Record, Eugene Booker
Eugene Booker Record
Vocalist, songwriter, producer
A triple talent as singer, songwriter, and producer, Eugene Record was the lead vocalist and principal creative talent of the R&B vocal group the Chi-Lites. In the early 1970s he composed and sang two of the classic ballads of contemporary popular music, "Have You Seen Her?" and "Oh Girl." Record's career traversed several distinct periods of African-American popular music in his native Chicago, Illinois, from doo-wop in the 1950s to disco and dance music in the early 1980s, and he devoted the last part of his life to gospel music. To each of these styles he brought something distinctive, a melancholy romanticism whose mature sense of loss stood in contrast to the youthful sensuality of much of the music that surrounded it on the radio and in record stores.
Eugene Booker Record was born on December 28, 1940, and lived his entire life in or near Chicago's South Side. He started playing the guitar when he was young, and his musical imagination was boosted by the classical piano pieces his sister practiced in the family home. By the time Record attended Englewood High School in the late 1950s he was singing the streetcorner harmony music known as doo-wop with friends, and along with Clarence Johnson and Robert "Squirrel" Lester he formed a trio, the Chanteurs.
Record recorded a pair of singles with the Chanteurs in 1959 for the local Renee label. With the addition of Creadel "Red" Jones and Marshall Thompson, the Chanteurs expanded to a quintet and became the Hi-Lites, contracting to a quartet lineup when Johnson left the group. Record worked as a taxi driver as the group recorded for small labels like Darin and Ja-Wes. The group's most promising chances came when it recorded a few singles, including 1964's "I'm So Jealous," on the larger Mercury label. At that time, to avoid confusion with another Hi-Lites group connected with the label, the group added a "C" to the beginning of its name in honor of their native city. For a short time the group performed as Marshall and the Chi-Lites, with Thompson as lead vocalist.
"Our lifestyle revolved around singing," Record recalled, according to London's Independent newspaper. "I'd bring my guitar to rehearsals and play them my little songs, but the others would always tease me." Soon enough, however, Record emerged as the group's central talent. He married Barbara Acklin and started a family that grew to include five children: Eugene Jr., Bryan (Jerraine), Michelle, Angela, and Gena. Record and Acklin formed a successful songwriting team, collaborating on some of the Chi-Lites' biggest hits (including "Have You Seen Her?"). His plaintive lead vocals were heard on more and more of the Chi-Lites recordings, and it was his songwriting that caught the attention of producer Carl Davis at the new Chicago office of Brunswick Records when the Chi-Lites auditioned for him in 1967. Record was signed to a publishing contract by Davis, and he and Acklin turned out hits for other writers including Peaches and Herb's "Two Little Kids." In 1968, the Chi-Lites group was signed to Brunswick.
The group made an immediate impact with the ballad "Give It Away," which rose to the top 10 of what was then called the black singles chart in Billboard magazine and also dented the pop charts. By 1971 the Chi-Lites had three Brunswick albums under its belt, and Record was closely following wider songwriting trends; "For God's Sake (Give More Power to the People)" mirrored a trend toward funk-based protest songs on the part of such groups as the Temptations (with "Ball of Confusion"). The song was the title track of the Chi-Lites' third album and brought the group its biggest hit to date
Nothing prepared Record, however, for the success of the group's next album, A Lonely Man, with its two pop top-10 singles, "Have You Seen Her?" and "Oh Girl" (the latter a number-one pop hit). Record had actually written "Have You Seen Her?" several years earlier but had shelved it, convinced that its five-minute length and unconventional structure, weaving together sung and spoken reflections, doomed the song to radio oblivion. He changed his mind after the success of Isaac Hayes's Hot Buttered Soul release with its extended jams. A 1972 appearance on The Flip Wilson Show helped propel the song to hit status.
Record likewise failed to predict that success of "Oh Girl." When he brought the songs for the album to Davis, the producer responded that there was a number-one hit among the bunch. "I named them all before ‘Oh Girl,’" Record remembered, according to the Independent, adding "I thought he was kidding." In the early 1970s Record was a major force in popular music, writing songs and producing recordings for such acts as Jackie Wilson. The Chi-Lites enjoyed a consistent presence on radio with such early 1970s hits as "Stoned Out of My Mind," "Homely Girl," and "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table)." Between 1969 and 1975, the Chi-Lites placed a total of 21 singles in Billboard's top 100. By 1976, however, Brunswick was mired in tax difficulties, and the members of the group had pled guilty to tax evasion charges in order to put legal proceedings to rest.
The Chi-Lites temporarily disbanded that year, and Record launched a solo career just as the lush, mechanical disco sound was beginning to flower. He was signed to the Warner Bros. label. Record's three solo albums of the late 1970s, The Eugene Record, Trying to Get to You, and Welcome to My Fantasy were only moderately successful but continue to command the interest of collectors. The Chi-Lites re-formed in 1980 and issued several new albums in the early 1980s on the 20th Century label, scoring a moderate hit in 1982 with "Hot on a Thing (Called Love)."
In 1988 Record left the Chi-Lites after experiencing divine instructions to change the direction of his life and music. In 1992 he appeared on the evangelism-oriented television program The 700 Club. He began preaching, was ordained a minister, and became a member of the Crusaders Church on Chicago's far South Side. Record released a gospel album, Let Him In, in 1998. Record benefited financially from several covers and re-workings of his music. Rapper MC Hammer covered "Have You Seen Her?" in 1990, and gospel star BeBe Winans reworked it as "Do You Know Him?" In 2003 Beyonce's Grammy-winning hit "Crazy in Love" sampled the early Chi-Lites song "Are You My Woman?"; Record approved, telling Jet that "I would give her [Beyonce] a big hug and say thank you. And then I would commend her for a job well done." The Chi-Lites reunited for a documentary film, Only the Strong Survive, in 2002 and for a Public Broadcasting System special in 2004. Eugene Record died of cancer in Hazel Crest, Illinois, on July 22, 2005, at the home of his daughter, Gena Jones, with his second wife, Jacqueline, at his side. He left behind a catalog of more than 300 compositions.
At a Glance …
Born on December 28, 1940, in Chicago, IL; died on July 22, 2005, in Hazel Crest, IL; married Barbara Acklin; married Jacqueline; children: Eugene Jr., Bryan, Michelle (Protho), Angela (Jones), Gena (Jones). Education: Attended Englewood High School, Chicago. Religion: Church of God in Christ.
Chanteurs musical group (later known as Hi-Lites, and then Chi-Lites), founder and member, late 1950s-1975, 1980-88; Brunswick Records, songwriter, 1967; Warner Bros. label, solo artist, 1977-79; solo artist, 1990s-2005; ordained as minister, 1998.
Crusaders Church, Chicago, IL.
The Eugene Record, Warner Bros., 1977.
Trying to Get to You, Warner Bros., 1978.
Welcome to My Fantasy, Warner Bros., 1979.
Let Him In, Evergreen, 1998.
Albums with the Chi-Lites
Give It Away, Brunswick, 1969.
I Like Your Lovin' (Do You Like Mine?), Brunswick, 1970.
(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People, Brunswick, 1971.
A Lonely Man, Brunswick, 1972.
A Letter to Myself, Brunswick, 1973.
Half a Love, Brunswick, 1974.
Chi-Litetime, London, 1976.
Happy Being Lonely, Mercury, 1976.
The Fantastic Chi-Lites, Mercury, 1977.
Heavenly Body, 20th Century, 1980.
Me & You, 20th Century, 1981.
Bottom's Up, Larc, 1983.
Just Say You Love Me, Ichiban, 1991.
20 Greatest Hits, Brunswick, 2001.
Daily Post (Liverpool, England), July 28, 2005, p. 13.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), July 26, 2005.
Independent (London, England), July 25, 2005, p. 51.
Jet, October 20, 2003, p. 40; August 8, 2005, p. 65.
New York Times, July 23, 2005, p. B20.
New York Times Magazine, December 25, 2005, p. 40.
Times (London, England), August 10, 2005, p. 55.
"The Chi-Lites," Soulwalking,www.soulwalking.co.uk/Chi-Lites.html (March 9, 2007).
"Chi-Lites," All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com (March 9, 2007).
"Eugene Record," All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com (March 9, 2007).
"Eugene Record," SoulTracks, www.soultracks.com/eugene_record.html (March 9, 2007).
—James M. Manheim
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