When, some months ago, the esteemed Mr Broven mentioned to me that Ace was going to issue a Eugene Church compilation on CD, the first thoughts which leapt through my mind were Oh YES, at last". Now, this long overdue set is finally a reality for a somewhat forgotten rock'n'roller who sadly, as an innocent victim of the insidious Aids virus, never lived to see a compilation of his work on either vinyl or CD. "
This set brings together for the first time in any format, the very best of Eugene Church's output for the Modern, Specialty, Class/Rendezvous and King labels and covers the years 1956, when he debuted as a member of the Cliques on Modern, to 1963 with the release of his fifth and last single for Syd Nathan's King label. One final 45 appeared on World Pacific in the late 60s, and that was it. The door had closed on a recording career which gave the world some fabulous records but unjustifiably yielded less than a handful of charters.
Why there has never been a Eugene Church compilation before is a mystery. As the 26 tracks on this great Ace release show, his recordings set a uniformly high standard for excellence. They range from the doo wop style of his earliest recordings on Modern and Specialty, to first class rock'n'roll for Class, such as his signature tune and biggest hit, Pretty Girls Everywhere which charted #6 R&B and #36 on the Pop charts in early 1959.
I first became aware of the name Eugene Church sometime that year when I went into a record store in Sydney, Australia to purchase Bobby Day's The Bluebird, The Buzzard And The Oriole and noticed a new release 45 on the same red-and-silver Leedon label by Eugene Church and the Fellows. Curious about this new artist with the enticing song title Pretty Girls Everywhere, I asked the girl behind the counter to give it a spin. I purchased both 45s from the store, only to realise on my way to the train station that I had left myself short for the return fare. Thankfully, a kind police officer loaned me the missing balance for my ticket and I made it home, completely out of pocket but well pleased with my spending for the day.
Sadly, none of Church's subsequent records saw local release and it was not until the rock'n'roll revival in the early 1970s that I got to hear his great doubled-sided follow-up on Class: Miami and I Ain't Goin' For That. Later, I learned that the Fellows included Jesse Belvin, Alex Hodge and Tommy Buster" Williams, which led me to a long time love affair with the songs of Jesse Belvin. Later still, it pleased me no end to learn that the Cliques on Modern were actually Eugene singing in tandem with Jesse. The best of the Cliques' sides are on this set, including Eugene's recording debut on their classic charter from 1956, the ultra smooth The Girl In My Dreams. Also included are two tracks from his brief spell at Specialty in 1957 with the similar smooth doo wop sounds on Open Up Your Heart and the catchy rocker Don't Stop Loving Me. Finally, for the first time (again!), come the long overlooked King recordings from the early 60s. From this period, only Mind Your Own Business made any waves, making it up to #19 on the R&B charts. However the lack of success for the other Kings, produced by the great Johnny Otis, was certainly no reflection on the quality of the songs or in Eugene's delivery of them. As usual, Stuart Colman has written an illuminating note.
For all lovers of black rock'n'roll, R&B and doo wop from the Golden Age, if you buy only one more CD in 2005, look no further than this one. This compilation may have taken more than 40 years in coming but it serves as a fitting tribute to a man who, whilst his time in the limelight was all too brief, gave us a great body of work. It's a ripper, mate!
By Tony Waston (of Australia)