KITTERY — Gene McDaniels was a pop star in the early 1960s who recorded the million-selling “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” and later wrote the monster hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love” for Roberta Flack.

For the past 20 years or so, McDaniels left his mark on Portland’s music scene working as a producer and writer, and helping local musicians define their own careers.

He died Friday after a short illness at his home in Kittery. He was 76.

McDaniels signed with Liberty Records in Hollywood in his 20s. In 1961, he recorded his first major hit, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard chart. He followed that with another hit, “Tower of Strength.”

By the end of the decade, McDaniels’ career as a pop star had faded. He then began writing songs and producing for other artists such as Johnny Mathis, George Benson and Quincy Jones. He produced records by Melba Moore, Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack.

Sam Pfeifle, secretary of the Portland Music Foundation, also noted McDaniels’ underground hits like “Compared to What” and his visionary and progressive album “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse,” which Pfeifle said has been widely sampled in the hip-hop community.

In 2008, McDaniels talked about his career during the Portland Music Foundation’s “Music as a Profession” educational series. Pfeifle said McDaniels inspired many local musicians and took time to offer advice and direction in their careers.

“He had the pedigree and experience in the music industry to feel like he was above local musicians, but he was exactly the opposite by the way he acted,” Pfeifle said. “He was always interested in collaborating with and producing musicians early in their careers.”

A 1994 profile about McDaniels in The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram said he started singing in his father’s church when he was 2. He grew up in Omaha, Neb., singing gospel and idolizing jazz singers like Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan.

After high school, he began earning a living from music, singing jazz, gospel and pop.

For the past 15 years or so, McDaniels was a fixture at The Studio in Portland. There, he worked with new musicians, collaborated with others, and produced his own records.

Pfeifle said McDaniels worked with local musicians like Todd Richard and Tom Snow. He also produced his own jazz vocal album, “Evolution’s Child.”

Steve Drown, a recording engineer at The Studio, remembered McDaniels on Tuesday as a positive person who had a unique writing style that came from his heart. He said they worked closely together on McDaniels’ latest album.

“It was a fantastic experience,” Drown said. “He was like a brother to me. He really loved (the album). It was a true expression of what he does musically. His voice has never sounded better.”

Karen McDaniels said her husband recently had been working on a new CD, “Humans Being.”

Retirement wasn’t on his agenda.

“Never,” she said. “He couldn’t retire because he was always writing music. Everything was about the music, always. It was his soul, his essence completely.”

In addition to his wife, McDaniels is survived by his sons, London, Christopher, Mateo, Django and Dylan; his daughter, Dali; his sister, Pat Nichols; and nine grandchildren.

 

– The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]