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Big Al Downing

Referenced from

Music Style Rock n Roll

Profile: Born: January 09, 1940, Centralia, OK

Died: July 05, 2005, Leicester, MA

Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Genres: Rhythm & Blues

Instrument: Vocals

Representative Albums: "One of a Kind", "Big Al Downing Greatest Hits, Vol. 1", "Classic Collection

Representative Songs: "Down on the Farm", "Georgia Slop", "Sneaky, Freaky People

Big Al Downing was a unique if unsung figure in the annals of popular music, becoming one of the first African-Americans to enjoy success in the white-dominated realms of rockabilly and country. So varied and checkered was his long career that he even cracked the disco charts. Born January 9, 1940, in Lenapah, OK, Downing was one of 12 children, joining his father and three siblings in a family gospel group. At age ten he began teaching himself piano and by 14 he was performing local events, drawing inspiration from his idol Fats Domino. In fact, Downing not only won a Coffeyville, KS, radio station talent contest covering "Blueberry Hill," but his performance so impressed local rockabilly singer Bobby Poe that he invited the young pianist to join his backing band, the Rhythm Rockers (soon after rechristened the Poe Kats). Downing turned down a basketball scholarship from Kansas State University to accept the offer, and after several tours of the Midwest the group signed to the Dallas-based White Rock label to cut two 1958 singles: the first, "Down on the Farm," was credited to Big Al Downing & the Poe Kats, while the follow-up was credited to Poe. Downing brought to both a gritty, R&B-inspired edge largely absent from most rock & roll records of the time, even recalling Jerry Lee Lewis with his frenetic piano playing.

Neither White Rock release was a hit, but the Poe Kats nevertheless caught the attention of rockabilly spitfire Wanda Jackson, who tapped the group as her new backing unit. Despite touring behind Jackson, Downing & the Poe Kats still found time to cut a second White Rock side, "Miss Lucy," which the Carlton label licensed for national distribution. Carlton set up the next session at producer Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio, site of Fats Domino's greatest achievements. Backed by Crescent City session aces like Mac Rebennack (the future Dr. John) and Alvin "Red" Tyler, Downing cut 1959's "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold," but again the disc went nowhere and he and the Poe Kats resumed their work with Jackson, cutting the classic Capitol sessions that yielded her 1960 global smash "Let's Have a Party," which features Downing on piano. Over the next 18 months he headlined three singles for the V-Tone label -- "Yes, I'm Loving You," "Words of Love," and "So Many Memories" -- but solo success remained elusive; a 1962 cover of Marty Robbins' "The Story of My Life" first cut for Downing's own Kansoma imprint nevertheless piqued the interest of Chess, which reissued the disc nationally to little avail. Kansoma's last-gasp follow-up, "The Saints," was at least something of a pyrrhic victory: Domino later covered its b-side, "Heartbreak Hill."

In 1963 Downing signed to the Lenox label and traveled to Nashville to cut a session with Little Esther Phillips. The resulting duet "You Never Miss Your Water (Till the Well Runs Dry)" proved a surprise hit, reaching the number 73 spot on the Billboard pop charts. The solo follow-up, "If I Had Our Love to Live Over," earned little notice, however, and a year later he resurfaced on Columbia with "All I Want Is You." The subsequent "Georgia Slop," a cover of the Jimmy McCracklin tune, ranks among Downing's most incendiary performances, but it too was a commercial failure and his recording career ground to a halt. He spent the next several years as a hired gun, touring behind everyone from Johnny Mathis to Dottie West to his boyhood hero Domino. When he finally returned as a headliner with a 1969 re-recording of "The Saints," issued on the Silver Fox label, he shunned the rock & roll trappings of his earlier efforts in favor of a country-soul sound. The follow-up, "Melody of Soul," which fused three Four Tops hits, further established the new status quo, but again Downing found the charts impenetrable and after one final disc, "Give Me Good Loving," his recording career again went into limbo.

Downing did not resurface until 1973, landing with Chess' Janus subsidiary for "Thank You Baby." When the following "I'll Be Holding On" began generating interest at radio and -- more surprisingly -- nightclubs, Chess reissued the track on its own imprint, and it emerged as one of the earliest disco hits, cracking the Billboard R&B Top 40 and reaching number 85 on the pop charts. Chess had high hopes for its sequel, "Gimmie Some Lovin'," but the record tanked and the label terminated Downing's contract. His lone Polydor release, 1976's "I Love to Love," met a similar fate and the singer again dropped from sight, cutting his already-tenuous ties to dance music to return to his country music roots. His 1978 Warner Bros. debut, "Mr. Jones," immediately hit the Billboard country Top 20, and the subsequent "Touch Me (I'll Be Your Fool Once More)" proved even more successful, reaching the number 18 slot. With 1979's "Midnight Lace" and "I Ain't No Fool," Downing reached only the lower rungs of the Nashville charts, but with 1980's "The Story Behind the Story" he returned to the Top 40. Despite "Bring It on Home" reaching the number 20 position, Warner nevertheless declined to extend Downing's contract, and he went M.I.A. for two years.

When Downing reappeared with 1982's "I'll Be Loving You," he was the flagship act of the fledgling Team Entertainment label. This maiden release still slipped into the number 48 spot, although the subsequent "Darlene" and "Let's Sing About Love" managed to climb only into the mid-sixties. 1983's "It Takes Love" would prove Downing's final Top 40 country entry, although his final Team releases, 1984's "The Best of Families" and "There'll Never Be a Better Reason for Bein' Wrong," both charted. Downing next recorded for Vine Street, notching minor hits with 1986's "How Beautiful You Are (To Me)" and the next year's "Just One Night Won't Do." His final country singles -- the 1990 Door Knob releases "Bound for Baltimore" and "Father #1" -- coincided with a resurgence of interest in Downing's early rockabilly sides, and in 1994 he released Back to My Roots, a return to the sound of his formative recordings. He maintained a relentless tour schedule during the decade to follow, regularly appearing on Nashville's legendary Grand Ole Opry as well. In 2003, he issued his final collection of new material, One of a Kind. After battling leukemia, Downing died July 4, 2005, in Leicester, MA. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

Big Al Downing

Referenced from

Music Style:Rththm & Blues

Profile:Al Downing (January 9, 1940 – July 4, 2005), later known as Big Al Downing, was an entertainer, singer, songwriter, and pianist. He received the Billboard's New Artist of the Year and the Single of the Year Award in 1979. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and was a frequent performer at the Grand Ole Opry. Downing was nominated as Best New Artist by the Academy of Country Music and appeared on Hee Haw, Nashville Now, and Dick Clark's American Bandstand television programs.


Early career:

Downing began his career doing piano and vocals in Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats, who were an early backing band for country entertainer Wanda Jackson. His piano contributed to the single "Let’s Have A Party", which was released in 1960. The song reached #32 on the UK charts and made the Top 40 on the U.S. pop chart.

Downing reached the U.S. Top 80 with "You’ll Never Miss The Water (Till The Well Runs Dry)", a duet with Little Esther Phillips. After the release of this single, he was signed by Warner Brothers. His 1974 single, "I’ll Be Holdin’ On", made the Disco charts in America and Europe. He had a number 1 hit on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play in 1974 with "I'll Be Holding On".

[edit] Country music with Warner Brothers Al Downing's popularity continued to grow, and he had several hits on the country charts between 1978 and 1989. He compiled a list of his own songs, which he presented to his producer at Warner Brothers. In 1978, "Mr. Jones" reached the Top 20, followed by "Touch Me (I'll Be Your Fool Once More)" in 1979. That same year, Downing produced "Midnight Lace," which reached the 50s on the charts, and "I Ain't No Fool," which peaked at the upper 70s. In 1980, the "Story Behind The Story" reached the Top 40 and "Bring It On Home" reached the Top 20.

Two years passed before Downing created another hit, this time with the Team label. In 1982, "I'll Be Loving You" reached the Top 50, followed by "Darlene," which reached the lower 60s. The next year, "It Takes Love" reached the Top 40, followed by "Let's Sing About Love," which peaked in the mid-60s. In 1984, "The Best Of Families" became a Top 50 hit; That same year, Downing released his final hit with the Team label, "There’ll Never Be A Better Night For Being Wrong".

Vine Street years In 1987, "Big Al" was signed by the Vine Street label, which released the "Oh How Beautiful You Are" (To Me) and "Just One Night Won't Do," both of which hit the Top 70. Two years later, he was signed by Door Knob Records, with whom he produced the 1989 Top 100 hit, "I Guess By Now."

The popular entertainer Fats Domino recorded two songs written by Downing: "Mary, Oh Mary" and "Heartbreak Hill". Bobby "Blue" Bland and Tom Jones have also recorded Downing's songs.

Later career Downing built a five-decade career around his powerful singing voice and his hard-driving rockabilly-style piano. Downing's compilations of earlier work have been released throughout the world. In Europe, Crazy Music obtained exclusive rights for the original Team label recordings and released these in the form of a 2-CD compilation, Classic Collection. This also contained some of Downing's earlier hits, including "Mr. Jones."

In 2003, Downing released his first new album in more than a decade, One of A Kind. The album received favourable radio and print reviews. It ranked third on American Roots Country and was commended for featuring 14 memorable tracks. He continued to give regular performances at the Grand Ole Opry. In 2000, he was nominated as a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

Downing continued to perform on more than 75 occasions per year in the remaining years of his life. He appeared at Ontario's prestigious Havelock Country Jamboree with Kenny Rogers and Roy Clark. In 2005, Downing postponed plans for a European tour that was set to begin on July 1 in Austria. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Soon after, he commenced chemotherapy treatment. Downing died on July 4, 2005.

Style Downing's musical style found its roots in a variety of musical styles including rock and roll, blues, roots, gospel and country. He performed rhythm and blues and disco throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when he lived in Washington D.C.. He eventually reclaimed his musical roots by turning to country music.

Producer Big Al had also a tremendous experience as a producer, thanks to his mastering of so many music styles. During late '90s and early 2000 he worked, among others, with several European musicians as A&R man. In 2003 he produced the album "StraightBeat" (GreenRecords) with the Italian bluesman Edo 'Ndoss who sings some unissued Big Al numbers. Big Al plays piano too on one track: this seems to have been his last recording, since a year later - a little before the CD tour was scheduled - his health started to deteriorate.


Referenced from

Music Style:Rock n Roll



Referenced from

Music Style:Rock n Roll


Artist Recording Company Track number Chart Position Release Date     
Down On The Farm          
Oh Babe            
Miss Lucy            
Just Around the Corner            
Yes I'm Loving You            
Rock and Roll Boogie            
Rock and Roll Record Girl            
Piano Nellie            
Georgia Slip            
When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again            
It Must Be Love            
If I Had Our Love To Live Over            
Please Come Home            
Words Of Love            
Heartbreak Hill            
I Found Someone To Love            
The Story Of My Life            
The Saints            

Referenced from
Wanda Jackson, Smiley Lewis, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Hasil Adkins, Charlie Feathers, Little Richard

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References: The Sound of the City ( The Rise of Rock and Roll ) by Charlie Gillett, A Brief history of Rock n Roll by Nick Johnstone, web links copyright david crowfoot 2009, 2010.