In 1959, a man named Lelan Rogers (pictured here), who was the older brother of future superstar Kenny Rogers, was working for Carlton Records as a producer. Our contract with White Rock Records had expired and he wanted to produce a session in New Orleans with Big Al Downing. Big Al signed a two record deal. We flew Big Al down to New Orleans and he recorded "Miss Lucy" and "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again". Both singles failed to generate any attention. However, Lelan Rogers would become my mentor and close personal friend for the next 44 years.
Our agent, Norman Joyce of the Jolly Joyce Agency, was booking Bill Haley and The Comets and Dave "Baby" Cortez, to name a couple of his hit acts. It was a big time agency, but he never did anything for us after his initial enthusiasm. Perhaps the fiasco in Boston had something to do with it. In any event, the agency only got us one decent gig, which was in Toronto, Canada opening for Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks.
In analyzing the band's situation, I decided with a wife and two young children that although I was a fine entertainer, I no longer had the will or the vocal talent to continue pursuing a career as a singer. I quit the band and took over as Manager/Producer. I had heard great things about a popular nightclub in Washington, D.C. that paid the top dollar of $1,000 per week for their entertainment. I called the owner of the club and tried to sell Big Al Downing (shown here) as the leader of the band. He said, "Did you say you had a Black man in your band?" I answered, "Yes." He said, "I don't hire Black people, as they draw Black people and we don't let them in." This was 1960 in the Nation's Capitol, a city that was 78 percent Black! I couldn't believe my ears. I decided to make him an offer he could not refuse. I told him that the band would play a week for nothing. If he liked them he would pay them the $1,000 and if not he wouldn't have to pay the band anything. He jumped on that deal, thinking he would get a free band. I believed in my band and I knew they would blow away his patrons.
I changed the name of the band to Big Al Downing and The Rhythm Rockers. I hired a bass player named John Dubas and a new drummer, Mitch Corday, to replace original drummer Joe Brawley, who had quit when I did for similar reasons.
Myself and lead guitar player Vernon Sandusky, who was also my business partner from day one in 1957, decided to move our families to Scranton, Pennsylvania - close enough to be near Dick Clark's Philadelphia base and the New York City bigtime. We picked up new band members Mitch Corday and Johnny Dubas and then headed for Washington, D.C. to the gig that would change all our lives for the next eight years...