Born 29 January 1920, Kentwood, Louisiana
Died 26 March 1991, Los Angeles, California

Vocalist / pianist / R&B bandleader / songwriter / producer

Paul Gayten looms large in the rich history of New Orleans rhythm and blues. He was born in Kentwood, a small town in North Louisiana (population 2,205 at the 2000 census). His mother was the sister of blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery and his other uncles also played piano. Before World War II, in Jackson, Mississippi, Paul played in the bands of Don Dunbar and Doc Parmley. During the war, he led the army base band at Biloxi. After demobilization, Paul moved to New Orleans where he began a long-term solo engagement at the Club Robin Hood. Gayten's first combo, which included Edgar Blanchard on guitar, first recorded for DeLuxe Records in January 1947. That first session yielded the hit (# 5 R&B), "True (You Don't Love Me)", though this was preceded on the hitparade by a later recording (June 1947), "Since I Fell For You", with a vocal by Annie Laurie, which peaked at # 3 on the R&B charts. During his 30-month tenure at DeLuxe, Gayten had over 20 singles released on the label, followed by another dozen or so 45s on Regal Records, which, like DeLuxe, had its headquarters in Linden, New Jersey. The Gayten band also backed Roy Brown, Chubby Newsome, Larry Darnell (Gayten wrote his # 1 R&B hit "For You My Love"), Little Jimmy Scott and others on chart records for DeLuxe and Regal. After his band members quit en masse to join Jewel King (hit : "3 x 7 = 21") on the road, Gayten formed a fine new band in New York. When Regal folded in 1951, Gayten's contract was bought by Columbia Records, who released eight singles by his band on its OKeh subsidiary (1951-53), with no commercial success. Tired of the road, he returned to New Orleans in 1953 and formed another band featuring Lee Allen, who went on to be one of the top tenor saxophonists of the rock 'n' roll era.

The band took a two-week engagement which lasted five years at the Brass Rail, one of the Crescent City's top clubs. Beginning 1954, Gayten worked as a talent scout for the New Orleans branch of Chess Records, which also signed him as a recording artist (first single for the label : "Get It" / "I'm Tired", Checker 801, 1954). IMHO, Paul's period at Chess is his most interesting one. In New Orleans he produced Bobby Charles's "Later Alligator" (1955) and Clarence "Frogman" Henry's "Ain't Got No Home" (1956), later followed by the Frogman's biggest hit, "But I Do" (recorded 1960, released 1961), which Gayten co-wrote with Bobby Charles. Paul's own recordings for Chess (released on Checker and Argo) were a mix of vocals and instrumentals. My own personal favourite, and also his biggest hit from this period (# 68 pop), is "Nervous Boogie", a title that describes the contents perfectly. A splendid mix of Paul's unique piano style, riffing saxes (Lee Allen and Red Tyler) and strong drumming by Charles "Hungry" Williams. The follow-up, "Tickle Toe", was in the same style, though not quite as exciting (Argo 5300). Curiously, it was the other side, the flute-led "Windy", that charted (# 78). In the UK, this song was a # 2 hit in 1958 under the title "Tom Hark" (by Elias and the Zig Zag Jive Flutes). According to this website it is not even Gayten playing on "Windy", but the Ramsey Lewis Trio. In 1959, Paul recorded two instrumental singles for Berry Gordy's Anna label in Detroit. The first of these, a cover of Bobby Peterson's "The Hunch" (Anna 1106), gave him his last hit (# 68 pop). It was the second record to be released in the UK under Paul's own name (London HLM 8998), the first one being the instrumental "Yo Yo Walk" on the back of the Tune Weavers' "Happy Happy Birthday Baby" (London HL 8503, November '57). In 1960, tired of nightclub performing, Paul took the Chess brothers up on their offer to open and run the label's L.A. office, which he continued to do until Chess was sold in 1969. In that year he founded his own (short-lived) independent label, Pzazz Records, before retiring from the music business. Gayten died of bleeding ulcers in 1991, aged 71.

Acknowledgements : Billy Vera (liner notes for the CD "Paul Gayten & Annie Laurie, Dave Bartholomew, Roy Brown" - Specialty SPCD 2169), Dave Penny, Blues Records 1943-1970 by Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven.

The only CD currently in print is the one on Specialty, mentioned above, featuring Regal recordings from 1949-51. The CD "Jimmy McCracklin & Paul Gayten" (Roots 33023, in the "Roots Of Rhythm & Blues" series) includes 10 Chess and 2 Anna tracks by Gayten (and 18 by Jimmy McCracklin), but is no longer available. Same with the LP "Chess King Of New Orleans" (1989), which had only 10 tracks.

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