The best kept Blues treasure has finally resurfaced. Roy Gaines has been playing, singing and writing music for more than 50 years. Of course, people in the know like Whoopie Goldberg, Sean Penn and New Yorker magazine never forgot him and hired Roy to play their weddings, private parties and corporate gigs.
Over the years Roy played around town but the secret is out with the release of his two latest albums; 'Blues Man For Life" and "T-Bone Walker Blues" hitting the charts and being played at KLON FM and other stations throughout the U.S. and Europe. 'Roy is hitting the Blues festival circuit and will be appearing at the Twentieth Annual Long Beach Blues Festival on Labor Day weekend.
Throughout the. years I have watch and listen to Roy play and sing the Blues, I knew I was getting a good deal because he always gives his all to each performance. Roy Gaines is one of the best pickers out there today and will never fail to give the audience their money's worth. He puts out an energy that is infectious.
Here is a man who truly loves his audience. If you have ever seen him perform at any of the clubs in town, you will agree he is very professional and personable. He loves to interact with his audience While he is on stage and mingle with them offstage. Roy Gaines is the epitome of a blues man.
SE: Roy do you feel you are really a blues man for life?
RG: Oh, absolutely. I started on the blues. The first thing I heard was the blues. My mother played Lightnin' Hopkins, I remember every year she would cook a Thanksgiving dinner and she'd start playing Lightnin'. She used to like eggnog around that time, and I think they put a little Scotch in it.
One of the great songs I remember was "I Didn't Want No Woman If Her Hair's No Longer Than Mine.” I thought that was some kind of song when I was a kid. So, consequently, to answer your question, yes. I was indoctrinated with the blues by my Mom, when I was as young as I could remember.
SE: Your two new albums "Blues Man for Life" and "I Got The T-Bone Walker Blues" are doing really well.
RG: Oh Yes! "Blues Man For Life" is on the charts at Number 15 as reported by Living Blues magazine and is 1 in Europe. "I Got the T-Bone Walker Blues," was released here I hear it on the radio, it is a T-B one Walker blues/jazz crossover. KLON, 88.1 FM is playing it around the clock. I mean, I never had a record that got that much attention.
SE: Would you say that is because you were known as Little T-Bone, in the old days, back in Houston?
RG: Well, yeah, that was a long time ago. It comes with my knowing T-Bone and how we met.
SE: You met T-Bone when you were 14 years old and wound up on stage playing with T-Bone the same night you met him. How did that happen?
RG: Yeah! When I was 14 years old. It's really phenomenal. An unbelievable event took place. It was just like any other day. But on this day I woke up thinking, "Man, T-Bone is in town." You know as a little kid I was always wishing I could meet T-Bone." In those days, you could meet an artist. We called it the "small jazz, blues and gospel communities." Speaking of it from a blues point of view. or just saying black people, in a Blood neighborhood.
We could call the hotel in our community and go see whoever was coming to town because they had no other place to stay. If they were black, you were going to stay where blacks congregated. In those times if you were black, you had to stay in a black community, there was no getting around it. You stayed in a rooming house, and they always seemed to have a good cook. The cook was just great they cooked food just like you ate before you left home.
We even made records in our neighborhood, for people like Don Robey, who was a Southern blues entrepreneur. He looked white, but he was supposed to have been a black man. He made hit records with Bobby "Blue" Bland. I played on "My Life", B.B. King came there and worked for him too. He had a good little family of people there at that business.
All the records were made in the neighborhood, and they sold them in the retail stores in the neighborhood. They weren't called retail stores. They called them "Mom and Pop" distributors. Mom and Pop record stores.
SE: Even when I was growing up in Los Angeles, we had mom and pop record stores here. I grew up down by Louis Pasteur Junior High School, at that time we would hang out the record stores.
RG: Yeah, that's right.
SE: They would let us pick out and play records. If they had the room, we could even dance. The difference was when I was hanging out, we were integrated. Though I have heard stories about California in the '40s and '50s, in my neighborhood in the late '50s and early '60s to me it was a match.
RG: Yeah, Los Angeles, but prior to Martin Luther King we had our own communities. If I saw somebody that I wanted to see, like Guitar Slim or Charles Brown, I could call his hotel. I knew he would be at this hotel.
One could almost pinpoint the time when this guy was coming in, because he would have called and made reservations, say the time he would be arriving. I went over to the hotel around One O'clock. I saw TBone's car pull up, but somehow, he evaded me. If I were brave enough, I could have gone up and knocked on his door. But I just didn't do that, and I missed him.
But I did see some of his musicians and they told me what time they'd be down at the City Auditorium. So, I proceeded to go back home and try to figure out how to get there that night. I was only 14. I had to get someone to take me or figure out how it was all going to all work out. My mother took me. She would take me on all my jobs.
SE: You were working at 14?
RG: Oh yeah, I was a piano player, I played piano with my brother's band.
SE: That's Grady?
RG: Yeah. Grady Gaines. He's a whole other story. He was a Texas blues man. We called him a Texas Honker because he can really make excitement come out of a saxophone. He's great! It still amazes me, the energy he gets out of that instrument. The tone and that Southern Texas honkin' type attitude.
SE: It's a good sound, when it's played right. Now, you wound up on stage with T-Bone Walker did you bring your guitar with you when you went to the Auditorium that night?
RG: Oh, no, no. I didn't expect any "variables." I was just hoping to get backstage to meet him. So, when I got to the Auditorium it was packed. People were standing in line buying tickets. Unbeknownst to me T Bone had heard about me. A promoter told him there was a little kid in town that played like him, and everybody liked him, and he was pretty popular.
I went to the side of the stage and told the stage security who I was. Somebody was standing right near when I was talking to security. The man said, "Oh, that's the kid that plays and wants to meet T-Bone."
So, the guard let me backstage and just as I walked near the curtain, I saw this crowd of people gathering around someone. It was Bone! I said to myself, "tell him right now my name is Roy Gaines and I want to meet him." They saw a little kid coming and they kind of got back a little bit. l said," Mr. Walker, my name is Roy Gaines and I just wanted to meet you."
He said, "Oh, you're the one." I said, "What did I do?" He said, You're the one who plays like me?" "You stay right there. I'm going on stage now. Don't you move. I want to call you on.". That's all he said to me, and he was gone on stage. I'll tell you, man, I could hear those words ringing in my ear now. I was on his turf Yeah, I did everything, but you know, as they say, "pee on yourself." That brings pee to your pants when something like that happens.
So, a couple of songs went by and he called me on. He said, "Ladies and Gentlemen I bring to the stage Little T-Bone, and his name is Roy Gaines. Everybody knows him as Little T-Bone." I came out there, man, I was still
shaking. He took his guitar and said to me, "I'm going to sing, and you play," handing me his guitar, at the same time.
He gave me his guitar and they fixed the strap for me. Just like he made me nervous, and I lost my wits about me. Bone relaxed me just like that, by saying, "Play the intro to 'Cold, Cold Feeling."' Well, I knew "Cold, Cold Feeling" hands down. That was a big hit. And I probably couldn't play the intro to it now, but it was really dominant in my mind. I knew a lot of his songs, and I knew that one. Boy, just like I was scared, I wasn't scared anymore because he told me to do something that I knew. I was glad to show him that I could do something that he did, that I knew. I played and the next thing I knew he was singing "Cold, Cold Feeling," and I was playing behind him. Then I did some stuff that. he did. I put the guitar back of my head, and stuff like that. The people really liked it. Shelly when he left town, I got all kinds of calls for work.
Part 2 – as seen in Southland Blues – Volume 10, Number 9 – September 1999
SE: It's interesting after all these years since the first time, you appeared with T-Bone I will not say how many, but a lot of years have gone by and you're latest album is entitled "T-Bone Walker Blues." I don't know if you would call it a tribute to T-Bone, but it's what I will call Little T-Bone, now grown chronologically and in maturity as a player a total player in his own, who decided to do a great album in T-B one walker style and it's being picked up on like a champ. It's your playing and you're still hot, just like T-Bone.
RG: That's right. I tried to play the way T-Bone played when he was young, strong and hungry. When he was clawing, scratching and biting to become the king of blues. He was the singing, guitar picking king until he died. When I decided to do this album it was my intention that T-Bone be recognized as the King of the blues and it has turned out that way. It is such a great feeling, when I went to work last week, they were playing TB one records on the box. People who knew me said, "That sounds like you." I said, "No, that's Bone. I can't play like that." They said no it sounds like you I said maybe but that's T-Bone.
SE: You do have your own flair. I want to take you back to when you left Houston and came to Los Angeles, I think you were about 16 years old. Not long after that you entered Hunter Hancock's Talent Show.
RG: Yeah, I won Hunter Hancock's Talent Show when I was 16, and got the job with Roy Milton that same night. Mickey Champion was there and heard me sing. Mickey said, "I want Pops to meet you." I said, "Who's Pops?" She was talking about Roy Milton. So, I went to rehearsal and that's where I met some great musicians they were a great team to learn the road business from. They were very well organized. Roy had his own bus, road managers, personal managers, an agent and a good band. Roy had a great band leader/conductor by the name of Jackie Kelso. Jackie and I are still good friends.
SB: Did you leave high school to go on the road with Roy Milton.
RG: I was only 16. I didn't go to school after I got that job. I was in school, but I decided to leave and go on the road. I learned the road business firsthand from all the guys that were nice men. They were out there taking care of business, and they were working for Roy Milton under the same banner. They were going about their business on the road living in hotels and washing their shirts out. I learned from Jackie Kelso how to get nylon white shirts, so you could wash them and roll them out right quick. That way you would always be smelling fresh and could go and play your music clean.
SB: Did you meet Chuck Willis, at the time you were playing with Roy Milton?
RG: Well, Chuck came a little after that. I think I left Roy Milton, because the salary was just so low, and it wasn't like it was going to come up. I was making $16.00 a night with Roy Milton, if I remember correctly. I got a job with Joe Morris. I was in with Roy Milton at the Empire Ballroom in Dallas, Texas. I met Jack Archer a great, booking agent for Southern bands playing all over the United States. Southern tours were not difficult, it's just not many agents had the contacts that Jack Archer had. Jack had those contacts because he worked for a Talent Agency called Shaw Artists, Inc.
Shaw Artists, Inc. was owned by an ex musician, Billy Shaw and ,Billy's wife, ran the business. She made out all the checks, and she was the nicest lady. I could see her now. You could call and say you were running short of money, and stuff; and she would send you some money. She would always get her deposits in so she knew she could get her money back.
The Shaw Agency had the lock on Southern blues bands, they would book Southern blues bands and give them 30 days in a row. That's unique! In the '40s and '50s they booked everyone.
Well, Jack Archer saw me with Roy Milton, one night. Roy would feature me on a couple of songs, the same as he would feature Mickey Champion on her songs. Roy also featured Camille Howard a great pianist who played with him. Camille was a shaking kind of piano player, she Shaked when she played. She had those fringes, like the fringes on the top of her dresses, and those fringes would be shaking, and she would just play and sing. She was the nicest lady.
That same night Jack Archer told me he thought that I should come work with Joe Morris and Joe Turner and do a tour and sign with his agency. I worked my way in that way, starting off on a tour with Joe Morris and Joe Turner and another lady that was singing with Joe Morris, Ursula Reed. Ursula was singing a hit song that was made popular by Faye Adams called "Shake A Hand, Shake A Hand." I don't know if you remember that song.
SE: I Sure do.
RG: Ursula had a great deep voice for that song and she sang, she was the band singer for Joe Morris. So I put my notice in and I left while we were still down South, because it was like a two week notice. I went home and stayed with my mother. I was there about a week when I heard from Jack Archer he called and said meet Joe Turner and Joe Morris in Tupelo, Mississippi.
That's where I met Joe Morris, Joe Turner and Ursula Reed. I started playing behind Joe Turner, I played all those hits that he made. He would fly in and do his dates, he was a big blues singer, a multi-hit making blues singer.
SE: Big Joe Turner.
RG: At that time Big Joe Turner was young and strong, scratchin' and bitin' to be somebody. He had the knack of being out, down and out. In other words, no hit records, nothing going on, but he could work. The people who came out to see him knew they were going to hear him sing the blues when he would come to town. He also had the knack of rejuvenating his career with songs like "Flip Flop and Fly."
SE: That's a great song.
RG: Yeah, "Flip Flop and Fly" and "Change Of Love. 11 All these were different styles of blues. These were blues crossovers that went into rock 'n roll, which made him play white audiences as well. At that time white audiences were standing behind ropes. They couldn't come into the dancing area because the black acts were playing for the black people, usually. The white audience would make their way to the ropes and dance behind the rope.
It was the same thing with the music. When they bought blues records, the whites that became interested in the blues, and interested in what we were doing, were coming to these dances and wanted the records. So in those days, there again you had to go into the black community and go to those mom and pop operations to get the records.
SE: This was about 1955?
RG: 1955; '50-'5 I to '55. Yeah.
SE: Out here, in L.A., the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue used to put on fairs, I guess you could say, approximately '55'56, '57, From what I remember almost all the acts they had, performing were black, and did they draw a crowd. I was real young but I was right up front. It was like you said you could get up and even talk to the artists.
RG: Yeah, oh yeah.
SE: I was only 8 years old, but I was in the middle of it because I wanted to be there.
RG: Right, right.
SE: I don't remember the ropes or divider, I just remember being up front.
RG: Well, you would have to travel across the country to see that. And you'd have to see it from rhythm and blues having a baby, and they called it rock 'n roll. You would have had to see it at that juncture. When Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, came to rock 'n roll, the audience started to come in closer and closer to the bands. And they finally just tore the rope down which helped bring about desegregation.
SE: Yeah, I think what happens is music helps bring people together.
RG: That's what happened. That's exactly right.
SE: So you meet Chuck Willis when you were on the road with Joe Turner?
RG: Yes! We struck up an immediate friendship and musical bond that lasted until Chucks untimely death in 1958.
SE: While you were with Chuck Willis you were a large part of the recordings sessions and played on many of his sessions. Didn't you also co-write "Love Me Cherry" and "The Train ls Gone"?
RG: Yes! I also played on "C. C. Rider", "It's Too Late", "Kansas City Woman" and "Juanita." I played on many other sides Chuck he was a great guy.
SE: Over the years you played a lot of private parties and weddings. But the gigs you played were very hot.
RG: Oh, I played parties for the New Yorker Magazine. I was called by Chris Penn and another friend, Joey. Who knew of my band as being a party band, and everybody was out to get this band. So he told Caroline an editor with New Yorker Magazine. They asked me to perform for a benefit in New York for the Children's Blood Foundation, which the magazine sponsored. We agreed and the show sold out a ballroom at the Pierre Hotel in New York. The tables, had ten people sitting at these big, huge tables with great center pieces on them, like this lamp here sitting on your desk here. Each chair was $5 grand.
SE: You also played for Sean Penn, didn't you? And Whoopi Goldberg?
RG: Yeah. But I was going to tell you about this one because this is the element of all of them. They flew us to New York, and we were housed in the Sheraton Hotel. We had food sent to our rooms. We could do any phone calls that we wanted. We had people from the New Yorker Magazine coming there and making sure that we had what we wanted and asked if we needed anything. Man, they gave us taxi vouchers so that we could make sure that we wouldn't be late for that job, and everybody could get from wherever they were to the job on time.
To answer your question we played Whoopi Goldberg, weddings, and reception. I mean, their wedding and - well, we would do their reception and Sean Penn's wedding. There would be all types of people there. Like at Whoopi Goldberg's, for instance, there were helicopters flying over her house, trying to take pictures to show who was at this particular wedding. So, I seen a lot of that, and I seen a lot of Steven Spielberg, because I was in the movie The Color Purple" with Whoopi and Steven Spielberg.
SE: Roy, you have played with the best Billie Holiday, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Della Reese, The Supremes and cut the landmark album "My Cherie Amour" with Stevie Wonder and so many others. You also wrote "No Use Cryin" for Ray Charles hit album "Crying Time". But you also have been down what have you learned over the years?
RG: I learned how to operate like this in doing business. I've been a flatfoot hustler all my life. Even though I went to college after l was a hustler in New York. I hustled playing music all over the world as a kid, and without finishing high school. I finished high school in the Army, and then I decided to go to college.
I became really down when Chuck (Willis) died. I didn't want to play with any more bands. But music is my life! Shelly I thought about what Willie John once said to me "You can be in the wrong studio, have the wrong manager, you could have everything wrong, but if that record comes out and has the magic on that tape, then you're going to get response beyond your wildest dreams if the magic of a hit is on that tape." That's why I have released two records this year and I'm putting in 250%.