Gil Bernal (February 4, 1931 - July 17, 2011) was a singer and a session musician who was described by many as having one of the most sensual sounds in Jazz.
Bernal was born on February 4, 1931 in Watts, Los Angeles. His father was Sicilian and his mother Mexican. He grew up in an area rich with musicians, including Buddy Collette, Big Jay McNeely and Charles Mingus.
By the time he was in his teens he was an accomplished singer and saxophonist. Gil attended Jordan High School and enrolled at Los Ageles City College for one year. After graduating from high school in 1948, Bernal played with a 10-piece band that played at parties. In 1950, he ended up replacing a sax player that Lionel Hampton had fired. He then toured nationallywith Hampton in a band that included Quincy Jones and Little Jimmy Scott. He left Hampton's band in the early 1950s.
Next he did a stint with his own band in Las Vegas, before joining Spike Jones' band as saxophone soloist, vocalist, and impressionist, spending the next six years touring the U.S., playing Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, as well as appearing on numerous NBC and CBS television shows. After which he returned to L.A. where he founded his own band, which included Shelley Mann and Shorty Rogers, playing the busy L.A. music scene and working Vegas and Lake Tahoe, this time with his own band.
In the period between 1954 and 1955, Bernal recorded under his own name. He recorded "Easyville" and "The Whip" for the Spark Records label. Two others he recorded for the label were "Strawberry Stomp" and "King Solomon's Mines". "The Whip" did receive some airplay and was used by Alan Freed as the opening theme for his late R&B show. He did some session work for the label which included "Riotin Cell Block Number 9" and “Smoky Joe’s Café” by The Robins. He played on Duane Eddy's 1958 hit "Rebel Rouser" and also "Stalkin'". According to Mike Stoller, co-writer of Smokey Joe's Cafe, Bernal "could take eight bars and make it very exciting in a middle of a vocal performance".
As well as a musician, Bernel was a singer in his own right. Many of his records, like “Can You Love A Poor Boy” and “To Make A Big Man Cry” are very collectable by Northern Soul fans. Other notable recordings are "Keep Those Wandering Eyes Off My Baby" for American Records, "Starwberry Stomp" for Spark Records and "Tower Of Strength" for the Imperial label.
His single "This Is Worth Fighting For" was picked by Billboard in July 1967 to chart in the hot 100. Also in 1967, the film Banning that starred Robert Wagner and Jill St. John and Gene Hackman was released. Bernal sang the song "The Eyes of Love" which was featured in the film. He received an Academy Award nomination for it. In 1970, he was signed to Amaret Records with the intention to be produced Joe Porter and Jerry Styner.
In 1997 he appeared in the film The End of Violence In the 90s, he received a phone call from Ry Cooder, who had known for about five years, asking him to come to Havana in the next few days to play on a recording by Ibrahim Ferrer. Bernal didn't have his passport in order and it would have been weeks before he could get it sorted. In the end, the solution was to overdub the saxophone parts. So following Cooder's instructions, he added the parts. In 2005, Bernal contributed to Cooder's concept album Chavez Ravine.
In 2012, his record "The Dogs" bw "James" was re-released by Jukebox Jam Series in 2012. The A side is a Northern Soul favourite while the B side is a tribute to Civil Rights Movement figure James Meredith. Bernal had agreed to the terms of reissuing the 45 but died before the record was released.
As one of L.A.’s most in-demand session players, he recorded with many other greats, including Ray Charles, Big Mama Thornton, The Dominos, The Coasters, Quincy Jones Orchestra, Buddy Bregman Orchestra, Henry Mancini Orchestra, David Rose Orchestra, Dan Terry Orchestra and many others.
Gil died of congestive heart failure on July 17, 2011 at Glendale Adventist Medical Centre in Glendale, California at the age of 80. He was survived by his wife Harriet and his five children, ten grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. (Info edited from various sources mainly Wikipedia)