“Big” Al Downing, a singer-songwriter and pianist who had success in country, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll and even disco, died Monday after suffering from leukemia. He was 65.
Downing, of Leicester, Mass., was hospitalized last week and died in Massachusetts, his publicist Martha Moore said Tuesday.
He was one of the few successful black country artists.
Downing began his career as a keyboard player in rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson’s band, performing on Jackson’s biggest hit, “Let’s Have a Party.”
As a solo artist, he and his band the Chartbusters were on the charts with two rock songs in 1964. A soul duet with Little Esther Phillips made the charts in 1963, and a disco record charted in 1975, according to the Country Music Association’s Encyclopedia of Country Music.
Downing, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, performed “Mr. Jones” on the Grand Ole Opry in May.
Over the years, his songs were recorded by Fats Domino, Bobby Blue Bland, Tom Jones and Webb Wilder.