As the story goes, the all-white showband the Nightcaps were, by the mid-‘60s, in the market for a new vocalist. Eugene Alton Dorsett and Eddie Best, Jr., better known as Gene & Eddie, happened to be in the market for a band. When their paths crossed, they became one of the first truly integrated acts at a time when such a thing was virtually unheard of. Because of this distinction, the Nightcaps (plus Gene & Eddie) landed a number of high-profile gigs in the Washington, D.C. area. Chief among these was at a party hosted by the Johnson administration during the height of civil unrest. Certainly a politically motivated (and shrewdly calculated) move on the part of the Johnson administration, it was nevertheless an impressive step for a group rooted in a style built on and around the effects of segregation.
Together, Gene & Eddie and the Nightcaps took the Washington, D.C.-area music scene by storm, becoming one of the top draws in the area. But the integrated pairing was not to last as Gene & Eddie cut ties with the band in 1967 to embark on a career of their own. It was around this same time they cut their first single for the Ru-Jac Records label owned by Baltimore-based songwriter, producer, arranger, and performer Joe “Sir Joe” Quarterman. It is here that the comprehensive Omnivore Recordings collection of Gene & Eddie’s Ru-Jac singles begins. Part of an ongoing series documenting the recorded output of the Baltimore label, True Enough: Gene & Eddie with Sir Joe at Ru-Jac offers a hefty dose of late ‘60s indie label soul.
As a vocal duo, Gene & Eddie display a light, close-harmony style very much in keeping with the times. In other words, nothing about the duo is particularly revelatory in terms of musicality or performance. Rather they serve as a glimpse into the oft-overlooked world of regional soul hits. That there are now so many labels specializing in collecting and issuing these long-forgotten recordings is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they afford a broader audience the chance to hear singles generally relegated to the part of the country in which they were recorded and pushed. Yet the sheer number of singles released makes it difficult to sort out the truly worthwhile singles from those aping then-prominent national styles (i.e. Motown, Stax, and Atlantic).
So while True Enough manages to bring together everything Gene & Eddie recorded for the Ru-Jac label, it’s not all necessarily worth further analysis. That said, it’s only a small portion of the collection that falls into the derivative category as the remainder shows a surprising depth to Sir Joe’s skills as a writer and arranger. And it’s really Quarterman whose talents are on display despite Gene & Eddie receiving top billing. With the majority of the collection having been penned by Quarterman—not to mention the handful of stellar lead vocal performances he delivers throughout the collection—it’s more a showcase for Sir Joe and the label he founded. Indeed, these songs could well have been recorded by any number of vocal duos and would likely have been just as good.
This isn’t to say that Gene & Eddie weren’t capable performers and writers. Their original “Darling I Love You” is a fine example of late ‘60s East Coast soul, while “It’s So Hard” is a smooth 6/8 soul ballad with gorgeous harmonies and some unique falsetto work. Similarly, “Why Do You Hurt Me” is a lush ballad featuring a fine vocal performance and a sumptuous orchestral arrangement. Here it becomes clear that their strong suit was more nuanced balladry than the funkier R&B scattered throughout the collection. “She’s True Enough” is a lightweight take on Sam & Dave that doesn’t quite fit with the duo’s aesthetic—while wickedly funky and possessing several impressive syncopated vocal breaks, it can’t help but sound like a pale imitation of the more well-known vocal duo and their work with Booker T & the MGs.
Both “Check You Later” and “It’s So Hard” provide the chance to hear the duo with the Nightcaps. Given the time in which these particular recordings were made—roughly 1965-1966—their earlier rock ‘n’ roll-inflected sound feels incongruous when taken with the rest of the collection. Here they are more of a party band than elsewhere and, despite the energy, tend to drag. But as these are meant to be the complete recordings for Ru-Jac, their inclusion is necessary. True Enough may not be essential, but it will certainly please those who enjoy the lesser-heard sounds of regional soul acts. While there are better artists and collections out there, True Enough is well worth the listen.