Blues singers and big bands used to go together like bread and butter, but somewhere along the way the singers must have become superfluous in the minds of the leaders or the public. Nowadays, large ensembles are still happy to play the bluesbe they well-known warhorses or obscure gemsbut husky-voiced singers are rarely seen delivering a blues sermon with them. Vocalist-guitarist Roy Gaines remembers this bygone era quite well, since he was part of it. Gaines toured on a bill with Count Basie
, and even appeared on-screen, singing "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)," in Steven Spielberg's award-winning 1985 film, The Color Purple.
With Tuxedo Blues, Gaines takes the music back to this sadly gone time, as he puts his vocals on top of a swinging big band and adds some stirring guitar work into the mix. The dozen tracks here focus on medium-to-slow blues swingers with well-tailored arrangements and some terrific piano work from none other than Joe Sample
. While a similar sound runs across many of these tracks, certain moments stand out: the New Orleans-based polyphony at the end of "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)" is one; Leslie Drayton's arrangement of Gaines' "Come Home," with some beautifully rendered harmonies at the top, is another.
Gaines' guitar playing is like that of a more spacious, cleaner-toned B.B. King, but he also knows how to inject some jazz-leaning material into the mix. His solo on the otherwise-raunchy "Thang Shaker" starts with some standard, blues-issued single note lines, but he gets away from this fairly quickly and makes some intriguing choices while toying with the beat a bit.
Gaines' vocals never dig too deep or fly too high, but he seems to enjoy the ride on every track. Occasionally, as on the jumping "Reggae Woman (Calypso Blues)" and "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)," his vocals might have benefited from belting things out, but he chooses, instead, to walk the straight and narrow. While occasionally too polite in his delivery, Gaines' restraint isn't always a bad thing. A seductive sound in his voice and his willingness to keep things on an even keel helps to inject some well-needed soul into the mix. After working through eleven pieces, Gaines' most triumphant moment comes at the album's end, with an explosive performance of his "Outside Lookin In," his vocals soaring, the band packing a mighty wallop, and tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder
delivering an electrifying solo. This song fits Gaines like a finely tailored tuxedo.
Track Listing: Send For Me; Blues From Hell; Good Old Days; Rats In My Kitchen; Thang Shaker; Inflation Blues; Miss Celie's Blues (Sister); Come Home; Reggae Woman (Calypso Blues); Rock With You; Route 66; Outside Lookin In.
Personnel: Fred Jackson, alto saxophone; John Stevens: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone (3, 4, 6-8, 10-12); Chris Mostert: tenor saxophone (6-8, 11); Don Roberts: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; George Harper: tenor saxophone (1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12); Glenn Berger: (4, 10, 12); Wilton Felder: tenor saxophone (10-12); Jackie Kelso: alto saxophone, clarinet (1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 11); Frank Fontaine: tenor saxophone (1, 2, 5, 9); John Pappenbrook: trumpet (3, 4, 6-8, 10-12); Rich Hoffman: trumpet; George Pandis: trumpet (3, 6-8, 10, 11); Nolan Shaheed: trumpet; Michael Harris: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12); Brad Steinwehe: trumpet (1, 2, 5, 9); Mike Zonshein: trumpet (6); Eric Jorgensen: trombone (1-5, 7-12); Kerry Loeschen: trombone; John Roberts: trombone (3, 4, 6-8, 10-12); Les Benedict: trombone, bass trombone; Mike Daigeau: trombone (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9); Art Hillary: piano (6, 9); Joe Sample: piano (1-9. 10, 11); Barry Zweig: acoustic guitar, banjo; Kevin Brandon: bass (1, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12); Edwin Livingston: bass (2, 3, 7, 8); Nick Sample: bass (6, 11); Raymond Pounds: drums; Onaje Murray: vibraphone (8, 12); Roy Gaines: guitar, vocals.