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Big Al Downing had one of the most checkered careers in show business, with stardom always slightly out of reach, but he is one of the few black performers to foray across the musical spectrum of Disco, Pop, R & B, Gospel and Country.

Born in rural Oklahoma into a family of 12 children, Big Al spent his early childhood tending the horses and cattle his family raised, and singing with two brothers, his father, and a sister in a Gospel group. By the time he was 10, he was teaching himself to play on an old, upright piano that had 40 working keys. Four years later, he was performing at community functions and high school proms. His great influence at this time was Fats Domino, and it was his impression of his doing Blueberry Hill that won him first prize at the local Coffeyville, Kansas radio station. After the contest, Bobby Poe, a local singer who heard him play in the contest, asked him to join his band. Downing forfeited a basketball scholarship at Kansas State University and accepted Poe's offer. They played locally in Kansas, Oklahoma, in VFW halls and Country beer joints.

Big Al's break came when Country entertainer Wanda Jackson needed a back-up singer to tour with her and contacted Poe's band. While touring with Wanda, Big Al performed in all the West and Midwestern states opening for Marty Robbins, Bobby Bare, Red Sovine, Pete Drake and Don Gibson. In California he played piano on one of Jackson's biggest recordings Let's Have A Party, released in 1960. The single was an enormous hit in Japan and Europe, reaching No. 32 in the U.K. and Top 40 on the U.S. Pop chart. After coming off the road, Big Al and others in the band left Oklahoma for Boston where they worked seven days a week and that included two jam sessions on Saturday and Sunday, from 1:00 pm until 1:00 am for $90.00 a week. "That's what I really called payin' dues," recalled Downing in an earlier interview.

From 1957 to 1964, Downing played with the band and had recordings released as a solo artist for White Rock, in 1958 and later Columbia and Carlton. His best effort was a cover of Marty Robbins' Story of My Life. In subsequent years, Big Al embarked on tours of his own, traveling to England, Spain, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Isle of Malta, Libya, North Africa, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Greece, the Far East, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and Thailand, where he played for the King. During these overseas tours he played with Johnny Mathis, Dottie West, Lou Rawls, the Drifters and Fat's Domino, his early idol. Domino even recorded two songs Downing wrote, Mary, Oh Mary and Heartbreak Hill.

1973 brought a recording contract with Lenox Records, and the Top 80 Pop hit, You'll Never Miss The Water (Till The Well Runs Dry), a duet with Little Esther Phillips. Later, he signed with Warner Brothers. In 1974, Al released a single, I'll Be Holdin' On, that made the Disco charts in America and Europe. Disco and Big Al Downing, however, were not meant to be. He had compiled a stockpile of his own songs that he presented to his producer at Warner Brothers and Country was the consensus vote of what he did best. 1978 brought Mr. Jones, which charted in the Top 20, then Touch Me (I'll Be Your Fool More), the following year which went Top 20. The song showcased his ability as a vocalist to soar, and then drop to an emotional sill. The same year also produced Midnight Lace, charting in the 50's, and the flip side, I Ain't No Fool, which reached the upper 70's. The Story Behind The Story charted the following year, reaching the Top 40 and then, Bring It On Home reached the Top 20.

Two years elapsed before he saw another hit, this time on the Team label. I' ll Be Loving You went Top 50, followed by Darlene, which reached the lower 60s, both in 1982. The following year, It Takes Love went Top 40, followed by Let's Sing About Love, which peaked in the mid-60s. The Best Of Families reached the Top 50 in 1984, and that year saw Al's final Team hit, There'll Never Be A Better Night For Being Wrong which only made the Top 80. In 1987, Big Al signed with the Vine Street label, which released Oh How Beautiful You Are (To Me) and Just One Night Won't Do, both that only reached the Top 70. Two years later he was signed with Door Knob Records and had the 1989 Top 100 hit, I Guess By Now, which was Al's only chart entree with that label.

In 2003, Downing released his first new album (many different compilations of earlier work has been released around the world over the last couple of decades), titled "One of A Kind." This album has received favorable radio and print reviews worldwide, and features 14 memorable tracks. Today, Downing resides in Massachusetts and continues to tour the globe; performing for a die-hard following of Big Al fans... you may even see him at one of his regular performances at the Grand Ole Opry! He has been elected to several music hall-of-fames, most notably the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.



MANAGEMENT:

ALBE Music USA
PO Box 902
Merrimack, NH 03054
USA

ALBE Music Worldwide
Stelzhamerstrasse 4
4840 Voecklabruck
AUSTRIA

www.bigaldowning.com
www.aldowning.com
www.albemusic.com


Page updated, March 2007




Rockabilly Hall of Fame