Spectropop remembers

EUGENE RECORD (1940 - 2005)

Songwriter, producer, all-around instrumentalist and frequent lead vocalist of the Chi-Lites, one of the greatest soul groups ever to come out of Chicago.

Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites has died after a battle with cancer. He was 64. The group, named after their hometown, Chicago, was one of the greatest ever to come out of that city. They exploded on the soul scene in 1969, at the beginning of the vocal/dance group renaissance. It was an era when ensembles like the Delfonics and the Stylistics, as well as the Chi-Lites, achieved great crossover popularity and significantly shaped the popular music of the era with a kind of soul that emphasised high-tenor leads. Eugene Record was the group's creative force.

With smooth, yearning vocals and streamlined arrangements, the Chi-Lites mingled sentimental street-corner doo-wop with the sounds of Motown and funk to create a sleek new soul style in the early '70s. "Oh Girl" became a No. 1 hit in 1972 and 11 of the group's songs reached the Top 20 on the R&B charts from 1969 to 1974. Record sang in a velvety, melancholic tenor, and sometimes in a euphoric falsetto, as on "Stoned Out Of My Mind", which he wrote with his former wife and songwriting partner, Barbara Acklin. Another device he favoured was the pensive spoken verse, which he used in "Have You Seen Her?" and "A Letter To Myself". In addition to his many collaborations with Acklin, he also wrote and/or produced material for Betty Everett, Otis Leavill, Young-Holt, the Impressions, the Dells, Gene Chandler and others.

The Chi-Lites' biggest hits have remained radio staples for decades, and the group's songs have frequently been covered by other performers. In 1990 MC Hammer recorded a popular version of "Have You Seen Her?" and in 2003 Beyoncé Knowles' "Crazy In Love", a blockbuster hit, sampled the horn fanfare in "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)", a Chi-Lites song written by Record. When "Crazy In Love" won a Grammy Award for best R&B song, the prize was shared by Record; Knowles; her producer, Rich Harrison; and Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, who contributed a rap. "It brought us back into view," said Marshall Thompson of the Chi-Lites, who remained friendly with Record even after the original line-up split in 1976.

As a student at Englewood High School in the 1950s, Eugene Record played with the Chaunteurs, a group that included Robert "Squirrel" Lester and Clarence Johnson. The three men later formed the Hi-Lites with Thompson and Creadel "Red" Jones. By the mid-'60s, Johnson left the group, and they changed their name to the Chi-Lites. Their big break came when Thompson happened to run into singer and producer Otis Leavill on a city bus. Leavill suggested they audition for producer Carl Davis. That, in turn, led to a contract with Brunswick Records in 1968. The group tasted its first success that year with the song "Give It Away", which reached No. 10 on the R&B charts. But it was a string of hits in the early '70s that established their reputation. In addition to breezy and romantic ballads, the Chi-Lites had a handful of stern political songs, including "(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People" and "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated At The Conference Table)", both written by Record.

Record left the Chi-Lites in 1976 and released three solo albums on Warner Brothers. He rejoined the group in 1980, and they had two more minor hits on Chi-Sound, "Hot On A Thing (Called Love)" and "Bottom's Up". He left again in the late '80s and became a born-again Christian and gospel singer. In 1998, he released a gospel album, "Let Him In". He had planned to remix and re-release it, said his wife of 31 years, Jacki, but he fell ill before he could realise his plans. Jacki Record said her husband's attraction to Christianity in his later years wasn't a response to any one event but rather a spiritual journey Record had been undertaking for some time. Even so, he still got a kick out of seeing young black pop stars using his classic material in their own songs - a sign that his life's work was still relevant.

The Chi-Lites have continued in various permutations since the mid-'80s, and Record performed with them in Only The Strong Survive, a 2002 documentary directed by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker. He is also an integral part of a retrospective DVD the group plans to release shortly. Disc jockey Herb Kent, who has followed the Chi-Lites since their beginnings, said Record had "God's gift" of musical ability. "He played guitar, he wrote and he sang lead on most of the hit songs of the Chi-Lites," he said. "I think his legacy was being a fantastic lead singer in a group out of Chicago that just smacked of Chicago and sweet love music . . . sweet, haunting love music that we'll probably never see the likes of again."

He is survived by his wife, Robi; children, Michael, Russ, Jordan and Pari; and grandchildren Max, Hunter and Cainen.

(Compiled by Mick Patrick from the following sources: Stephanie Zimmerman in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ben Sisario in the New York Times, and Robert Pruter in his book Chicago Soul, published by the University of Illinois Press, 1991.)

Eugene Record, singer, songwriter, producer and musician: born December 23rd, 1940 - died July 22nd, 2005.