Gene McDaniels, the eclectic singer, songwriter, and producer of the ’60s and ’70s soul era for rhythm and blues music has died. McDaniels passed away July 29 at his home in Kittery Point, Maine, he was 76.
Born Eugene Booker McDaniels on Feb. 12, 1935, in Kansas City Mo. to Reverend B.T. McDaniels; the singer grew up in Omaha performing with the church choir from a young age. According to Joel Whitburn’s Record Research, he also attended the Omaha Conservatory of Music during his youth.
By his 20s, McDaniels had moved to Los Angeles seeking out a professional career in mainstream music.
His first Billboard hits came in the early ’60s with, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” and, “Tower of Strength,” reaching the 3rd and 5th spots on the pop charts respectively. Riding a wave of fame from the two hit singles, McDaniels appeared in two films during the next few years with performances in, It’s Trad Dad which released in 1962, and The Young Swingers which released the following year.
After his initial success as a soul and R&B singer on Liberty Records, McDaniels began branching his career towards song writing and producing into the late ’60s. Moving with the times, McDaniels also began infusing his social awareness and commentary into his songs in the late ’60s on into the ’70s.
Written for Les McCann and Eddie Harris, McDaniels penned his most famous social commentary, “Compared To What” in 1968. Appearing on McCann and Harris’s 1969 Atlantic release, Swiss Movement, the socially charged protest song became a crowd favorite during live performances. The song has also been featured in eight films, including Casino, and an international Coca-Cola campaign. Most recently John Legend and The Roots covered the song for 2010’s, Wake Up.
During this time, McDaniels signed on to Atlantic Records producing two records on the label, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse,” and “Outlaw.” However, his social commentary proved too much for the record company which dropped him from their roster.
They were very political albums, and they got him kicked off his label, said Karen McDaniels, Gene’s wife, to the Los Angeles Times.
With no obligations to a label, McDaniels focused on producing and writing music into the ’70s which led to his greatest accolades.
Released in June 1974, “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” went on to become his greatest commercial success topping the charts at No. 1. Though performed by Roberta Flack, McDaniels wrote and composed the song which received three Grammy nominations during the 17th annual Grammy Awards Show. In 1986, McDaniels received a BMI Award for creating and producing the major hit.
Over his life-long career in music, McDaniels had the pleasure to work with immensely talented peers including; Herbie Hancock, Phyllis Hyman, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Gladys Knight, Cannonball Adderly, Nancy Wilson, Melba Moore, Sarah Vaughn, Merry Clayton, Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Carter, Aretha Franklin, BB King.
He is survived by his third wife Karen, six children, and nine grandchildren.