Rocks Off contributor William Michael Smith just called in to regretfully inform us that Houston blues musician Earl Gilliam has passed away. Gilliam's friend and manager Sheri Goodman told Smith that Gilliam died at his home near Tomball of advanced lung disease.
The piano player was famous for hosting his "Doghouse Jams," informal gatherings at his house on Sunday afternoons that lasted for hours and brought out much of the Houston-area blues community. The jams ceased when Gilliam fell into ill health, which he had been in for some time.
After moving to Houston from his native New Waverly at age 18 - he was born in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1930 but moved to New Waverly at age 12 and "always considered it his hometown," Goodman says - Gilliam played in Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's band and became part of the circle of pianists at Shady's Playhouse that also included Amos Milburn, Lonnie Lyons, Elmore Nixon and Teddy Reynolds.
In 2005, the Houston Press' John Nova Lomax called Gilliam's CD Texas Doghouse Blues, released on Austin's Dialtone Records, "greasy Gulf Coast funk, slinky shuffles and Texas-style Jimmy Smith-infused groove jazz." However, Gilliam later disowned the CD, claiming Dialtone never paid him any royalties.
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Earlier this year, the Houston Blues Society held a benefit for Gilliam, who was 81. Rocks Off extends our condolences to Gilliam's friends and family.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A complete obituary will follow later this afternoon.