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Gene Summers

Gene Summers has been a recording artist for over 50 years. Like so many rock ‘n roll artists of the fifties, Gene recorded for small, local U.S. 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 U.S.A. in the late 1960’s and came back with enormous piles of obscure rock ‘n roll 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. He learned to play the guitar by the age of twelve. He later formed his own band in 1957, “The Rebels” (Gene Summers, Gary Moon, Benny Williams and James McClung). While performing on a TV show in Dallas, “Joe Bill’s 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. Mercury Records was especially interested in “Straight Skirt” and wanted to buy the master. When Fleeger declined, Mercury covered the song with the “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 singles (“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 Gene soon lost interest in the Jan label. 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 Diamonds”, which was picked up for national distribution by Jamie Records in 1964. Also, in 1966 Mercury Records released Gene’s single, “The Clown”, which was produced by Major Bill Smith. In 1980 Gene did his first European show in Lille, France. He would return to Europe many times, appearing on the national French television program, “Le Grand Échiquier” (The Great Chessboard) in 1981 and, in 1983, recorded a live LP in Sweden. Two heart attacks in 1991, plus a heart transplant in 1993, forced him to slow down, but he made a comeback in 1995 and is still performing today. In fact, early in 2008 he recorded and released a new CD, “Reminisce Cafe” on the Seduction label, his first U.S. studio recording since 1980. (Adapted, with permission, from “This is My Story”, by Dik de Heer)