Eugene “Gene” McDaniels, a singer, songwriter and producer whose half-century career spawned such oft-covered hits as “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “Compared to What,” died July 29 in his home in Kittery Point, Maine. He was 76.
Blessed with a four-octave vocal range, and also proficient on the trumpet and saxophone, McDaniels segued between gospel, soul, jazz and R&B, with themes that ranged from romance to spirituality and political agitprop.
Born Eugene McDaniels in Kansas City, Kansas, McDaniels formed his first group — gospel act Echoes of Joy — when he was 11, and after a stint as a jazz singer, was signed to Liberty Records as Gene McDaniels. His first hit, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” reached No. 3 in 1961, followed on the pop charts by “A Tear,” “Spanish Lace” and “Tower of Strength,” the last co-written by Burt Bacharach.
McDaniels left Liberty in 1965, then left the U.S. entirely after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., living in Europe for several years. Around this time he penned the staunchly political “Compared to What,” which was recorded by Les McCann and later by Roberta Flack, and was later revived by the Roots and John Legend for their 2010 covers album “Wake Up!”
When he returned to America, McDaniels largely focused his energies on songwriting and producing, most notably for Flack (who had a No. 1 hit in 1974 with his composition “Feel Like Makin’ Love”) and Gladys Knight. Though he never again charted with his own recordings, McDaniels’ experimental 1971 Atlantic Records release “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse” was later rediscovered by hip-hop producers, who have since sampled it liberally.
He also produced for Lenny Williams and Nancy Wilson and appeared in Richard Lester’s 1962 film “It’s Trad, Dad!”
McDaniels is survived by his wife, Karen; five sons and a daughter; and nine grandchildren.