Remembering Eugene Syrios

Posted April 21, 2007 - by Yvette Urrea -

He was best known as rock 'n' roll and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Gene Lamarr, who played with Joel Hill and the Strangers before founding his own band, The Blue Flames, in the late 1950s. He played alongside such legendary musicians as B.B. King and performed in the same era as Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson.

"Boy, when he was young, he was a hot potato," said fellow musician and friend Willie Kellogg, 69. Eugene Lamarr Syrios was born on Feb. 7, 1942, in Georgia and moved with his parents to San Diego as an infant. Syrios died on Sunday, April 8, at 65 of congestive heart failure. Donna Syrios, his wife of 44 years, said he got his inspiration and his love of music from his mother, who bought him his first guitar as a young boy. His father took in an English guitarist, who taught his son to play guitar in exchange for lodging.

By the time he was 12 years old, he was playing with country music bands in bars, and two years later he was playing rock 'n' roll. Syrios, who attended Kearny High School in San Diego, was about 16 when he got a recording contract with Spry Records in Los Angeles, where he met some of the era's famous black blues guitarists that he admired, his wife said. His biggest hit record, "Crazy Little House on the Hill," was released in April 1958. His father hired Johnny "Guitar" Watson to play lead guitar on the album, Syrios said. The song was written by Curtis "Dootsie" Williams, who also wrote "Earth Angel" for The Penguins in 1954.

Kellogg said he recently played that hit for some young kids, and they loved it. "It's ageless," he said, adding that the guitar work is amazing.

Syrios said they found out that although many of her husband's songs were recorded in the 1960s, he was still a big hit in Europe in the 1970s and 80s, and his songs are still played there now. He is also popular with the current rockabilly genre, she said.

Kellogg said the Strangers were the hottest band on the West Coast in the early 1960s. They played in Los Angeles and "tore the town up," Kellogg said. Syrios and the other band members played football with Elvis Presley and his cousins, and lived in an apartment building with a school-age Micky Dolenz of The Monkees.

Syrios took a job in Palm Springs with his band and met Miss Palm Springs, his future wife. She said she had never heard anyone play guitar the way he did and was "really knocked out." They fell in love and married three months later.

She said after they were married, he decided to get a job to take care of her and their two children, Troy and Gina. He worked at General Dynamics as an analyst for more than 25 years before he retired in 1996. "If he hadn't quit, he would have gone straight on up," Kellogg said.

Syrios said her husband was known for his sense of humor and a good heart. "He had a lot of friends all over and everybody just loved him," she said. Syrios continued to play his music in local clubs, though he played mostly country music in the 1970s. He also had his own recording label, Flame Records, and a recording studio in his house.

After he retired, Syrios decided to make a musical comeback. He was working on a CD of his old hits, and he was also working on a CD with original music. Syrios said they plan to finish that CD and release it through his MySpace Web site.

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