I was reading through a Phil Collins bio recently. Collins was listing his favourite this, that and the other, and then cited Eugene Wallace as one his favourite singers.
Would that be Limerick’s Eugene Richard Wallace, the man from Ballynanty in the shadow of Thomond Park? In short, yes.
Wallace passed away just before the turn of the century. If he was still with us he would be celebrating his 60th birthday today, August 31st.
Described as a gifted songwriter and a powerful singer with a raw, yet soulful voice, his dilemma as a recording artist from a commercial context – it has been written – was that he sounded a bit too much like Joe Cocker.
However, according to Granny’s Intentions drummer Guido Di Vito, who played in bands with Wallace on a number of occasions, Wallace didn’t sound like Cocker.
“Eugene had a fantastic voice. He was compared to Joe Cocker a lot which was understandable, but in my opinion he had much better voice that Cocker. He was a fantastic musician.”
Born on August 31st 1950, Wallace learned his trade playing in a number of bands in Limerick as a teenager.
His first band, Sweet Street, were active between 1967 and ’69. Pursuing a West Coast psychedelic sound, the band featured the mercurial talents of 16-year-old Johnny Fean who went on to fame with with Horslips, and the classically trained Joe O’Donnell, who had a short stint with Granny’s Intentions before joining East of Eden, described as a British progressive rock band.
O’Donnell also collaborated with Rory Gallagher and Roxy Music. The talented Noel Franklin and Eamon Walsh completed the Sweet Street line up – some still refer to this band as Sweet Street Sect.
“The band (Sweet Street) was formed by Joe O’Donnell in Limerick, 1967. I was living in Shannon and still going to school, the Comprehensive, at that time, recalled Johnny Fean in an interview,
“The musical style of the Sweet Street was very much U.S. West Coast along with English Psychedelic music. This music was very much what prevailed in ’67.
“In our set list we played material from Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, (Eight Miles High), Tim Rose, Tim Hardin, Cream, Hendrix, Stevie Winwood’s ‘Traffic’, (Mr. Fantasy), Steve Marriott and some others I can’t remember. We played mostly in Limerick and Cork.”
Wallace was also the lead singer with MacBeth between 1969/70. He left MacBeth, which included Pat Quigley, Pat Staunton and John Donnelly, and played briefly with the Rake N’ Ramblers at the turn of the 70s.
The basement of Geary’s Hotel (where Aubars is now situated on Thomas Street) was one of the venues for live music in Limerick at the time, and Joe Deegan, who describes himself as a music fan, recalls that some of the bands were into folk – can you dig it.
“Eugene sang with the Rake N’ Ramblers in the early 70s. The folk bands at the time were influenced by Fairport Convention, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and others. It was more of a progressive folk sound as opposed to just ballads. Folk music was cool around that time.
“I saw Eugene playing in Geary’s on a few occasions. He would always end the night with a version of the Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon.
“Eugene was a very down to earth person. There was absolutely no ego about Eugene. He was a very genuine person and an extremely talented and gifted musician.”
Wallace left Limerick in 1970 to play in clubs in Holland and Denmark, before moving to London to pursue his musical career in 1971.
Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees was interested in recording him around that time. However, it was his appearance at a charity gig in aid of famine stricken Bangladesh at the Oval in 1971 – with The Who, Rod Stewart & The Faces, Atomic Rooster and the Grease Band – that began to open doors in his career.
That led to a recording deal with Neptune Production. His first album was scheduled for release in 1972, though Neptune were envisaging an LP of cover version to showcase Wallace’s powerful voice.
However, Wallace managed to persuade Neptune to include some of his originals.
Phil Collins, Brian Odgers, Davey Johnstone, Tim Renwick, Lynton Naiff, Riccotti Frank, John Hawken, B.J. Cole, Dave Hentschel, Ray Cooper and Nick Graham were just some of the musicians that played on the recording.
Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, attended the recording session but his contribution would not appear until later.
The debut album, called Book of Fool, was released on EMI in July 1974, by which time Wallace was working on his second offering which was preceded by a single, “Don’t you feel it/The Badman.”
Book of Fool, described as an excellent debut album, also showcased Wallace’s exceptional songwriting skills. The album included covers of Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On and Jackson Browne’s Rock Me On The Water.
The LP, incidentally, was not Wallace’s vinyl debut per se as he appeared in the film “That Will Be The Day” with David Essex and Ringo Starr in 1973, contributing one song to the soundtrack album.
However, Book of Fool was not a commercial success. Consequently, Wallace was “encouraged” to record material more in the style of Joe Cocker.
The results are audible on his second offering “Dangerous”, released in 1975. Unfortunately, his attempt to sound like Joe Cocker only made the Limerick singer sound like an imitation of Cocker, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the critics, although the album did contain two superb tracks “Children and “The Killer”.
The title track of the album was recorded in 1972 and features Roger Taylor of Queen on drums.
According to a report from the time, Taylor met Eugene as they (Queen and Eugene) were meant to be the same package of musicians offered by Trident to EMI.
Dangerous was not released in the USA and is apparently very difficult to find on vinyl, partly because of Taylor’s contribution attracting Queen collectors. It was preceded by a promo single which has been described as especially difficult to locate.
Wallace’s solo career ended – apart from a Bee Gee cover released in 1978 – around that period. He also worked with Phil Lynott.
Eugene Richard Wallace died following an illness on November 24th 1999. Limerick has had, and still has, many fine musicians and Wallace was undoubtedly one of the finest.
This was man who left his home town – like tens of thousands of his compatriots fleeing this Fianna Fail- and Catholic church-ridden island (what’s new?) – in search of fame and fortune.
Accompanied by some of the best musicians in the world he recorded two fine albums – at a time when record companies weren’t exactly handing out contracts at the drop of a hat – and is fondly remembered by his friends and fellow musicians.
Likewise, I reckon he’s long overdue some official recognition in his home town. At the very least a commemorative plaque in recognition of his contribution to the arts is warranted.
Maybe we could even get Phil Collins to unveil it in tribute to one of his favourite singers?
Meantime, how about a tribute night boys?