GRADY GAINES (By Phil Davies)
Born 14 May 1934, Waskom, Texas
R & B sax player and bandleader Grady began his career in Houston in the early 50s. He was heavily influenced by his hero Louis Jordan. By the time his family moved to Houston, the 12-year-old Gaines was already intent upon following Louis Jordan's example by becoming a saxophonist. He took lessons and at the E.L. Smith Junior High School, he met Calvin Owens, a student music teacher at the time. While in senior high school, he met Little Richard at the Club Matinee and played with his band, the Tempo Toppers.
Grady wasn't the only musician in the Gaines household - his brother Roy was an excellent guitarist, backing many Duke/Peacock artists like Bobby Bland. Grady also played on similar sessions for Duke/Peacock (sax players often unlisted in Blues A-K). Robert Santelli reckons he played on Big Walter Price's Pack Fair and Square and on Gatemouth Brown's searing Dirty Work at the Crossroads prior to getting a fateful 1955 call from Little Richard to head up his newly formed band.
Richard ripped up the charts and the country with his legendary manic live act aided and abetted by the Upsetters. He'd been bugging Art Rupe to let them back him on a studio session and on May 16th 1956 he relented and they joined the boss in LA. Unfortunately several attempts were made on Heeby Jeebies but Rupe wasn't satisfied and the session was abandoned. Richard had just finished filming Don't knock the Rock and Gaines & co play on the September 6th 1956 session at Master Recorders LA, playing on She's Got It. Early versions of I Got It and Send Me Some Loving were also cut appearing on the Redita bootleg. Gaines also plays on the final 50s Specialty session on October 18th 1957 at the same location, playing on I'll Never let You Go (Boo Hoo Hoo), Ooh! my Soul, Early One Morning, She Knows How To Rock and Whole Lotta Shakin'. The old Redita label bootleg contains out-takes and Hound Dog and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which are claimed to be from this session. Hound Dog was a rehearsal caught at the end of the session with the tape luckily still rolling, much much better than the later Vee jay version.
The Upsetters greatest claim to fame (as if the above weren't enough!!) is the totally manic Lil Dick January 16th 1957 session in Washington DC, where they let rip with Keep A Knockin'. Perhaps Grady recalled the old Louis Jordan song to inspire his boss. The great Specialty box set has most of the session. The band only intended cutting a few demos, hence the raw feel, Richard's in demand touring schedule meant it was hard for Rupe to get him into the studio.It is believed that two songs were also cut with the band and Richard backing Don Covay (aka Pretty Boy) on Bip Bop Bip/Paper Dollar for Atlantic, a great Richard soundalike record. Don had joined Richard's touring revue as a warm up act, he also acted as chauffeur and played in the Upsetters for awhile. His aping of the boss's high pompadour lead to the nickname "pretty boy". Both sides can be found on the well tasty Don Covay Official label Ooh My Soul( The Rockin' Years).
In Richard's show-stopping appearances in the films Don't Knock the Rock, The Girl Can't Help It, and Mr. Rock and Roll Gaines is seen on screen, horn-syncing Lee Allen's studio sax solos and his own She's Got It! The Upsetters remained intact long after Rev Penniman took to the cloth in 1957. They hit the road with Dee Clark who cut some fine Penniman styled mayhem then for Vee Jay, check out Oh Little Girl/Wondering. Then Vee Jay cut the Upsetters featuring vocalist/pianist/saxist (er not at the same time BTW) Wilbert Smith , who went by the name of Lee Diamond. They cut some superb stuff which can be found on the great Charly lp New Orleans Connection, crying out to be reissued onto cd, check it out, highly recommended. The great two sided Vee Jay 45 Hatti Malatti/Mama Loochie deserved to be a smash.
They also backed James Brown for awhile, his hero Little Willie John and the great Sam Cooke (Santelli reckons they played on Bring It On Home To Me and Twistin' The Night Away but I can find no evidence to confirm this). They even reunited with Lil Rich on the 1960 H B Barnum produced Little Star rock n roll session playing on I'm In Love Again, Valley Of Tears, Every Night About This Time and Freedom Ride. Apparently a whole album's worth of material was produced but only these 4 came out. Grady also played on the Coasters Nov 61 NY session on Bad Blood and Ain't That Just Like Me.
Whilst Sounds Inc did a reasonable job backing Richard on the famed Granada tv special, imagine the melt down that would've happened if he'd brought The Upsetters across. Meanwhile back in the States, The Upsetters played on the r&b circuit, backing Jackie Wilson, Gladys Night, Bo Diddley, The Supremes and Joe Tex. In 68 Grady left the Upsetters and joined Tex's band, then backed Little Johnnie Taylor and then back with Tex until 72. Are you with me so far, questions later mind!
Grady then formed The Crown Jewels (a Lil Rich link there perhaps!!) working in the Continental Showcase, the Houston club owned by cuddly uncle Don Robey. After Robey's death in 75 Grady went back on the road backing the outrageous Millie Jackson (but there again he'd seen worse back in the 50s) and Curtis Mayfield. He retired in 1980 but fortunately, he decided to strap his horn back on in 1985, playing in Houston until Black Top Records cajoled him into cutting Full Gain, a veritable Houston blues motherlode featuring his brother on guitar, in 1988. The album Horn Of Plenty followed on Black Top in 1992. Gaines and his Texas Upsetters continue to blow up a Texas-sized storm wherever they play. They even played at the world's most famous Ronnie Hawkins fan inauguration ball, ie President Bill Clinton. Grady has also played on records by Anson Funderburghand Snooks Eaglin.
Thanks to AMG/Robert Santelli's big Book Of Blues and Chas White's Little Richard book, and especially the booklet with the superb Ace Richard box set.
All the Little Richard sides mentioned above,
The Upsetters New Orleans Connection lp on Charly 1
Dee Clark's Vee Jay sides mentioned above
Don Covay's Pretty Boy Atlantic 45 mentioned above
The two Coasters sides mentioned (and the alt of Bad Blood on Sequel's Gt Hits).
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