|Posted by Darlene on July 14, 2010 at 8:34 PM|
This article was originally posted on http://texashotcountrymagazine.com/
BY LEON BECK
Singer/songwriter Gene Thomas, best known for pop classics like “Sometimes,” “Playboy” (a duet with Debbie Neville), “Baby’s Gone Away” and “The Last Song,” a juke box favorite at Garner State Park, has a track record as a songwriter that most aspiring songwriters can only dream of attaining.
Artists who have recorded his songs have included some of the most legendary figures in the music industry, including Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Tina Turner, George Jones, Kenny Rogers, the Gentrys, Buffy Sainte- Marie, Don Gibson, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley & Charly McClain, Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, Joe Stampley & the Uniques, Carl Smith, Eddy Raven, Dottie West, Nat Stuckey, Connie Smith, Floyd Cramer and many others. Dean Martin also sang one of Gene’s songs, “A Perfect Mountain,” on his television show, which can be viewed on YouTube.
Gene, who has been off the music radar in recent years, just released a new CD of previously recorded material, Watching It Go, which includes the title cut, as well as 21 other gems, including “my old antique version of ‘Lay It Down,’” “Sometimes” (Gene’s first-ever recording), “The Promised Land,” “The Train” and “Remembered By Someone.”
In the CD’s liner notes, Gene explains the spirit and heart of his latest project. “This CD,” he writes, “is a collection of songs spanning a few decades, including my very first recording of “Sometimes” from 1961 in a local one-track studio in (Houston) Texas, to the ‘then’ state-ofthe art studios in Nashville, on through to the 90’s. Also included is my original version of my most recorded song, ‘Lay It Down,’ from the early 70’s. Mostly my own compositions, but also my versions of a few from songwriter friends. All but a couple of these songs were unreleased or unpromoted, so I’m sure you’re apt to hear many never heard by the public-at-large.
“I truly hope you find some you will like. I consider them some of my best efforts. Just my opinion of course, but here’s hoping you might agree.”
“You know,” Mickey says in the liner notes, “Gene once said to me, ‘We’re different from most people. We sit around with noise always in our heads. It kills us—and it gives us life.’ Complex simplicity is the only way to describe Gene Thomas. Understood only by his closest friends, and then, never completely. He writes with the insight of an old man, and like the rest of us, at times, closes his mind to the wisdom of his own words. He’s human, intensely idealistic at times, and at times a prisoner of himself. Gene is not one of the ‘new breed’ of country writers that seems to find its’ label on so many the past few years. He’s just a writer of beauty in the same tradition as Stephen Foster. Unfortunately, most people will never see the diamonds for the sequins.” In the early ‘70s, singer/songwriter Mickey Newbury wrote the liner notes for one of Gene’s albums, which defined his perception of the mystique of the man and his music.
When Gene first decided to venture into the music business in the late ‘50s, the ninth grade drop-out from Palestine, Texas, made the journey to Houston in search of his golden star. “I was so naive,” Gene recalls of that first trip to Houston, “I looked in the phone book for RCA and Columbia Records. Of course, they weren’t there, so I went back to East Texas and worked in a sawmill.”
He eventually returned to Houston, but still didn’t find what he was searching for. In a word, he was discouraged. “I had already quit because I had no idea where you go, what you do, how you record, what to record. I had no idea. I was a country boy picker -- and at the time I didn’t even have a guitar.”
Gene was playing bars and dives in the Houston area when he hooked up with a couple of guys who led him to Gold Star Recording Studio (now Sugar Hill) where he recorded a song that he had just written, “Sometimes.”
In the studio, Gene say, he “played the piano with a mic stuck in front of me on a one-track machine. I played it once and it was OK, but it was too long because back then you had to be like 2 minutes, 15 seconds, so I chopped off one verse and did it again.” That was the first time that Gene was ever in a recording studio, and that date is etched in his memory.
March 7, 1961. “I don’t have a photographic memory, only for bits and pieces, but I remember that date.
“And we all kind of knew something was there. We got our little record printed, and we, of course, found out that no one would play it in Houston.” But they had better luck outside the Houston market. They did get airplay at a small radio station in Huntsville, and at a station in Texas City.
“A little bitty place out there with rattlesnakes in it. We left it there, they liked it and put it on the turtable.” Gene’s first break came when KPAC, “a powerful station that covered Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange,” played “Sometimes,” which jumped on their music chart from 19 to 10 to 1 in three weeks. So, then Houston started playing it.
“Sometimes” became the No. 1 song in Houston,” Gene says, “and No. 1 in Dallas, San Antonio and all the major cities in Texas.” That song landed Gene a recording contract with United Artists in Nashville. And when rock ‘n’ roll legend Roy Orbison heard the song while on a trip to Houston, he contacted Gene’s label and offered to produce him.
Roy produced several songs on Gene, including “Baby’s Gone Away” and “Peace Of Mind.” “Baby’s Gone Away” became Gene’s second Billboard chart single.
Gene admits that he was “scared” at recording at the one-track studio in Houston, and he was “absolutley terrified” at recording in the Nashville studio, working with the likes of Floyd Cramer, the Anita Kerr Singers, Bobby Goldsboro and Roy Orbison.
Working with Roy fueled Gene’s career, and in the ‘60s he played concerts with the likes of the Beach Boys, the Dave Clark Five and Rusty & Doug. In ‘68, he recorded his biggest hit, “Playboy,” with Debbie Neville, which hit No. 17 on Billboard’s pop chart.
As Gene edges close to the 50th anniversary of “Sometimes,” his body of work as a recoring artist and songwriter has given him his page in pop music history.
“What makes me happiest in life is when someone hears your song, and you see that look that you know you’ve reached ‘em.
“I live for that.”