Falls Silent in a Magical Green Room
Fans nationwide are shocked by the death of 38-year-old Gene
Eugene, the man who set a new tone for Christian music.
By WILLIAM LOBDELL
In the Green Room this week, the talk was all about Gene
William Lobdell, the Editor of Times
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His gifts as a critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, musician
The role he played in shaping more than 300 records over his
The alternative rock band, Adam Again, he started in the early
1980s that brought Christian music out of the Dark Ages.
And his funky recording studio--the beloved Green Room
itself, on the first floor of his Huntington Beach home--which
served as the breeding ground and flophouse for hundreds of
bands, Christian and secular, famous and struggling.
So when Eugene, 38, died unexpectedly Monday, mourning
musicians and friends from across the country immediately hopped
on planes and flew into town. They headed straight for the Green
Room, where old friends talked long into the night about the
remarkable life of Gene Andrusco, known to everyone as Gene
"He was way too young and way too vital for this to happen,"
said John Thompson, founder of True Tunes, a magazine that
coversthe progressive Christian music scene.
"Pulling him out of the equation is a huge loss for Christian
music. If you were to combine Phil Spector, John Lennon and
Booker T. [Jones] and make them into one guy, it's about that
Early Monday morning, friends found Eugene dead on the floor
of his studio. An Orange County Sheriff-Coroner's official said the
cause of death hasn't been determined, and it could take as long
as three months before all the test results come back. But friends
say Eugene hadn't been feeling well in recent weeks and
complained of headaches the day before his death.
His death shocked his fans, who turned to the Tooth and Nail
Records Web site (www.toothandnail.com), which put up a
moving tribute, to share their grief. The volume of more than 400
e-mails--70 pages' worth--froze the memorial bulletin board.
"He was musically so talented that it was never truly
recognized," as in cases of musicians who excel at just one thing,
said Brandon Ebel, president of Seattle-based Tooth and Nail. On
some albums Eugene would do vocals and instrumentals and mix
the tracks as well.
He began in show business early, working as a child actor on
such TV shows as "Bewitched" and "Wait Till Your Father Gets
Home." But he carved out his niche in show business by upgrading
Christian rock music in the early 1980s through his band, Adam
"Christian music in the early days was in the minor leagues,"
said Tim Taber of Prayer Chain, a band Eugene produced. "The
thought was: 'It's just a Christian record, that's good enough.' But
Gene said, 'I want to make a record that's good enough for MTV,
for KROQ.' And he did it, working with budgets that are a
fraction of what the big bands had."
* * *
So with his own group and then others--bands like Starflyer
59, Plankeye and Swirling Eddies--Eugene produced records that
finally measured up to their secular counterparts and helped propel
record companies like Tooth and Nail.
"He wasn't one of the inventors of alternative Christian music,
but he was a perfecter," Thompson said. "He took a lump of coal
and shined it up quite a bit. By the '90s, he was absolutely
The center of Eugene's world--and arguably the center of the
Christian rock world--was the Green Room, his studio and home
in Huntington Beach.
"The place is just legendary," said friend Lori Lenz. "Bands
would come into town and just want to hang out there. It became
its own little society."
The open-door policy created an atmosphere where musicians
would play on each other's albums or simply crash for the night.
"You never knew who was going to pop up," Taber said.
"Big-name musicians [would] walk in and give their two cents'
worth. The studio wasn't spectacular, but there was magic there.
The whole Orange County music scene plugs into the place."
So much as that Eugene rarely ventured outside the Green
Room, unless of course it was baseball season and the Dodgers
were playing. Rumor has it that Eugene would secure cash
advances from recording contracts just to buy a single season
"He'd sacrificed food and water to buy season tickets each
year," Thompson said.
Though Eugene spent his career giving legitimacy to Christian
music, friends say his faith was private.
"He was a Christian, but he wasn't evangelical," Ebel said.
"People saw Christ in him through his kindness and generosity and
But he wasn't a saint.
"I spent months of my life hating the guy," said Mike Roe with
a laugh. Roe was a good friend who played with Eugene in the
all-star band Lost Dogs, a Christian version of the Traveling
"He was a flake with a capital F. Any adjectives I use to
describe Gene would fall short of the truth. I can't imagine this guy
gone--he's just a three-ring circus. He balanced everything out
with his extreme generosity."
That's what people remembered about Eugene: a musical
genius with a generous spirit.
* * *
"He was a friend to everybody," Taber said. "The kind of guy
everyone wanted to be around. He had a quality that drew people
Michele Palmer and Eugene were divorced in 1994, but the
two always remained close. "He really valued his friends. I mean
he really valued them," Palmer said. The couple had no children
and he did not remarry. "He's caring, sweet, funny and had a very
twisted sense of humor. Most of all, he was just an incredible
talent. He's my favorite songwriter. He's brilliant that way."
While Eugene's studio was filled with talk about his life, the
music--for this week, at least--had died.
"The Green Room's been incredibly quiet," Lenz said. "It's
really strange to be in the studio and have no sound."
Funeral services for Gene Eugene will be at 9 a.m. today at
Echoes of Faith Church, 11255 Central Ave., Ontario.
The news has traveled far and wide and thousands of us are in shock. One
of the brightest talents in our family has gone home. We are left with
memories, music and grief. Forgive us for what will no doubt be seen by
some (those who didnít know Gene or the music he touched) as a
preponderance of Gene Eugene coverage for the foreseeable future. He
meant a lot to us.
Gene Andrusco touched every aspect of this "alternative Christian music"
scene we call home. As an artist he was the center point of the seminal
Adam Again, a gritty, funky and simply amazing band that slowly and
methodically cranked out music from 1986 to the present. In fact, Gene
scheduled to begin the new Adam Again album in April and premier it at
Cornerstone this July. He was also one fourth of The Lost Dogs. A sort
"supergroup" comprised of the front-men from the most important and under
appreciated bands in Christian music, The 77s, The Choir, Daniel Amos and
Adam Again. The Dogs were unlike any of the bands the members came
from, delving headlong into all aspects of musical Americana from blues
rock to country. Additionally, Gene had become a master engineer and
producer, having crafted amazing albums for The Prayer Chain, Starflyer
Mortal, Fold Zandura, Mike Knott, Plankeye, The Lost Dogs and countless
others. And as if that wasnít enough, Gene was a partner in Brainstorm
Artists International, a formative alternative Christian label that broke
in the 80ís that labels like Tooth And Nail would farm to great success
He was quiet, warm, funny and immensely talented.
His songs tapped a deep well of human emotions,
usually the darker ones. Geneís ability to shed light in
the corners helped the rest of us find faith in the things
that remain. If we have anything to say about it, neither
the artist nor the music will ever be forgotten.
This Lost Dog Goes Home:
There have already been various theories and rumors as to what caused
Geneís death. What we know for sure is that on the evening of Sunday,
March 19th Gene was in his studio-home, The Green Room, working with
drummer Frank Lenz and some others on a demo project. At what was
considered an early hour for Gene, he said he wasnít feeling well, and
been sick to his stomach. He went to bed. At some point that night, Gene
died in his sleep. One early morning visitor said he was found in the same
comfortable position he had been sleeping in, thus leading all to believe
Gene had been in a car accident recently, and had complained of severe
headaches since then. Some of the headaches were bad enough to prevent
him from working, but that was rare. Gene was always working. In fact,
days before his death he sent a hurried email to his fans who had been
bugging him for details about the upcoming Adam Again record. He teasingly
said, "Thatís for me to know and you to find out." He also elaborated on
current life-schedule in the following segment of that email:
"I work at least 12 hours a day in the studio, usually several hours
more than that. Some of these studio days are in other cities that I
have had to fly to. No matter where I am, I have a full-blown studio
that is in operation day and night here in Huntington Beach, with
constant scheduling, maintenance, clean-up, rentals to arrange etc. etc.
etc. I get 20 to 30 phone messages a day, and up to 50 emails. I don't
have days off, generally, and if I do,
there are 5 or 10 of my friends who
have been waiting for months for
me to mix or record something for
them as a favor, or to play on their
album or whatever. One of my best
friends died suddenly last week,
and I was barely able to go to his
funeral, coming back here
afterwards to mix a record that was on a deadline. So what else?....
songwriting, dating, Dodger games, a movie once in a while,
sleep...these fill my idle hours to overflowing. I had no interest in
sharing this kind of pithy complaining to anyone, because I love my
job and am blessed to have it. I DON'T work so much because of
money, but because I have MANY fellow artists who depend on me
to help them catch their vision on tape, and wait months to get me,
and I love them, and don't want to let them down."
It was certainly love that kept Gene on a schedule like this; love for
friends, love for great music, and love for his fans. It is unclear what
contributed to his passing, but as soon as the coroner releases that
information we will update everyone. Meanwhile, speculations are just that.
Some reports have listed a brain aneurysm, which would be impossible to
know until the coronerís report is in. For now we are left without answers.
The Gene Eugene Memorial Fund
In lieu of flowers, there has been a fund established for donations. The
is hoping to collect enough to cover the cost of the funeral. Tim Tabor,
formerly of The Prayer Chain and currently manager of Transparent, an artist
management company, is administering the fund. Donations can be sent to:
Gene Eugene Memorial Fund
c/o Transparent Artist Management
14151 Newport Ave. #203
Tustin, CA 92780
Please spread the word about this fund, and if you have a rich uncle, give
a call. These guys never make the living they deserve in this life. And
impossible to estimate the value their music has had in our lives. If you
been touched by Geneís life, please consider donating to the fund.
Memorial services are planned for Friday March 24th and Saturday March
25th, in Ontario California.
Viewing: Friday Night 7:00 PM at Draper Memorial in Ontario CA
Funeral: Saturday 9:00 AM at Echos Of Faith Church 11255, Central
Avenue, Ontario CA 91761 Ö
Mike Turrentine (pastor at Echos Of Faith) and Pastor Johnny Bunch
("Rikki" Michelleís father) will be officiating.