Born Rafael Leon Rene, 30 March 1927, Los Angeles, California
Googie Rene is one of those unjustly overlooked musical figures from the rock 'n' roll years. Although he was the backbone of Class Records, Rene has remained something of an "underground" figure amongst the collector fraternity until the recent release of the "Wham Bam" CD on Ace. He is the son of label owner/songwriter Leon Rene (1902-1982) and was called "Googie" because that was the first word he ever uttered as an infant. By the time Googie graduated from Dorsey High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Hills, he was showing all the signs of following in his father's footsteps. He studied piano, composed songs and gained some firsthand studio experience when Leon Rene invited him along to record dates. But before Googie could get more involved, he had to serve in the US Army/Air Force in Europe. Upon his return in 1950, he found that his father's label, Exclusive Records, had gone bankrupt, but, undaunted, Leon Rene started to prepare a new imprint entitled Class Records.
Googie became primarily responsible for overseeing the new label, which released its first single at the end of 1951, in the short-lived 500 series. However, after the recent upheavals, Leon and Googie, chose to make a quiet start and struck an arrangement with the Bihari Brothers to release the Class product on Modern and RPM. It was not until September 1956 that Class really got off the ground, with a new 200 series. The second release (Class 201) in that series was "Sad Fool" by the Rollettes (a.k.a as the Dreamers : Gloria Jones, Annette Williams and Fanita Barrett), coupled with "Wham Bam" by the Googie Rene Combo. This rocking instrumental was the start of a long line of singles (in excess of 20 of them, over an 11-year period) by the Combo, which usually contained the cream of the West Coast session men. The cast includes Plas Johnson and Clifford Scott on saxophone, Earl Palmer on drums and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Jimmy Nolen and Rene Hall on guitar. The instrumentals run the gamut from 50s rock'n'roll, boogie woogie, jump, latin, to 60s soul-jazz. On some tracks, Googie stands out front on piano, then organ later on, while letting his cohorts take the lead on many others.
Googie was given creative control at Class, which enabled him to develop his own songwriting, arranging, keyboard playing, and production techniques. As can be clearly seen from the progression of sides presented on the "Wham Bam" CD, from the smooth 1956 West Coast jump of Wham Bam to the groovy 1966 Ramsey Lewis stylings, Googie had the latest chart hits and current trends always in mind when he went into the studio. The influences and inspirations are many and varied.
>From a rock & roll point of view, the most interesting releases are those from the 1956-1959 period, especially "Wiggle Tail, Parts 1 & 2" (Class 221, my personal favourite, shame on UK Decca for not releasing it on London American*)," "Big Time"/"Midnight" (Class 205), "Break It Up"/"Side-Track" (Class 208) and "Rock-A Boogie"/"Beautiful Weekend" (Class 212).
It was probably due to the usual marketing/promotion glitches in a less-than-national operation that Googie had only three minor hits : "The Slide, Part 1" (# 20 R&B, early 1961), "Flapjacks, Part 1" (# 25 R&B, 1963) and "Smokey Joe's Lala" (# 77 pop, # 35 R&B, 1966). But as it was a family business, Class didn't turf Googie out when he failed to hit paydirt - he just kept on pushing out the singles plus three LPs. If airplay had been there, it's highly likely he would have had hits during the early years when instrumentals were a staple part of the Top 100 charts, for the recordings were right on the money tune-wise and musicianship-wise.
CD: Wham Bam : The Best of the Googie Rene Combo (Ace 987). Released in 2003, 26 tracks. This is the first Googie Rene reissue, on LP or CD. Liner notes by Stuart Colman. Recommended to those who like Ernie Fields (on Rendezvous) and Ernie Freeman (combos made up of mainly the same musicians).
* The only Googie Rene release in the UK before "Smokey Joe's Lala" was "Ez-zee"/ "Forever" (the Little Dippers hit), on London HLY 9056 in 1960. One of Googie's least interesting singles.
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