GENE PAGE-HOT CITY AND LOVELOCK.

Gene Page-Hot City and Lovelock.

BGO Records.

By 1974, Gene Page was thirty-five, and a successful arranger, composer, conductor and producer, who already had over 350 credits to his name. Many of these singles and albums had been certified gold or platinum, and there was no shortage of artists wanting to work with Gene Page who seemed to have the Midas touch. He had come a long way since Jimmy Bowen had hired him as a staff arranger for Frank Sinatra’s new label Reprise in 1962. 

Since then, he had worked with the great and good of music, including Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Merry Clayton, Barbra Streisand, The Fifth Dimension, Love Unlimited, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Redbone, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Andy Williams and Barry White. Despite working on so many successful singles and albums, there was still one thing missing from Gene Page’s CV…his solo album. 

Over the last twelve years, Gene Page had been so busy working with other people, that he just hadn’t gotten round to writing, recording and releasing his debut album. This changed in 1974, when Gene Page released Hot City, which was produced by his old friend Barry White. He was well on his way to becoming a soul superstar after his debut album I’ve Got So Much To Give and the followup Stone Gon’ which both featured arrangements by Gene Page, had topped the US R&B charts in 1973 and been certified gold. This was just the latest successful project Gene Page had been involved in. Hot City which was recently released alongside his sophomore album Lovelock by BGO Records, marked the start of a new chapter in the Gene Page story.

Gene Page was born in Los Angeles on September the ‘13th’ 1939, but grew up in a musical family in New York. His father was a composer and his singer, and both enjoyed listening to music in the evenings. As a young boy, Gene Page’s father taught him to play the piano and growing up, he hoped that one day he would become a professional classical pianist

After graduating from high school, Gene Page enrolled at the Brooklyn Observatory in New York on a four-year course. He was one step nearer fulfilling his dream of becoming a concert pianist. However, Gene Page’s dream never became reality and he left the Brooklyn Observatory before graduating.

After that, Gene Page headed to the West Coast, where he enrolled at college in an attempt to revive his musical dream. Having left college, Gene Page joined up with his elder brother Billy who was a professional songwriter.

Soon, Gene Page was also writing songs for Billy Page and for American Music Group. Then when his brother Billy needed demos of these songs recorded, Gene Page arranged the songs which were recorded by two young, up-and-coming singers Glen Campbell and Johnny Rivers. All this was good practise for Gene Page, would made a breakthrough in 1962.

This was the year that Frank Sinatra planned to open his own record company Reprise, where Jimmy Bowen was the in-house producer. He spotted the potential in Gene Page, and offered him a job as a staff arranger, where he worked with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. However, after a couple of years at Reprise, Gene Page was ready to spread his wings.

Having made the decision to freelancer in 1963, Gene Page was hired to work with Debby Worth and The Olympics. Later in 1963, Gene Page was asked to arrange Harlem Shuffle for soul duo Bob and Earl, which was the first successful single he had worked on. It was also during this session that Gene Page met Barry White, and a lifelong friendship began.

The following year, Phil Spector brought Gene Page onboard to arrange The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling when Jack Nitzsche was unavailable. Following the success of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, Gene Page’s star was in the ascendancy.

By 1965, Gene Page was worked with some of the biggest names in American music, including Bobby Darin, The Drifters and The Fifth Dimension. He also arranged The In Crowd for Dobie Gray which was penned by Billy Page. However, the most successful single Gene Page worked on was Solomon Burke’s Got To Get You Off My Mind which topped the US R&B charts. After another successful year, Gene Page was approached by Berry Gordy of Motown.

Berry Gordy wanted Gene Page to move to Detroit, and become part of the Motown success story. Despite enjoying freelancing, Gene Page agreed, and became a member of the Motown studio band the Funk Brothers.

During the remainder of the sixties, Gene Page continued to freelance, and was also a member of the Funk Brothers who accompanied all the artists on the Motown roster. The hours were long, with one session finishing, and another beginning. Often the sessions lasted into the early hours of the next morning, as the Funk Brothers accompanied everyone from Marvin Gaye and The Supremes to the label’s latest signing. However, during this period, it was Motown’s policy not to credit individual musicians, so there’s no accurate record of how many sessions musicians like Gene Page played on between 1966 and 1969.

As 1970 dawned, Gene Page was busier than ever, and continued to work on arrangements for singles and albums by soul and funk artists. By then, Gene Page was also working with a with a number of pop artists, inducing the Everly Brothers and Barbra Streisand. However, in 1970, another opportunity arose for Gene Page when he was asked to score the soundtrack to the movie Brewster McCloud, which eventually featured five pieces by the Gene Page Orchestra. Two years later, and Gene Page would be back with another soundtrack.

Over the next two years, Gene Page continued to work almost non stop as an arranger and producer. He worked with The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Solomon Burke, Frankie Vali and also with The Four Seasons and with Barbra Streisand, Robert John, Gary Puckett and Love Unlimited who were Barry White’s backing group. The future soul superstar was Love Unlimited, but just like his own career, commercial success was eluding them.

After releasing his debut single in 1964, Barry White had struggled to make a breakthrough for the best part of a decade. By 1972, Barry White was ready to record his debut album, and Gene Page was brought onboard to take charge of the arrangements. When Barry White released his I’ve Got So Much To Give in March 1973 it reached sixteen in the US Billboard 200, number one in the US R&B charts and was certified gold. At last, Barry White was enjoying the success his talent deserved.

Four months later, in July 1973, Love Unlimited released their sophomore album Under The Influence Of… Love Unlimited which was produced by Barry White and featured arrangements by Gene Page. It reached number three in the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts and was certified gold. Meanwhile in Canada, Under The Influence Of…Love Unlimited topped the album charts. For the production and arrangement team of Barry White and Gene Page this was their second success of 1973. Soon, two became three.

Three months later, in October 1973, Barry White released his sophomore album Stone Gon’ which reached twenty in the US Billboard 200, topped the US R&B charts and was certified gold. Barry White knew this wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of his friend Gene Page and was keen to help him launch his solo career.

Hot City.

That was why Barry White suggested to Gene Page that it was time to record another album. This time though, it wasn’t going to be another Barry White solo album, as he had just completed work on his third album Can’t Get Enough, which again, featured arrangements by Gene Page. Instead, Barry White wanted to produce an orchestral album with no singers that would become Gene Page’s debut album Hot City.

When Billy Page heard of Barry White’s plan to produce his brother Gene’s debut album, he too, was in favour of the plan. However, Billy Page like Barry White knew that they couldn’t take the plan any further without a record company backing them. Recording an album which featured orchestral arrangements and top session players came at a price, and this was a price only a record company could afford.

Fortunately, when Atlantic Records heard of Barry White’s plan to produce Gene Page’s debut album they were won over and offer him a two album contract. With the contract signed, work began on Hot City.

For Hot City, Gene Page wrote All Our Dreams Are Coming True and with his brother Billy Page penned Jungle Eyes and She’s My Main Squeeze. Gene Page and wrote Cream Corner and To The Bone with Barry White who contributed Gene’s Theme, Don’t Play That Song and Satin Soul. The other track on the album was I Am Living In A World of Gloom which was written by Barry White, Carnell Harrell, Elbert Denny. These tracks were recorded at Whitney Studio, in Glendale, California.

At Whitney Studio, some of the top session players joined Gene Page who arranged, conducted and played keyboards on Hot City. Barry White also played keyboards but was main role was producing Gene Page’s debut album. It featured a rhythm section of drummer Ed Greene, bassist Wilton Felder and guitarists David T. Walker, Dean Parks, Melvin “Wah-Wah” Watson and Ray Parker Jr. They were joined by keyboardist Clarence McDonald, conga players Joe Clayton and Gary Coleman plus Ernie Watts who played flute and saxophone. Later, strings were added which gave the Hot City the symphonic sound Barry White was looking for. When Hot City complete the release date was scheduled for later in 1974. 

Before that, critics had their say on Gene Page’s much-anticipated debut album. Critics on hearing Hot City was compared favourably to Barry White’s first two solo albums. This was no surprise as both albums had been produced by Barry White and featured arrangements by Gene Page. However, Gene Page wrote much of Hot City and plays keyboards on album that allows the creme de la creme of LA’s session musicians to play to their strengths. 

That is the case from the album opener All Our Dreams Are Coming True where Ed Greene’s drums drive the arrangement to this early disco track along as strings sweep and swirl adding a symphonic sound. The strings are omnipresent and feature on Jungle Eyes with its baroque harpsichord and French horns, the mid-tempo She’s My Main Squeeze, the uplifting symphonic soul of  I Am Living In A World of Gloom, the dramatic Don’t Play that Song, right up to the closing notes of To The Bone which showcases the skills of guitarist Wah Wah Watson as he unleashes a spellbinding effects laden performance. This ensures that Hot City closes on a high.

Hot City is a slick, carefully crafted and melodic album where strings sweeten the nine tracks on Hot City, adding the finishing touch to an album where elements of baroque, disco, funk, jazz and soul are combined by the cream of LA session players. In many ways, Hot City is similar to the music that the disco orchestras would record between 1975 and 1979. The only difference was the lack of vocals on Hot City. However, Gene Page’s arrangements and Barry White’s arrangements speak for themselves on Hot City.

Buoyed by the reviews of Hot City, the album was released by Atlantic Records, but stalled at 156 in the US Billboard and forty-one in the US R&B charts. When All Our Dreams Are Coming True was released as a single it reached number nine in the US Dance. The followup Satin Soul then reached number four in the US Dance charts and thirty-seven in the US Adult Contemporary charts. While Hot City hadn’t come close to replicating the success of Barry White’s first two albums, Gene Page’s solo career was well underway, and he would return in 1976 with the followup Lovelock.

Lovelock.

Although Gene Page spent most of 1975 in the studio with a number of artists, he still found time to record Lovelock which was the followup to Hot City. By then, Gene Page had parted company with Barry White. 

Gene Page’s arrangements had featured on Barry White’s first four albums which all topped the US R&B charts and were certified gold. Ironically, despite their successful working relationship, the two men who were musical opposites. Barry White was unable to read or write music while Gene Page was a classically trained musician. In the studio, it was Gene Page’s job to translate the music in Barry White’s head and help him bring it to life. This had worked well for four albums, but with their schedules no longer coinciding, they had no option but to go their separate ways.

Fortunately, Billy Page was able to fill part of the void left by the loss of Barry White when Gene Page began work on his sophomore album Lovelock. Gene Page penned Into My Thing and Escape To Disco and then wrote Organ Grinder, Higher My Love and Fantasy Woman with Billy Page who contributed Straw in the Mind. The Page brothers wrote two other songs with different songwriting partners. Gene Page wrote Together-Forever with Louis Johnson, Melvin Ragin, Rasputin Bantte, while Billy Page and Ray Parker Jr wrote Wild Cherry. These eight tracks became Lovelock which was produced by Gene and Billy Page.

Recording of Lovelock took place at the Sound Factory, in Hollywood during 1975, and many of the same musicians that played on Hot Love returned. The rhythm section of drummer Ed Greene, bassists Wilton Felder and Henry Davis and guitarists David T. Walker, Dean Parks, Melvin “Wah-Wah” Watson, Ray Parker Jr and Le Ritenour. They were joined by keyboardist Joe Sample, Tom Hensley, Reginald “Sonny” Burke and Michael Rubini while conga player Bobbye Hall was joined by percussionist Gary Coleman. Ernie Watts who played flute and saxophone was part of an expanded horn section Marry Clayton, Jim Gilstrap, Augie Johnson, John Lehman, Gregory Matta, Louis Patton, Carolyn Willis and Edna Wright added backing vocals. Meanwhile, keyboardist Gene Page took charge of arrangements and produced Lovelock with his brother Billy. When it was complete, Lovelock was scheduled for release in 1976

Two years after the release of Hot Love, Gene Page returned with Lovelock where string drenched arrangements were once again the order of the day. The main difference was the addition of backing vocals that added a soulfulness to the uplifting album opener Wild Cherry. It gives way to the disco funk of Organ Grinder and then the beautiful mid tempo ballad Higher My Love. Things get über funky on the hook laden Together-Whatever which features a circular chord pattern. The funk continues on the slow burner Fantasy Woman where stabs of horns punctuate the arrangement. Into My Thing was an anthem-in-waiting, while the jazz-tinged Straw In The Mind has a much looser sound, while Escape To Disco which closes the album is a mid tempo funk track. It brings to an end Gene Page’s sophomore album.

Just like Hot City, Lovelock was a slick, polished album which featured Gene Page’s trademark string drenched arrangements and intricate horn charts. Hooks hadn’t been spared in an album where Gene Page and his band switched between funk, soul, disco and jazz. The addition of the horn section and backing vocalists was a masterstroke and resulted in what’s a hugely underrated album.

Sadly, when Lovelock was released in February 1976 it failed to chart in the US Billboard 200, and reached just forty-five in the US R&B charts. Then when Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was released, it stalled at thirty in the US R&B charts. This wasn’t good enough for Atlantic Records, and Gene Page left the label shortly afterwards.

The two albums that Gene Page released for Atlantic Records, Hot City and Lovelock which have just been remastered and reissued by BGO Records, and are the first chapter in his short recording career. Gene Page who was at the peak of his powers was a hugely talented arranger, conductor, keyboardist, producer and songwriter, but only released four albums. Close Encounters followed in 1978 with Love Starts After Dark following in 1980. Sadly, it was Gene Page’s swan-song and he never released another album.

Still, though Gene Page continued to work was an arranger, conductor, producer and songwriter right up until the mid-eighties. By then, he was most prolific arrangers, conductors and producers and had worked on over 200 albums that were either certified gold or platinum. This was a remarkable achievement as Gene Page’s career began in 1962, and by all intents and purposes was over by the mid-eighties. 

By then, the only the thing that had eluded Gene Page was a successful solo album. However, Hot City and Lovelock are both slick, polished and carefully crafted melodic albums where Gene Page hasn’t spared the hooks. Both Hot City and Lovelock have stood the test of time and showcase the Gene Page’s skills as an arranger, musician, producer and songwriter. Sadly, Gene Page passed away on August the ’24th’ 1998, aged just fifty-eight and that day, music lost one of its most talented sons. A reminder of that talent can be heard on Gene Page’s debut album Hot City and the followup Lovelock.

Gene Page-Hot City and Lovelock.

 

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