Destined to be lost in the shadows of more famous bandmates, Earl Forest still managed to carve out a nice career for himself over forty years.

Born in 1926, Earl Forest was the drummer for The Beale Streeters, the loose-knit Memphis group formed in at the end of the 1940’s by B. B. King, which included saxophonist Adolph “Billy” Duncan, vocalist Bobby “Blue” Bland and pianist Johnny Ace. When King’s career took off the remaining members joined him on his initial sessions for Modern/R.P.M. where both Forest and Ace were able to step out front and sing a number apiece which went unreleased until they later became stars in their own right.

It was with Duke Records however that they’d get their chance, but only when Bland was unable to perform the songs he’d been contracted to sing because he’d failed to tell Duke owner David Mattis that he couldn’t read to learn the songs he’d been given in advance. Forest was the first choice to fill in for Bland to cut those songs, but it was the unassuming Ace who captured Mattis’s ear playing off to the side and it’d be the sides he cut that day which produced a massive #1 hit with Forest backing him on drums.

The group continued to play behind one another for their next few sessions on Duke resulting in more hits for Ace, but also a Top Ten hit for Forest who was proving to be a capable singer and songwriter. Though he’d score no more hits of his own after 1953, Forest stayed busy cutting sides for Duke into the early 1960’s, as well as writing the hit “Next Time You See Me” for fellow Memphis star Little Junior Parker in 1956, not to mention contributing a song to The Mar-Keys on Stax in 1961.

In the late 1980’s Forest re-united with Bland, playing drums and penning a couple of songs for him on an album and did the same for another blues-rock legend, Little Milton in 1987.

Because of the enduring fame of King, Bland and Ace, his own career seemed to pale in comparison and yet at the same time it ensured Earl Forest would always have reason to be mentioned. When he died of cancer in Memphis in 2003 his obituaries played up his associations with all of them, but that also reminded those who may not have known about him otherwise that he had a career to be proud of in his own right.
EARL FOREST DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Duke 102; June, 1952)
As sideman… behind Johnny Ace.

(Duke 102; June, 1952)
As sideman… behind Johnny Ace.

(Duke 103; June, 1952)
A very serviceable performance by Forest who delivers a strong vocal on a laid-back drinking song that gives a pretty fair representation of the kind of low-key house party that was common in communities who were the prime constituency of this music in the first place. (5)

(Duke 103; June, 1952)
With a slightly lighter vocal tone, Forest might be even more appealing on this side as a singer for even if the song’s topic isn’t quite as memorable it’s well written and provides them with a catchy melodic hook courtesy of Billy Duncan’s sax. (5)