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They say that if you find something you love to do and figure out a way to make money doing it you never work a day in your life.

Good advice and I’ll be the first to admit it’s sorta true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard work anyway as Gene Forrest found out as he launches his career with a big regional hit that amounted to very little in the big scheme of things, forcing him to keep clawing his way up the ladder to attain a level of brief – but crucial – success down the road.


I Don’t Know The Reason Why
The name Gene Forrest is probably not very familiar to anyone outside the Forrest family in the Twenty First Century but for awhile in the mid-1950’s he and then-girlfriend Eunice Levy were a popular duo who scored two huge hits, the first of which was one of the more vital rock records of its day thanks in large part to the fact it seemingly was covered by every artist, both pop and rock, that had a recording contract anywhere in America at the time.

That rash of cover versions indicated this music was now seen as commercially relevant by the industry who had railed against it for so long and within a few months rock ‘n’ roll was capturing a sizable segment of the pop charts for the first time ever.

But nearly four years earlier, in the fall of 1951, 20 year old Gene Forrest entered the studio to cut his debut for John Dolphin, owner of Dolphin’s Of Hollywood record store and the associated record label Recorded In Hollywood, merely hoping it was the start of something big.

Dolphin was a major player on the Los Angeles rock scene and a scam artist of renown, often surreptitiously recording “demo” sessions and pressing them up to sell, paying the artist nothing for their efforts. Yet he was also one of the few in the industry who gave untested singers a chance to be heard and since there were no contracts involved the singer would be free to sign with a “real” label immediately if anything came of their initial release.

With It Was You however Dolphin had pulled out all the stops hiring a full band, Eddie Beale Fourtette, to back Forrest, even giving them the lead artist credit on the label – though the ads hyped Forrest who was the one with the obvious long term potential.

The record became a big hit in Los Angeles thanks to Dolphin whose store was famous for having live disc jockeys in the window spinning records all day and night over the air, which of course acted as promotion for the artists he had a vested interest in.

But for all of its success the record itself didn’t leave much of an impression – the wrong type of song for the times – but it gave Forrest the impetus to keep plugging away for any local label that would have him until eventually it paid off.

Wondering Do You Love Me
As the piano kicks this off you’d be excused if you think you’ve wandered into the cocktail lounge before the night crowd staggered in. The playing is weak and ineffectual, wandering around without much purpose and creating a mood that seems intended to be roundly ignored once the drinks start flowing.

Luckily Gene Forrest is taking his role a little more seriously here and though his vocal starts off very laid back, almost semi-spoken at times, he’s clearly feeding off the lyrics which present him as a man completely hung up on somebody, his voice swelling with passion at times before dropping down into a more soulful croon.

He doesn’t have the best voice in the world but it’s certainly serviceable, even showcasing (a little used) ability to rise up to carry off passages like an untutored Andrew Tibbs at certain junctures. It gets your hopes up there’ll be something more powerful to follow, but instead you’re left focusing mostly on the story he’s telling which contains slightly more interest because of his commitment to the topic at hand.

It Was You comes across as a vague rumination on love rather than an intense exploration into how human beings continue to screw up the most primal urge in the universe. Forrest’s approach is the perfect example of overthinking the problem, wondering about her state of mind rather than focusing on his own.

Then again who’s not guilty of that at times, male or female?

Unfortunately while the song rings true in that sense, it’s not very compelling. Not only do we the listener prefer not to be reminded of such frustration and confusion over romance, but we don’t have any belief that Forrest is going to make sense of it either, meaning he’s going to wind up alone at the end of the day as a result of all this which is actually a pretty appropriate conclusion to a record which presents inaction as a viable solution to the problem at hand.

One Of These Mornings My Blues Will Walk Away
While the debut record of Gene Forrest is underwhelming to say the least and hardly indicative of the style he’d go on to perfect with Eunice Levy, there’s just enough glimmer of talent lurking in the crevices to not be altogether surprised when he would emerge again in a few years with something infinitely more appealing.

But that’s not to say It Was You is without any merit at all, even if that merit is hardly of the artistic variety.

For one thing we get to see another example of how behind the scenes figures like John Dolphin had more to do with rock’s evolution than is generally credited, simply by controlling the means of exposure while having fingers in multiple pies. That his vision didn’t extend far beyond his own localized region of Los Angeles meant it was mostly left up to others to capitalize on his tentative forays into production, even though they were using many of the same techniques he had perfected.

Yet even if you could care less about the machinations of the industry itself and focus on more pertinent matters like the contents of the record, there were two related takeaways from this if you wanted to look for them.

The first is an altogether admirable one in that Gene Forrest was so determined to make it as a singer and songwriter that he was going to let nothing stand in his way to take his best shot at becoming a star, even if that meant dealing with people John Dolphin and cutting records for the exposure alone, knowing full well that every opportunity had to be taken advantage of so you wouldn’t look back in regret one day for not going far enough in his quest for happiness. It’s hard not to admire that kind of drive.

The second lesson was the same as the first, except it was entirely fictional and showed what happened when you lacked that determination in life, as the character in the song chose not to heed that same advice about keeping your eye firmly fixed on the goal at hand, as instead in the song’s plot he threw in the towel before he and the girl of his dreams were together resigning himself to a life of loneliness.

Same basic principles, two different approaches, only one pays off in the end.

The lesson in all this? Keep trying, kid… keep trying. It’s better than working for a living.


(Visit the Artist page of Gene Forrest for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)