Blues Brief - April 25th
On April 25, 1951, blues classic “The Thrill is Gone” was first recorded - but not by who you’re thinking.
Three Texans headed west in the 1940’s and met up in Oakland California’s blues district. Robert Geddins was a musician, songwriter, producer, and owner of Big Town Records on 7th Street in West Oakland, once called “The Harlem of the West.” He found and signed piano playing blues artist Roy Hawkins and his band The Four Jacks. Geddins was the first African-American to own multiple labels and Hawkins recorded for two of them. Songwriter and promoter Rick Darnell teamed up with Hawkins at Big Town and they put the song together in about five minutes according to Darnell, who had just gone through a bad breakup.
Modern Records signed Hawkins and brought him to Universal Recording in Los Angeles. Hawkins had a hit with “Why Do Things Happen to Me” or “Why Do Everything Happen to Me,” written by Geddins while the singer was recovering from a car accident. And there were others. A top money maker for Modern, Hawkins was already in his 40’s but had a promising career until that accident, which left one of his arms paralyzed for the rest of his life. Still a talented vocalist, Modern put their best behind “Thrill.” Maxwell Davis (worked with BB King and T-Bone Walker) produced and played saxophone. He brought in Willard McDaniel on piano and Johnny Moore on guitar. The song was an instant hit, peaking at the sixth spot on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart in 1951.
Geddins continued to write songs and record blues acts in Oakland until his death in 1981. Darnell moved around the country working for various radio stations, eventually owning one in Farmville (just outside of Richmond) Virginia. He died there in 2008, never receiving full credit for the song claimed by Modern’s owner. Roy Hawkins never fully recovered from that accident and only recorded on and off until 1961. Neither did he get his due. Many early records - and remakes - had the wrong songwriters (Benson and Pettite?) on them. He ended up working in a furniture store and died in Compton California in 1974.
Hawkins’ and Darnell’s song became known worldwide nineteen years later when recorded by a former DJ in Memphis.