Houston Honker

Grady Gaines helped Little Richard create rock and roll. And he's not finished yet

The teenager soon jumped to a whole new level. "I was in about tenth or 11th grade," he says, "when I left and went on the road with Little Richard." A black-and-white photograph from that era, widely marketed as a postcard, shows the hyperflamboyant Richard upright and bamming the keys while Gaines — standing atop the grand piano — bends over the horn and honks. Performing as bandleader of these original Upsetters, Gaines toured with the rock and roll dynamo till the late '50s, when Richard quit for religious reasons. From there, Gaines's band went on to play behind Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and other classic R&B singers.

Tired of life on the road, Gaines retired in the '70s. But by the '80s, prodded by Milton Hopkins, he'd formed the Texas Upsetters and returned to the bandstand. Since then, he has recorded several fine CDs and played major festivals and special events nationwide. Upcoming projects include a possible CD collaboration with his brother, Roy Gaines, perhaps the finest L.A.-based blues guitarist playing today. If their musical reunion at Etta's last November is any indication, the album should be incredible.

Meanwhile, Gaines relishes being able to honk professionally, usually five nights a week, without having to live in motels and buses. "At my age, I don't mind going on the road to do some spot dates or a special tour," he says. "But if we can work like this at home, we've got a lot to be thankful for." And so do Houston audiences.

The Texas tenor: Sax man Grady Gaines.
The Texas tenor: Sax man Grady Gaines.

Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters perform Wednesday, August 4, and Thursday, August 5, at the Sierra Atrium Room, 4704 Montrose, at 10:30 p.m. No cover charge. Call (713)942-7757. Gaines and his band also perform on Sunday, August 8, at Etta's Lounge, 5120 Scott, at 10 p.m. Admission is $3. Call (713)528-2611.

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