I would like to pay an overdue tribute to Gene Davidson, my very good friend and personal Manager for many years. Gene had a more positive influence on me during my career than anyone plus he helped me grow as an individual and helped to replace insecurity with confidence. Gene had a birthday a few months ago and is alive and kicking and in his words, looking wise and other-wise! To say Gene was my personal manager cannot really describe our relationship over the years. Gene and I both kept a calendar on everything I did because sometimes things would get pretty crazy and if we didn’t we’d overlap bookings. Gene and his wife Barbara and their family became my family. I lived at their house for months during times when I had a lot of concerts on the west coast with my band or recording and they knew my schedule about everything. Barbara became my dear friend and confidant. We share a love of reading so whenever possible we could be found in any number of bookstores in town. One of my many fond memories is one day I took off in my VW to the mountains to Lake Gregory, in Crestline. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going but a call came in for a gig and If my memory is correct Gene was going to call then back same day with an answer. When He couldn’t reach me at home he and Barbara took a ride to the mountains. Barbara asked him where they were going and he said he was pretty sure he knew where I’d be. I had parked up on the highway and hiked down to the lake with my pole and I was relaxing down there for a few hours when I heard someone calling my name. Sure enough, it was Gene and Barbara, they had found me!
Gene handled all calls and everyone one had to go thru him from agents or promoters about a gig, interviews and all entertainer friends. He knew how to handle the calls and he had patience with them all! Everyone knew Gene! Al Wilson called him Nu-Gene. He and Al were best friends since the early 60’s. You could always expect them to be on the phone during any sports game on TV. I am getting ahead of myself here so let me take you back to where it all started.
Gene was from a town in Mississippi called Soso about thirty miles from Meridian Miss. All thru his childhood he suffered with Asthma and spent months in the hospital. He said when he was about 10 yrs old he met an old guy in the hospital in his 20’s who loved music. The man had quite an influence on Gene, sharing with him his love of music. He turned Gene onto folks like Sonny Till and the Orioles, Harvey Fuqua and the Moonglows, Billy Ward and the Dominoes, Clyde McPhatter, Ivory Joe Hunter, Big Joe Turner, some of the same folks I would later work with in my early days of music. So as a young man in 1963, Gene moved to California to seek his fame and fortune. He quickly got in the fast lane living the bachelor life, hooked up with an agency and did some acting in Hollywood. He also became friends with many music people of the San Bernardino/ Riverside and L A Ca area.
Like our old friend Jimmy Handford, one of the nicest people you ever want to meet and coolest jazz pianist ever, Don Julian of the Meadowlarks, Vernon Greene of the Medallions, but it was Kenny Sinclair and Al Wilson that he remained close to and had a long friendship with. But he has some real crazy stories from his early days that I never tire of hearing. When I would have an evening free he’d say well, I think I’ll open a bucket of nails and reminisce. He had a friend called Big Daddy also known as the Godfather and a few others and he would commence to pontificate.
In the early days it was necessary to have a manager to fend off the sharks that it seemed had no other agenda than to run you in circles and take up a lot of your creative time. Entertainers have a real problem with getting side tracked! But first you have to learn how to identify the sharks from the honest promoters. Anyhow, I met Gene in the early 70’s and he was very personable and a real people person and we became quick friends. At some point in our friendship we decided he would become my manager. Gene would accompany me to a lot of my gigs and helping me with travel and flight arrangements to helping me get organized in scheduling my gigs which were many. We both had a calendar on our desks and once a week we’d update so that there was no overlapping which did occur a few times. One of the worst ways of getting a bad reputation with agents and promoters is to have to call them and say you can’t work for them because you already had that date taken! I remember us going back and forth like are you going to call him? I don’t want to will you? Pleeease?? I remember early on I use to be late for everything and Gene was always getting on me about it. He finally got me when he said being late is like saying my time is more important than yours. Put that way it makes a lot of sense and I started being on time. He also made me realize that if I’m on time or ahead of time then I am less apt to get stressed out as was the way I always was. I could write a short book about the lessons of entertainer etiquette he taught me. I was somewhat stubborn in those days. Now that I look back on it I realize that he taught me as much as I taught him! And that’s what makes for a truly good working relationship!
One of the stories that still makes me laugh was about a jay walking ticket I wouldn’t pay. Every time I saw Gene he’d ask if I’d paid it and I’d say no. He’d ask why and I’d say you can’t get a ticket for jay walking. He’d say we’ll see when they come and pick you up for it. This went on for a time. One day I was over at his and Barbara’s house when he asked me again. I said no and I’m not going to! He said you wait till they arrest you and make you wear one of those orange jumpsuits and have you out there picking up trash along the road somewhere. I can just see you now then along comes this big stretch limo, it pulls right next to you and the window rolls down and Mary Wells says why Rosie dahlin, I didn’t know you had a day job! Monday morning I went right downtown and paid that thing!
Gene and I look back on it all and we laugh and we both agree that we had a lot of good times. We didn’t get rich but man what a crazy ride that was!
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