Gary James' Interview With The Saxophone Player For
Little Richard and Sam Cooke
Grady Gaines was the Musical Director and saxophone player for Little Richard's backing band The Upsetters. That's Grady on Little Richard's recording of "Keep A Knockin'" and "Ooh! My Soul". Grady also served as the Musical Director for Sam Cooke's backing band until Sam Cooke's mysterious death in 1964. The number of musicians Grady Gaines backed leads like a Who's Who of Rock 'n' Roll. We're talking Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Millie Jackson, Dee Clark, Little Willie John and the list goes on and on. Now, Grady Gaines can add another title to his resume; Author. He has just written his autobiography, I've Been Out There On The Road With Legends Of Rock 'n' Roll (Texas A&M University Press). Grady talked with us about his life.
Q - Grady, you've just written your autobiography.
A - Yes.
Q - Why did it take so long to write it?
A - Well, I had a lot of people that wanted to write it with me. Rod Evans, my co-writer, was helping me by taking it down. I found somebody that I felt like would do it the way I wanted to (do it).
Q - We don't hear much anymore about famous sax players.
A - Yeah, you're right. Either they all died out or the guitar players took over.
Q - I guess there isn't a need for sax players on records anymore, is there?
A - Not a whole lot, no.
Q - What is the one thing in your book that people will be surprised about?
A - The whole book is just the way I lived my life. That's the way it went down. So, what they will be surprised at, I really don't know. I have no idea. Maybe surprised at the book coming out on my life. Something like that.
Q - How did you get to be a session musician for Peacock Records?
A - Don Robey was sending out scouts that came to get me. I was playin' at a club called The Whispering Pines. Joe Scott told me Don wanted me and my band to do some recording behind some artists he was bringing in. So, that's how I got to do it.
Q - What was Peacock Records claim to fame? Who else was on that label?
A - Bobby Blue Bland, Little Junior Parker, David Dean, Earl Forest. Little Richard was on that label for a little bit. The Tempo Toppers.
Q - Little Richard being on Peacock Records, is that how he heard about you? Is that why he tapped you to be the leader of his band The Upsetters?
A - Yes. It was through Peacock. They were going into the studio. Then Richard used to play a club called The Club Matinee. The way Richard got it is he was with the group The Tempo Toppers. The leader of The Tempo Toppers was Raymond Taylor and he played the keyboards and the trombone and his wife played the drums. Richard was the lead singer. One of the singers was Jimmy Swan. The other singer was Gil Moore. There were four of 'em. I can't think of the other one's name, but Richard was the lead singer. When I met them they were touring all around Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, all around there. Richard had heard of me playing and there was a lot of talk about me around town and he asked me if I would join them. So, I said yes. Myself, along with another saxophone player, Clifford Burks.
Q - What was it like to be on tour with Little Richard in 1955? We're talking about the early days of Rock 'n' Roll. How were you guys getting around? Probably not in a bus. In a big car?
A - To me, it was very exciting. My first time going all around, away from home and touring. So, it was exciting every step of the way.
Q - You played on "Keep A Knockin'" and "Ooh! My Soul". How long did it take to record those songs?
A - Well, it didn't take too long. A lot of those songs like "Keep A Knockin'" were put together on the stage as we'd be playing and we'd go into the studio and record 'em. He'd start singing and we'd play the music parts behind what he was singing and try making it married to what he was doing on the keyboard and singing. And that's how we did it for a lot of that stuff, including "Keep A Knockin'".
Q - You also toured with Same Cooke up until his death.
A - Yeah, that's right.
Q - Solomon Burke believes Sam Cooke was murdered. What do you think?
A - I feel the same way. People who really kind of know about it feel the say way that Solomon and I feel, not only Solomon and I, but so many other people too. Sam had a meeting with some of his proteges and they wanted a controlling interest in Sam's record company and all that, but Sam wouldn't give it up. That had to have something to do with what happened to him.
Q - You also recorded for a time at Vee Jay Records. That would've been what year?
A - After (Little) Richard quit. We were on tour in California for Charles Sullivan. When Richard quit, we needed a singer to play the rest of those dates that could sound like Richard. That's when we got Dee Clark. We sent back to Chicago and got Dee Clark. We played the rest of the dates Richard had. Dee Clark didn't have no name. He was just another singer, but he could sing like Richard.
Q - Vee Jay Records released records by The Beatles. Would you have heard their records or seen a photo of the group before the rest of America did?
A - I think I did. It was shown to me by a guitar player that was playin' with me and left to go on the road. He was showing me The Beatles' pictures and said, "These are gonna be the next hottest group out." I can't remember the exact year. I'm sorry about that.
Q - Do you remember what you thought when you saw a photo of The Beatles? Did it make an impression on you?
A - The first impression it made on me was I thought about The Three Stooges, the look, the hair.
Q - Do you remember listening to their records on Vee Jay?
A - I don't remember hearing their recordings on Vee Jay.
Q - You stopped playing in 1980 and returned to the music business in 1985. What did you do with yourself in the five years you weren't playing?
A - Well, I worked as a transportation manager for a Holiday Inn. I moved on from Holiday Inn to the Sheraton as transportation manager. During that time I put my horn in the attic and gave it up for that length of time. And a friend of mine who I played with kept after me about coming back, getting my horn and start playing again. He had a job he was playing once or twice a week at a club called Ella's Lounge in Houston. He talked me into getting the horn out of the attic and start playing again. He said, "You need to get that horn and come back out here." So, I got back on and started playing. I played with him at Ella's Lounge I guess for a few weeks. He decided to leave Ella's Lounge and go to another job. So, I stayed at Ella's Lounge and formed a band there. I stayed there working every Sunday night for quite a few years, almost twenty years. If I had a tour out of town I could always get out of that. There was never no hassle with that. The way I met Hammond Scott, I was playing at a club across the street from Rockefeller Theatre in Houston called the Hey Hey Club and Bob Bell, who was the manager of Home Of The Blues, two clubs across the street from each other, he heard me play and he said he knew these two guys from a record company and the next time they're in town I'm going to have them come hear you. And y'all gonna open for us and we opened for them at Rockefeller's and they (Hammond and Norman Scott) were there. I played one of my main songs. When I got through playing it, everybody just went crazy over the way it was played. Then Hammond and Scott came up to me and wanted to talk about a recording contract. So, I did four or five albums with that company.
Q - According to the Internet, as of 2013 your band The Texas Upsetters were playing private parties and weddings?
A - Yeah. That's most of what we played during 2013.
Q - How many guys in the band?
A - Twelve. I kept a large band 'cause that's the way I wanted to sound. And in order to get me, they would have to take my whole band. Later on they got used to us and there was no problem booking us.