Tangled Up in Blues

At C. Davis Bar-B-Q, his Reed Road haunt for a quarter-century, I.J. Gosey often perches, legs crossed at the ankles, on a chair or sometimes on an amp. But sooner or later, the blues brew he cooks up overcomes him. That's when he ever so slowly rises to his feet, the better to testify what he's feeling. It's understated as theatrics go, but packed with emotion nonetheless, and as telling in its own way as one of Keith Moon's drumquakes or Jimi Hendrix's Zippoed Fenders.

Because when I.J. Gosey stands up, the house is ready to come down.

These days Gosey is standing tall offstage, too. In his half-century in music, Gosey has backed up a who's who list of blues stars and appeared on classic recordings from the Duke-Peacock era. But never has he made an album under his own name. All that's about to change. Odd as it may sound, I.J. Gosey and the Supremes -- Pee Wee Stephens on keys, Pops Stewart on bass and Galveston's David "Poochie" Lartigue on drums -- are ready to release their debut.

"I've never been one who wanted to be a superstar recording artist," Gosey said before a Continental Club show last year. "I've never had eyes for that. But after the Christmas holidays, I'm gonna put out my first CD. I'm gonna call it Let Me Play for You."

Play Gosey has, since the first Eisenhower administration, in fact. After leaving his native Newton, Texas, near the Louisiana border, and after a brief stint at Prairie View, Gosey has been gracing the wings of local and national stages. His first instrument was the piano, which he abandoned for the bass in the early '50s. While touring with Arthur Boatwright and the Joy Boys, Gosey roomed with Texas Johnny Brown. Gosey recalled that many times, after the show, Brown would hit the town and leave Gosey with only his guitar for company. Gosey made the switch to the six-string in about '58 or '59.

Unlike many players, he learned the craft from a music teacher. "I've never wanted to be classified as a particular type of player. I wanted to be classified as a musician. So I went to a teacher. I knew who I wanted to play like -- Billy Butler, who did "Honky Tonk" with Bill Doggett. But [my teacher Steve] Hester told me, "I won't teach you that. I'm gonna teach you the fundamentals of the guitar, and then you choose which way you want to go.' "

Gosey plays clean -- as suave as Bogart and as coolly economical as Alan Greenspan. He picked up this style from a few favorites, like Butler, Joe Pass and Herb Ellis, and especially the ingenious Duke-Peacock bandleader Joe Scott. "They only played notes every now and then, but all the notes said something," Gosey said of his guitar heroes. "I learned that from Joe Scott. He used to say, "You can play a note and it will be just a note, or you can play that same note, and put yourself in it. Then it comes out something else.' "

Gosey is thrilled with his new weekly happy-hour gig at the Continental Club, but as might be expected, his heart remains at the legendary C. Davis Bar-B-Q. (Unfortunately, because of the illness of Clarence Davis's son Wayne, Gosey's once biweekly shows are now down to Sundays only.) "I've played a lot of places: I've played big halls, I've played little halls, I've played concert halls, and I've played auditoriums. I have never played in no place that has the atmosphere nor the fans" like C. Davis's, he says.

There are hundreds of baseball players in the majors, but only a few of them are truly devotees of the game. Likewise, there are thousands and thousands of musicians, but only a few are truly musicians. Gosey is a music man. A surprising number of musicians aren't. Music for them is a means to an end -- a way to meet girls, or an easy ticket to fame and fortune. It's not coincidental that music comes last in the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" formula that so many players subscribe to.

Not that there's anything wrong with meeting women or getting rich and famous, but you run the risk of abandoning the call of your muse. Gosey certainly hasn't abandoned his. He loves to listen to, talk about and, above all else, play music. He also sees himself as part of a vital continuum. "When I came to Houston, I started going to Walter's Lounge. I couldn't even tune a guitar. Albert Collins would say, "Hey, man, you got your guitar? Yeah? Well, come on and play.' So I try to do that for younger musicians. I got to where I am because somebody saw raw talent, because I definitely couldn't play. But I wanted to, and that's what I tell guys: All I ask you to do is give 200 percent of participation. The rest I'm willing to teach you. But I can't put up with it if you don't care, if you don't want to learn, if you just want to pass off some time, because that's an injustice to you and to me. But if you want to learn, let's forget about how long it takes."

Gosey's voice commands with the rhythmic cadences and the well-chosen words of the preacher's son that he is. There is more than mere style to his speech; there is also substance, a deep, resonant wisdom about music and life and where they meet. "In 1985 I got real, real sick. I got to where I couldn't play at all. And then I realized how precious it was to be able to do something, to be able to communicate, to be able to help someone. I was able to help somebody forget about his problems -- maybe it's not for but a second or two, but that's a second or two that he really enjoys. And that's what life is all about, enjoying it. I enjoy it, because I know that tomorrow's not promised to you. So I play for today, I live for today, and I treat people the way that I want to be treated. That's the key."

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax