Gene & Eunice were Los Angeles' answer to New Orleans' Shirley & Lee (their labelmates at Aladdin Records), except that Gene & Eunice's duets were much lighter and lyrical. And unlike Shirley, Eunice could actually sing on key. Also, rather than carry on the "call-and-response" soap opera of the on-again off-again romance of the Shirley & Lee singles, Gene & Eunice generally sang as one voice, much like Marvin & Johnny, The Cliques (Jesse Belvin & Eugene Church) and other Los Angeles male R&B duos.
Gene was born Forest Gene Wilson in San Antonio, Texas. Later he took the name Gene Forrest when he began a singing career. Eunice Levy, born in Texarkana, Texas, met him at a singing contest in Los Angeles. Older and more experienced than Eunice, Gene dominated the relationship from the start, but Eunice was his co-writer from the beginning. Gene and Eunice wrote most of their own songs.
Their first single, "Ko Ko Mo, put "The Sweethearts of Rhythm & Blues" on the map. They recorded the song in the basement studio of veteran black musician Jake Porter, backed by saxophonist Brother William Woodman's band. Released on Porter's home label, Combo Records, "Ko Ko Ko" was one of those natural hits that couldn't be stopped. Neither could the cover versions by nearly every major label.
Since he owned the copyright, Jake Porter benefited from the "Ko Ko Mo" covers by Perry Como (#2 pop), The Crew-Cuts (#6 pop), The Hutton Sisters, Bill Darnell & Betty Clooney, Louis Armstrong, and country star Hawkshaw Hawkins. But promoting Gene & Eunice's Combo single was an uphill battle. It was bad enough that the popular vocal group, The Flamingos, completely dominated Chicago's R&B market because their single of "Ko Ko Mo" was released on a label (Parrot) owned by the city's major black deejay, Al Benson. But worse, Porter had to compete against yet another Gene & Eunice single of "Ko Ko Mo" because Aladdin Records, which already had Gene Forrest under contract as a solo artist, claimed ownership of the team of Gene & Eunice in late January 1955 and rushed them into the studio with Johnny Otis's band (billed as Johnny's Combo--perhaps as a slap at Combo Records) to record a second version of "Ko Ko Mo." Aladdin, a much larger indie than Combo, then ran an ad in the trade papers announcing: "Don't Be Fooled! This Is The Gene & Eunice Ko Ko Mo." Aladdin also claimed the publishing rights, which Porter had only a few weeks earlier sold to Meridian Music. It was all a big mess, and Gene Forrest and Eunice Levy got very little of the songwriting royalties due them. The Combo and Aladdin singles, counted as one unit by Billboard's compilers, climbed as high as #6 R&B in early 1955.
Once settled in with Aladdin, Gene & Eunice enjoyed a couple of busy years on the R&B circuit. Their second Aladdin release, "This Is My Story," was a hit in the summer of 1955 and remains a popular oldie. But the sweethearts wouldn't have anything close to another hit until they left Aladdin in 1958 and recorded "Poco-Loco" for the small Case label, where they worked with producer Gary Paxton of The Hollywood Argyles.
Unlike Shirley & Lee, Gene & Eunice were actually sweethearts, and the two married and had several children together.
When one of their recordings, "Bom Bom Lulu," which was taken from a traditional West Indies song, was a hit in Jamaica, Gene & Eunice became an important, if unknowing, part of the history of early reggae. Several of their recordings were reissued on Jamaica's Blank label, and "Strange Love" and "The Vow" were both covered by Jamaican singers Jackie & Doreen, circa 1959, on Coxton Dodd's Studio One label. "The Vow" was also covered by Bunny & Rita (Bunny Wailer and Rita Marley of The Wailers), also on the Studio One label, as well as on Coxsome Records. According to Jeremy Collingwood, two of Gene & Eunice's records were also released in Jamaica on DownBeat Records: "This Is My Story" / "Move It Over Baby" and "Hootchy-Kootchy" / "I'll Never Believe In You."
Gene Forrest died at age 71 in Las Vegas on July 24, 2003. Eunice died in Las Vegas on May 26, 2002. She and Junior Ryder (standing in for Gene) were big favorites at DWS Show #35 on February 10, 2001.
Concert photo by Ray Regalado
|Combo 64||Ko Ko Mo**/You and Me||1955|
|Aladdin 3282||Ko Ko Mo/You and Me||1955|
|Aladdin 3282||This Is My Story***/Move It Over Baby||1955|
|Aladdin 3292||Flim Flam/Can We Forget It||1955|
|Aladdin 3305||I Gotta Go Home/Have You Changed Your Mind||1955|
|Aladdin 3315||Hootchy-Kootchy/I'll Never Believe in You||1956|
|Aladdin 3321||Let's Get Together/I'm So in Love With You||1956|
|Aladdin 3351||Bom Bom Lulu/Hi Diddle Diddle||1956|
|Aladdin 3374+||Strange World/The Vow||1957|
|Aladdin 3376||Don't Treat Me This Way/Doodle Doodle Doo||1957|
|Aladdin 3414||The Angels Gave You to Me/I Mean Love||1958|
|Case 1001||Poco-Loco/Go-On Kokomo||1959|
|Case 1002||Ah!Ah!/You Think I'm Not Thinking||1959|
|Case 1005||You Drive Me Buggy/Without Love||1959|
|Case 1007||Sugar Babe/Let's Play the Game||1960|
|Case EP 100||Hully Gully/Poco Loco/You Think I'm Not Thinking/Beatnik||1959|
|Lily 512||Got a Right to Know/Everlovin' Baby||1962|
|Collectables 6173||This Is My Story/Move It Over Baby||1980s|
|Gene & Ruth ++|
|King 5422||It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog/You Got Your Freedom||1960|
|King 5456||Ooh-Oops/Can't Take It||1961|
|*Released as by Gene Forrest & The Four Feathers (Eunice was not on the record).
**Charted #6 R&B in February 1955
***Charted #8 R&B in July 1955
+With the Ray Ellis Orchestra. Both sides were covered by Jamaican duo xx
++Gene Forrest with another female singer
|EMI 308822||The Aladdin Records Story
(Double CD contains "Ko Ko Mo" and "This Is My Story")
|Case 6002||Lost Artists Vol. 2: Gene & Eunice--This Is My Story
(Bootleg 24-track CD contains all 20 of their Aladdin sides
plus their first two Case singles.)
|Ace 812||Go on Ko Ko Mo!
(CD contains the Combo hit single, three songs featuring
Eunice singing solo, 13 Aladdin sides, two Case sides,
plus eight unreleased Combo rehearsal songs, including
"Flim Flam" and "This Is My Story.")
Thanks to Steve Propes for his help in compiling this discography.
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