Grady Gaines, the Upsetter

Houston sax lion has always been in the "hottest band around."

After one 45-day run with Cooke that ended in Atlanta in December 1964, the Upsetters booked themselves a short tour while Cooke flew to Los Angeles for business. They were scheduled to rejoin Cooke in Miami in two weeks, so the band drove nonstop from Atlanta to a gig in Oklahoma City.

"We were in the lobby checking in when we heard on the television that Sam had been shot," says Gaines, who played on Cooke's smash hits "Bring It on Home to Me" and "Twisting the Night Away."

But these were the Upsetters, and they soon landed with James Brown.

Grady Gaines's leap onto Little Richard's piano in the 1956 film Don't Knock the Rock was an iconic early rock and roll moment.
Photos courtesy of Gulf Coast Entertainment
Grady Gaines's leap onto Little Richard's piano in the 1956 film Don't Knock the Rock was an iconic early rock and roll moment.
Grady Gaines
Pam Francis
Grady Gaines

Location Info


The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club

5731 Kirby
Houston, TX 77005

Category: Music Venues

Region: Kirby-West U


Grady Gaines' 78th Birthday Party

9 p.m. Friday, May 18, at The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club, 5731 Kirby, 713-523-9999 or

"We were just so hot and so well-known by all the promoters, anyone who was going out was liable to hire us," says Gaines.

Gaines was ever in demand for his tone, his musical knowledge and his showmanship, and also toured with Gladys Knight, the Supremes, Bo Diddley, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Taylor and the great Baytown-born showman Joe Tex.

When musical tastes changed in the '70s, Gaines frequently took the Upsetters to Europe. He also recorded some sides of his own, such as "Let Your Thing Hang Down," a response to the popularity of Grover Washington's hit "Mister Magic."

In 1989, Gaines recorded a blistering live album featuring Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Big Robert Smith and legendary songwriter/rum-drinker Joe Medwick, Blacktop Blues-A-Rama Vol. 4. He also released studio albums High Gain (1987) and Horn of Plenty (1992).

Gaines's most recent triumph was as headliner and bandleader for "Preserving a Legacy," the first blues show ever to play Jones Hall and an all-Houston-talent event. He describes playing the home of the Houston Symphony as a "wonderful moment."

"But as special as that night was, in the end it was just like any other gig," Gaines philosophizes. "I just put it together the best way I can and hope the people like it."

Gaines's show these days is a mixture of blues, soul and rock and roll that screams "Houston." And he always goes back to his roots.

"We played a big wedding reception last week," says Gaines, "and a lady requested 'Tutti Frutti.' By the time we finished it, the whole place was jumping."

From the Apollo Theater to The Big Easy, jumping joints are at the core of the life of one of Houston's all-time great entertainers.

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Amazing this guy! I had no idea. I'm headed to the Big Easy to see him on Friday. Appreciate this kind of perspective; long look back an someone we can still see today.


Amazing piece! Congratulations WMS. You make it easy to understand why so many are so proud of Houston's rich musical legacy and rich music culture!

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