21 February 2013

Gene Rockwell - Don't Leave Me Now

Label: Continental
Year of Release: 1965

South Africa bred a large number of stars within its music scene who failed to cross over to the rest of the world's charts, and Gene Rockwell was one such scamp. Based in the town of Krugersdorp, Gene initially plied his trade as a bluesman in the group The Falcons before striking out on his own to have a huge hit with "Heart" in his home country in 1965.  That track is still a favourite within those borders (I'm assured) and can be heard on Youtube.

Nestling away on its flipside, however, is this beaty number which is filled to the brim with twangy guitars, moody vocals and a shuffling garage sound, in wild contrast to the commercial balladry on the A-side.  It's admittedly not quite as radical or punkish as I'm perhaps making it sound, having a touch of the Cliff Richards about the clean production, but his blues roots are more prominent on this side and showcase his talents to a much stronger degree.

Sadly, Rockwell passed away in 1998 at 53 years of age, but remains fondly remembered by many South Africans.


Brian Emmis said...

I was so pleased that you featured Gene Rockwell (and the Falcons).

I grew up in South Africa, went to many of his gigs and got to know Gene and George Usher quite well. However, although Gene had a naturally bluesy voice he never ever talked about blues influences nor did I hear him sing any traditional blues songs. At first, he was an out and out rock and roller. For me, Gene and the Falcons were always much better playing live than on record (probably due to the primitive and conservative recording studios in SA in the early 60's.)

When I first saw Gene and the Falcons they were mainly playing late 50's & then early 60's rock n roll, quite a lot of instrumentals and some country numbers such as:
Beat Girl. (John Barry's instrumental featuring Vic Flick on guitar)
Tower of Strength (made popular by Frankie Vaughan and other british artists)
Calling Doctor Casey (from the TV series and written by John D Loudermilk)
Bully of the Beach (Also written by John D Loudermilk)
Windy and Warm (Instrumental written byJohn D Loudermilk)
Detroit City (Gene did a fine version of this song that was made famous by Billy Grammer, Bobby Bare and Tom Jones)
Gandy Dancer (Instrumental originally performed by the Ventures with the very stylish lead guitar of Alan Love who took over from George Usher)
On the Street Where You live (By Nat King Cole but with a bouncy shuffle rhythm)
Spudnik AKA Surf Rider (Instrumental)
They also did some Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Cliff Richard numbers. However, on one album, the record company made them include the Beatles song "She Loves You". I remember Gene being unhappy with being made to do that and the version they recorded clearly shows their lack of interest in doing that cover.

What surprised me in the early days of the band is that they were luxuriously equipped with Fender Stratocasters, Fender Precision Bass and Fender Amps. Jannie Heynes, the bass player, even had a Dual Fender Showman amp which had a great sound. As I recall it had two Lansing 18" loudspeakers and a very warm but powerful sound.

Gene eventually went on to become a fine country artist. He was a really nice guy and I miss the days of watching the band doing live rock n roll.

23 Daves said...

Thanks for dropping by to pass on those memories, Brian. They add a lot of detail and colour which I otherwise wouldn't have been able to find, and it's really useful to hear your account!

Brian Emmis said...

You are welcome Daves. By the way, I do not remember Gene and the Falcons performing "Don't Leave Me Now" live. It is a long time ago of course but I will try and recall some of the other songs they played. I notice that more and more of their recordings are gradually appearing on YouTube.

Brian Emmis said...

Just remembered another song that Gene sang live. "The Time Has Come". Originally written for Adam Faith who took it to No 2 in the UK charts. Gene's live version was slower, a lot more soulful and gritty than the rather "light" rendition by Adam Faith.

Brian Emmis said...

And Gene did a very soulful version "Town Without Pity" originally made famous by Gene Pitney