JAZZ REVIEW : Gaines’ Many Shades of Blues at the Biltmore

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The good times rolled Monday at the Biltmore’s Grand Avenue Bar when Roy (Guitar) Gaines launched another of his Texas blues sessions.

Gaines has a background of 30 years in every blues setting from Roy Milton and Joe Turner to Jimmy Rushing and Ray Charles.

His influences reflect this diversity of experience: During a 99-minute set, instrumentally he was Charlie Christian, then T-Bone Walker, then Wes Montgomery; vocally he delved into Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson (whom he resembles only if photographed from above), Jimmy Rushing, King Pleasure and Nat King Cole.


Well supported by a vintage soul-blues group with Cedric Lawson on Hammond organ, Rob Kyle on tenor sax and Paul Humphrey on drums, Gaines showed tremendous animation on the blues numbers, sometimes jumping up and singing from a table top, even playing the guitar behind his neck.

You couldn’t be too dismayed by this silliness, since his playing never suffered; moreover, on the ballads (“Too Late Now,” “What’s New”) he displayed sensitivity, a commendable linearity and a commanding tone.

The longer the session ran, the more he sang, exploring the repertoires of a half-dozen blues pioneers. Oddly, after a series of Rushing lyrics, he sang “Lush Life,” which was doubly out of place in this noisy room, then segued immediately into yet another blues.

If he is not entirely his own man, at least he is, with reasonable conviction, several other men whose contributions are worth recalling.

At 51, he is too young to have heard Charlie Christian in person, yet on “Wholly Cats” (an early Christian number with the Benny Goodman sextet) the spirit of that early master came vividly alive.

Gaines will be back at the Grand Avenue Bar on Sept. 12.