Thursday, June 14, 2007
Standing In The "Blue" Shadows
Earl Gaines - Don't Take My Kindness For Weakness
Earl Gaines is one of the many Nashville figures whose star just didn't shine as brightly as it should have in the history of soul music. To be fair, Gaines fared better than many of his peers, having had one major hit at the beginning of his career, "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," on which he fronted Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, and two other hits later in his career. The Brooks record did well on its 1955 release (#2 R&B), but Gaines' plans to build a career off of the record were frustrated right away by Brooks and the band's disinclination to tour behind their hit. Undeterred, Gaines struck out as a solo, generally working with Nashville R&B guru Ted Jarrett (author of "It's Love Baby" and countless other Nashville R&B and soul sides). Over the next two decades Gaines would record plenty of great material for several labels, with notable stints at Hollywood, DeLuxe, Seventy-Seven (where he had his biggest solo hit with his cover of the Mighty Hannibal's "Hymn No. 5") and, as discussed below, HBR. Throughout all of the lean times, Gaines kept his day job as a truck driver and, after a 1975 Ace single went nowhere, Gaines mostly left music to focus on driving full-time. In the '90s, Gaines hooked up with Fred James and returned to the studio to release what has been a satisfying string of soul-blues albums as a solo and as part of the Excello All-Stars (which included the late Roscoe Shelton). He's still at it today, with this year's Crankshaft Blues being his latest CD.
Gaines' lack of greater success probably came in part from the fact that he sounded a whole lot like Bobby Bland, who at the time was ruling the charts with his soul-bent blues, but Gaines got a serious shot to usurp Bland's crown with his 1966 HBR LP Best of Luck to You, whose title track (which had previously been recorded by Sam Baker) was an R&B hit for him. (Unfortunately, the album and singles referred to him as "Earl Gains".) "HBR" stood for Hanna-Barbera Records, a short-lived attempt by the cartoon company to branch out into recording. Although HBR did release some records tied to children's music and their cartoons, they also leased in material from other sources like the Gaines set and Scatman Crothers' "Golly Zonk." Gaines' HBR sessions were produced by WLAC's Hoss Allen, who was his manager at the time, and featured Johnny Jones and the King Casuals as the backing band. It's a solid set of Nashville soul, featuring quite a few Ted Jarrett tunes (including a remake of "It's Love Baby," which Gaines has re-recorded quite a few times) and solid performances by Gaines and the band. "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness" also garnered single release and it's one of my favorites of the HBR sides. Gaines gives the song a very warm reading and it's one of my favorites of the HBR recordings. Had this song been a Bobby Bland release on Duke it would've been a smash, as all of the trademarks of Bland's are there, but HBR didn't put enough muscle behind the single to get Gaines that type of success.
Fortunately for us soul fans, nearly all of Gaines' classic soul records have been reissued: Black Magic's CD 24 Hours a Day includes the entire HBR album and earlier material Gaines had recorded for Ted Jarrett; WestSide Records has put out Lovin' Blues: The Starday-King Years 1967-73, which hits all of the high spots of Gaines' tenure on Hollywood and DeLuxe, including the entire DeLuxe LP of the same name; and AIM Trading Group has recently put out The Lost Soul Tapes, which covers his tenure on Seventy-Seven. Listening to all of this material shows that Gaines was much more than just a Bobby Bland imitator. (And nowadays, Gaines' voice is in much better form than Bland's - on Crankshaft Blues he covers today's selection and it sounds almost as good as the original!) Had Gaines' luck been better, he could've been sitting on Bland's throne!
(Two quick post scripts: first, today's post was inspired by hearing Gaines' "I Have Loved and I Have Lived" on Brian Phillips' excellent "Electrophonic Sound" show over the weekend - go to Rockin' Radio (see links section) and check it out; secondly, when I mentioned Eli Reed yesterday I failed to mention the great show he's going to be part of - that post will go up immediately after I finish writing this - and I also failed to point you over to his website, on which you can hear his new single, "The Satisfier" - and trust me, it's satisfying!)