gene Summers, Jerry Mann, Benny Williams and James McClung). After performing at a TV show in Dallas, "Country Picnic", they were discovered by Jed Tarver, a local songwriter, who wrote under his wife's name, Mary Tarver, and who would go on to write many of Gene's best recordings, like "Nervous", "Twixteen" and "Straight Skirt". Tarver introduced the group to Dallas oilman Tom Fleeger, who had just started a new record label, which he had called Jan Records, after his mother. Fleeger signed the Rebels in late 1957 and supervised their 1958 Jan recordings, which still stand out as Gene's best work. His debut record, credited to Gene Summers and his Rebels, was released on February 1, 1958, and coupled "School Of Rock 'n' Roll" (written by group member James McClung) with Tarver's "Straight Skirt". The former is probably Gene's most famous number and has its own Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Rock_%27n_Roll but Mercury Records was especially interested in "Straight Skirt" and wanted to buy the master. When Fleeger declined, Mercury covered the song with the Diamonds, who had one of their few flops from that period with the song.
Tom Fleeger was used to being successful and thought he could build Jan into a major label. He set up an office in Hollywood and decided to record there, to get that hit sound. The first session was done at Master Recorders, soon followed by a second session at the Liberty studio. That session produced "Nervous", "Twixteen" and "Gotta Lotta That" (written by Bernice Bedwell, of "Lotta Lovin'" fame), recorded with top L. A. session men : Rene Hall (guitar), Plas Johnson (sax), Earl Palmer (drums) and Red Callendar (bass). However, the second and third Jan single (Nervous / Gotta Lotta That and Twixteen / I'll Never Be Lonely) sold no better than "School Of Rock 'n' Roll", good as they were, and Tom Fleeger soon lost interest. There were no more trips to the West Coast and all of Gene's subsequent recordings would be made in Texas, usually Dallas or Fort Worth, for a host of local labels. The most successful of these was "Big Blue Diamond", which was picked up for national distribution by Jamie Records in 1964, but did not chart nationally. Until 1981, there was a steady stream of Gene Summers product. Gene would stay surprisingly faithful to his original rock 'n' style through the decades.
In 1980 he did his first European gig, in Lille, France. He would return to Europe many times, recording a live LP in Sweden in the process (1983). Two heart attacks in 1991 forced him to slow down, but he made a come- back and is still performing today. In fact, early in 2008 he recorded and released a new CD, "Reminisce Cafe" on the Silicon label, his first US studio recording since 1980.
Courtesy of Dik De Heer, This is My Story
All pictures © The BlackCat, The Kings of Rock 'n' Roll Weekender,