The “Bluesman For Life,” Roy Gaines, has his first recording in nearly a decade with “Tuxedo Blues” issued on Gaines own Black Gold label. Gaines last US disc was the excellent 2000 Severn release “New Frontier Lover.” Also in 2000, Gaines recorded a CD in Japan on the P-Vine label, “Guitar Clashers from Gainesville, Tokyo,” with Japanese guitarist, Mitsuyoshi Azuma. Gaines, who took up guitar inspired by t-Bone Walker, has toured, played and recorded since the fifties including studio work with the likes of Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, and Jimmy Rushing, as well as played with such legendary musicians as Roy Milton (at the age of 16), Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, Billie Holiday and Harry Belafonte. His recording career started with albums for the RCA Groove subsidiary and then albums for a variety of independent blues labels producing highly acclaimed recordings like “Bluesmen For Life,” “Lucille Work For Me,” and “New Frontier Lover,” that displayed his marvelous guitar playing and virile vocals.
“Tuxedo Blues” is a big band album which the spotlight focused on Roy Gaines vocal and guitar. In the booklet accompanying this, Gaines talks about what was involved in putting this recording together as well as inspiration. The music harkens back with the relationship between the blues and jazz spheres were much closer such as with the Territory bands, such as the Blue Devils, Bennie Moten, Count Basie and Jay McShann, as well as the bands of Lionel Hampton and Budd Johnson. After all T-Bone Walker fronted big bands and Gatemouth Brown led a big orchestra in his early days. This is the tradition Gaines pays homage to here which isn’t far removed from some of his recordings such as “New Frontier Lover,” with their substantial horn players and arrangers, although the big bands here produce an even richer, fuller sound. The music may be dressed up to be at home at the most elegant ballroom yet Gaines’ performances never lacks grit.
While Gaines acknowledges the great Jimmy Rushing as a major vocal influence, his sound reminds me of the classic B.B. King of the late fifties and early sixties. The opening “ Send For Me,” which was a hit for Nat King Cole has a nice full horn section before Gaines adds a nice solo. Gaines wrote the civil rights themed “Blues From Hell,” with his brother Grady, recalling 400 years and how long must he wait to be free from hate with a hard swinging George Pandis arrangement. Roy’s old friend, Joe Sample, is at the keyboard on the lively “Gold Old Days,” with Gaines relaxed vocal phrasing surrounded by Leslie Drayton’s rich arrangement, with Sample laying down a lively piano solo followed by some jazzy fretwork from Gaines.
Roy previously recorded “Thang Shaker” on the P-Vine “Guitar Guitar Clashers from Gainesville, Tokyo,”and against John Stevens’ arrangement lays down some scintillating guitar on a lyric where Gaines boasts I’m your thang shaker, i’m your lover shaker … so let your belly button roll, let it roll, all night long,” with another sophisticated piano solo from Sample. Leslie Drayton’s arrangement of an old Louis Jordan classic “Inflation Blues,” helps frame a strong rendition of this number than in this writer’s opinion bests B.B. King’s similar big band recording of several years back. Quincy Jones wrote “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister),” for the movie “The Color Purple,” and Grady is playing guitar in the club scene when this is performed in the film. Here Gaines comes across almost as a crooner in delivering this lyric which features an New Orleans inspired instrumental section with Jackie Kelso is on clarinet, Mike Daigeau adds gutbucket trombone and George Pandis lays down some hot trumpet. Gaines collaborated with New Orleans legend Edward Frank on a lovely blues ballad “Come Home,” with a generally restrained vocal and a nice vibraphone solo from Onaje Murray.
“Reggae Woman,” originally “Calypso Blues” by Nat King Cole, opens like a jumping blues stomp to which are added some Jamaican ska rhythmic touches with a lively John Stevens arrangement with a nice guitar break with a jazzy tone and nice mix of single note runs and chords. Joe Sample’s fellow Crusader Wilton Felder adds some Texas tenor for the sole instrumental on this, a slowed down, midnight slow drag reworking of the Michael Jackson hit, “Rock With You.” “Route 66” opens with just the rhythm with Sample and Gaines each taking a chorus or two before the horns kick in and Felder and Jackie Kelso get to strut on tenor and alto sax retrospectively. Gaines’ off the beat vocal adds to the appeal of the interpretation here.
“Tuxedo Blues,” is yet another impressive addition to Roy Gaines highly underrated discography. He is in fertile form throughout this and the superb big band settings would make almost anybody fronting them sound good. The result is a superb disc that should have wide appeal to fans of blues and jazz.
For FTC regulations purposes, a publicist sent me the review copy of this CD