Famous as lead singer with the Chi-Lites - who had more than 40 R&B hit singles in America between 1969 and the late 80s. Eugene Record had a much broader range of talents than many of his contemporaries. His career was greatly enriched by his own song writing and production skills, in addition to his distinctive tenor/falsetto lead vocals with the Chi-Lites. His overtly commercial brand of soul was a little saccharine in some cases but his creative talents and contributions to contemporary music have long been widely acknowledged.
Eugene was born 23 December 1940 and grew up on the south side of Chicago. After completing his education at Englewood High he sang with local groups the Wrens and Chanteurs (who cut records on LaSalle ’61 and Renee) in the early 60s. Group members Creadel ‘Red’ Jones and Marshall Thompson from the Desideros joined Record and Robert ‘Squirrel’ Lester from the Chanteurs to create the Hi-Lites, who were signed to Daran in ’64. Two singles later they moved over to Blue Rock but parent label Mercury already had a Hi-Lites under contract, so they added a “C” to their name and became the Chi-Lites. After cutting a number of good singles for Blue Rock, Dakar, Daran and Revue that only sold in Chicago, they linked up with producer Carl Davis at Brunswick in 1969. This teaming proved positive and the Chi-Lites hit the US R&B charts at #10 in February ’69 with their first Brunswick single the easygoing ‘Give It Away’. A string of hot R&B singles compared by many to the uptempo work of the Temptations, followed with reasonable pop sales but it wasn’t until ‘…Give More Power To The People’ went to #26 on the Hot 100 in May ’71 that the Chi-Lites broke into mainstream pop and found international fame. Five months later the wistful ‘Have You Seen Her’, which became their signature tune, went on to score another worldwide success. The follow up ‘Oh Girl’ became their biggest US hit when it topped both charts in America and repeated hot sales in Europe. ‘The Coldest Days Of My Life’ one of Record’s more intriguing songs (also cut by Walter Jackson) sold well on the R&B and Soul charts but missed out on pop success. Consistent sales continued in the soul markets right through the 70s but after ‘A Letter To Myself’ and ‘Stoned Out Of My Mind’ both reached the US Top 40 in ’73, pop sales fell away. ‘Homely Girl’ brought the Chi-Lites right back in early ’74 but it soon sold better in Europe than at home where Gene was reported to be working on a soundtrack for the ‘Brother On The Run’ movie. As their record sales fluctuated in the States, in the UK ‘I Found Sunshine’ went into the UK top 40 in July ’74. The rather pious ‘There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated At The Conference Table)’ went to #8 on US R&B but did little elsewhere. Popularity in the UK continued and in addition to UB40 and Paul Young cutting Records songs, ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’ went to #10 on UK pop in November ’74. The Chi-Lites responded with numerous UK and European tours starting in ’74 and continuing through the late 70s and early 80s. With Davis’ coaching and support, Eugene moved over to production and in addition to the Chi-Lites he worked with his wife Barbara Acklin, the Lost Generation and others on the Brunswick roster.
Chi-Lites business was so good that in the mid 70s Brunswick offered Eugene the job of VP for the label and he went corporate. A UK reissue of ‘Have You Seen Her’ went to #5 in June ’75 and although rather surprisingly ‘Toby’ missed out, the follow up ‘It’s Time For Love’ also matched the previous reissue sales in the UK. The Chi-Lites album sales also went through the roof in the States, where they scored big on both R&B and Pop charts. Between August ’69 and July ’75 they had 8 albums on the US R&B charts, ‘…Give More Power To The People’ went to #3 R&B/ 12 Pop and ‘A Lonely Man’ topped R&B and went to #5 Pop. Two hit compilations and ‘A Letter To Myself’ all went top five over the following two years. Though ‘Toby’ hit US R&B at #7 it was to be their last top ten single for Brunswick and elsewhere for almost a decade. ‘You Don’t Have To Go’ proved much more popular in Europe when it went to #3 on the UK pop charts in July ’76. But despite all the success Record felt increasingly hampered by his corporate role at Brunswick. Payola charges were levelled at the company and Carl Davis left under a cloud. He was later cleared of all charges but legal hassles continued at Brunswick for months and Record could not continue - he quit in ’76 leaving both the label and the
Ongoing legal entanglements tied Eugene up for best part of a year but he signed to Warner Bros in ’77 and when his first solo outing ‘Laying Beside You’ went to #24 US R&B singles, the move looked promising. But none of the following five singles or three albums sold well enough to chart. Initially the Chi-Lites did rather better when all four of their Mercury singles starting with ‘Happy Being Lonely’ registered on the R&B charts in ’76 & ’77. They moved over to Inphasion in ’79 but the sales dried up and a dejected Marshall Thompson got on the phone to Record and proposed a reunion. Carl Davis had just signed the Impressions to his new label ChiSound and he let it be known that he was looking for new songs for their forthcoming album. Eugene Record answered the call. Davis had a small but dedicated staff but they were unable to cope with the high level of output required to foster the fast growing label. After talking to Record, Davis offered him the A&R and VP posts at the label and his timing was right. Record reformed the Chi-Lites including Creadel Jones, who had left in ’74 and this line up joined ChiSound in 1980. Already on board with the Impressions were Walter Jackson, the Dells and Gene Chandler. The Chi-Lites first ChiSound single ‘Heavenly Body’ put them right back on the R&B charts at #36 in November ’80 and three more hit singles followed. Their two albums ‘Heavenly Body’ and ‘Me & You’ also sold well over the next two years. Record was back in his element, as a principal producer and writer at the label and he began to get back to what he was best at and hit a creative peak. Sadly for Carl Davis and all at ChiSound the label ran into distribution problems, then parent company 20th Century withdrew financial support in ’82.
Having had enough label trouble the Chi-Lites moved to Larc and ‘Bottoms Up’ scored heavily on US R&B charts both as a single and an album. ‘Bad Motor Scooter’ the second Larc single went to #28 R&B in mid ’83 but by the end of the year Larc had changed it’s name to Private I and Creadel took this opportunity to make his final departure – the group continued as a trio. ‘Stop What You’re Doin’’ and ‘Gimme Whatcha Got’ were the Chi-Lites last two singles to chart R&B in ’84 but their ‘Steppin’ Out’ album didn’t sell many copies. Though they worked solidly on tour, record sales gradually trickled away. The small outfits that they signed to like Nuance, who issued ‘Hard Act To Follow’ in ’85, were unable to provide the opportunities of the past and three years later, after experiencing a religious visitation, Record finally quit the group and devoted himself to Gospel music.
The Chi-Lites continued without Eugene and in 1990 they signed to Ichiban, who issued just one single, ‘Happy Music’ and the ‘Just Say You Love Me’ album. Sales were disappointing and they fell on hard times without their writer and distinctive lead voice. But they persevered and got a last chance with Copper Sun, who released two aptly titled singles ‘Help Wanted’ and ‘Hold Onto Your Dreams’ in ‘97and 98. The Evergreen label issued Eugene Record’s album of contemporary gospel music ‘Let Him In’ in ’98 and he joined the legion of performers that had turned full circle back to their roots.
In the early ‘90s a new generation of singers began to cover his songs, the likes of MC Hammer and Swing Out Sister and later still his hooks found their way into many a mix, the most famous being Beyonce’s worldwide hit ‘Crazy Love’ in 2003. Eugene was named as a co-recipient of the Grammy awarded for this song, that same year.
Spectacular hits like ‘Crazy Love’ demonstrate the endurance of Records influence and echoes of his music will no doubt continue to down the years. Eugene created an instantly recognizable style of his own that bought him and the Chi-Lites huge international success. His unique recordings put him among the illuminati that created and nurtured soul music from its birth in Chicago from the late 50s onward and provided the world with some of the finest music ever made.
Eugene Record died 22 July ’05 from cancer. He was just 64 years old.
Peter Burns, August ’05
Sources David Cole, In The Basement
Chi-Lites – (Hi-Lites Darran ’64), Blue Rock ‘65, Dakar ‘67, Revue ‘67, Brunswick ‘69, Mercury ’76, Imphasion ‘79, ChiSound ‘80, 20th Century ’82, Larc 83, Private I ‘84, Nuance ’85, Ichiban ‘90, Copper Sun ‘97
Formed Chicago ’64,
Creadel Jones, x Desideros, left ’74
Vandy ‘Smokey’ Hampton rep DJ ’77 x Majestics
> Impressions (D 02/05)