This photo features Big Al with a Fan.
REMEMBERING BIG AL
STORIES & PHOTOS
Big Al Downing was born January 9, 1940 and passed away July 4,
2005. He truly was an American success story, against unbelievable odds! From humble beginnings as one of twelve children born to a rural Oklahoma farmer he faced bigotry and poverty, and turned what could have been a brick wall into stepping stones. He learned to play piano on an old upright he found in a junk pile, that had only 40 workable keys, and went on to become Wanda Jackson's piano player -on his way to becoming a world class entertainer. Big Al was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Franklin Tennessee, the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, The Kansas Music Hall of Fame, played often at The Grand Ole Opry (most recently in May 2005) and also appeared at The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio. The 1979 recipient of Billboard Magazine's New Artist of The Year & Single of The Year Awards, he appeared frequently at many of North America's premier festivals like: The Hodag, Porterfield and The Havelock.
His broad grin and matching waistline were also familiar sights at many of Europe's major Americana events like: Scandinavia's Alunda Festival and England's Rhythm Riot. Although best known for his hits Mr Jones, Touch Me and Bring It On Home.
Big Al recorded many more of his own compositions like: Down
On The Farm and Georgia Slop, still considered -on both sides of
the Atlantic- to be among the most prominent rockabilly music
ever recorded. His tunes have been recorded by his idol Fats Domino, Bobby Bland and Tom Jones.
His 2003 release of the CD One of A Kind, was critically acclaimed and introduced a new legion of fans to the music of the beloved
entertainer who performed in the US, Canada, England, Japan, France, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Australia, Hong
Kong, The Bahamas and The Grand Cayman Islands.
<My wife Genevieve and I remember fondly the years we spent working with Al. We traveled with him thru the midwest, the
south, into Florida, Canada and England too! He was more than
just a client he was a good friend. We miss him very much.
He truly was One Of A Kind>
There are so many wonderful remembrances people have
of Big Al thru unforgettable stories and classic photos.
Next to performing what Big Al loved best was spending
time with people.
Please let me know, if you'd like to share your memories of
Big Al Downing. I will publish as many as possible.
Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will give you complete credit for your contributions unless you prefer to remain anonymous.
This photo was taken during the Rhythm
Riot Festival in Camber Sussex England
November 21, 2003. The promotional material for this huge festival advertised, Big Al Downing is set to Rock The Joint, with a midnight performance. Thrilled
by his invitation to the show, the effervescent Downing said, "This is
Great, I'm Ready to Rock."
The first time I met Big Al Downing was during the summer of 1980. I was a staff announcer at a Providence RI radio station and he was performing at Indian Ranch in Webster MA, a popular concert venue. Although I didn't really talk that much with him I never expected what I saw as I walked out on-stage to introduce him to the crowd. Keep in- mind this was only a few years after Mr Jones was recorded and he didn't play much in the east because he was always bigger in other parts of the country, but still
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The
place which held around 3000 was packed beyond capacity. Not only was every seat
taken but people were literally standing in
the trees, and the lake which lined one side
of The Ranch, was jammed with boats all
loaded with people. It was an unbelievable sight. Although Big Al would play at The
Ranch many more times I will never forget that day. Back then his touring band was called Heavy Country. The place was rockin' all day. They came to see the big man perform and they were not disappointed.
I saw Mr Downing at Hemsby Rock and Roll Fest around 2000 May. What I liked was how much time he spent with us all, even if you didn't buy souvenirs from him. On and off the stage platform he never stopped laughing and smiling. I liked him very much and was saddened to hear he had passed on. We wanted to see him when he got back to UK this year.
Note: The above comments were contributed by Margaret Hopkin who lives in England and saw Big AL at
Hemsby Americana Festival in
Hemsby England. It's held every year.
Because Al played the festival often
it's difficult to know what year she is
referring to. Big Al's last appearance there was May 2002. he did not play
there in 2000
This photo was actually taken in 1958 the same year Big Al originally recorded Down on the Farm for the White Rock label with Leland Rogers (Kenny's brother) as producer. This
particular photo was on a publicity card distributed by England's Roller Coaster records to promote its re-
issue of several Big Al collections,
the first of which was the EP, Down
on the Farm, released in 1988, the second also issued in 1988 was at first called Rockin' and Rollin' with
Bobby Poe & The Poe-Cats but later
renamed Rockin'& Rollin' with Big Al
Downing. The vinyl album featured 19 tracks, including those on the EP.
Because of Al's huge popularity in
the UK and Europe the label released another project called Back to my Roots. Only available on CD it
was released in 1997 and included Big Al's huge European / UK hits Sneaky Freaky People and Give A Hand to the Lady. A total of 13 cuts.
Both Down on the Farm and Georgia Slop were mega hits in Europe.
The Front Cover of 7" 45 rpm (EP)
that Roller Coaster released in 1988. It featured the title track (Down on the Farm) Miss Lucy, Georgia Slop and Yes I'm Loving You.
Note: The original single of "Down on the Farm," released in 1958 has the distinction of being one of the shortest rockabilly songs ever recorded at 1 min, 36 sec. In England EMI had the exlusive rights of distribution. This version
?v=1ZVCK6rnYwc was released strictly to radio stations (and perhaps big record stores (as a promotional NOT FOR RESALE item) prior to the official public issue of the song. This version was 1 min, 52 sec, and as you can see it is indeed rear because Big Al signed it and because it has no imprinted design, common for promotional items which were rushed to the media before the public copies had been printed. If I were guessing Big Al probably made persoanl appearances in support of the upcoming release.
This is a video clip of Big Al
performing "Give A Hand To The
Lady," at a club called The Rhinestone
Cowboy in Hampton Virginia. As rare
as Big Al Downing video's are, this
one is especially interesting because
Big Al is performing standing up.
(unfortunately the very end is clipped
off.) but still it's fun to watch.
Please Note: One CD not included on the above list was released in 2000 (no actual record label name) Titled: My Personal Favorites - produced by Tony
Bongiovi. Because Warner Bros Nashville never released an album, which contained solely the songs of Big Al* this disc -recorded after Downing purchased the rights to his material from Warner Bros -was designed to be a Greatest Hits Collection, of those songs that Big Al recorded while signed
to Warner Bros. It contained: Mr. Jones, Touch Me, The Story Behind The Story, Bring It On Home, and a minor hit I Ain't No Fool
A Total of 15 cuts.. The songs were reworked, digitally remixed and very close to the original tunes.The concept was simple. To make music available on CD for radio and the general public
*The only time Warner Bros released an album (CD) that contained any Big Al music was in 1998 in a collection called: From Where I Stand, The Black
Experience in Country Music, It contained Big Al's, Down On The Farm and Touch Me plus 59 other priceless recordings which include Deford Bailey's Pan American Blues, Ivory Joe Hunter's City Lights, Stoney Edwards, She's My Rock and Hank & Lefty Raised My Country Soul, Linda Martell's Color
Him Father, Charlie Pride's The Snakes Crawl At Night and Aaron Neville's The Grand Tour. Songs that help us remember the contribution of black people to country music, a genre that most believe originated with Negro spirituals. The three disc box set is still available along with Music Samples.
Just Click Below
"I had the pleasure of playing in a band called Bootleg, from 1982 to 2002. Big Al asked us to back him up during a tour he made through Maine, as well as some gigs in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Big Al was a true artist, gentleman, friend, entertainer, and his smile was as wide as the sun rising in the morning. We miss him, and were honored to play onstage with him."
Lead Guitar, Bootleg
"We had a band out of Nashville....80, 81, 82........we played a 2 week, 6 nights per, run in Bristol Tn. probably 81....Can't remember the joint's name.....it was long and skinny....anyway, Big Al came in for a friday and saturday pair of shows and we got to open for him At the time we hadnt heard much about him, but after that weekend he was way up on our list......A gentleman, very helpful, and he completely rocked the house......blew the roof off the dump as letterman says."
Note: The club may have been the Old Rocking Horse.
"I played guitar in Big Al's touring band during the last few years of his life, got to play with him for every show. It was an honor to work with him, not to mention an absolute BLAST! I miss him... RIP Al."
"One of the most underplayed,underrated and underpublicized singers in history.He could switch from R&B to Country and back to R&B without missing a beat.What a shame that his record label didnt push hard for play,and? didnt spend some money to publicize him.He could've and should've been a giant in the industry."
"One of the truly great voices to ever sing a song.Big Al started off in R&B,had some success,then switched over to Country,where he should've been a superstar,but the Industry didnt really back him,or promote him correctly.Every bit as good as Charlie Pride,
he just didnt get the exposure."
"as a white? girl raised by a black lady... this realy hits home to me"
Note: The above were posted on YouTube.