Horn of Plenty

Legendary R&B saxman Grady Gaines stumbles into the fertile second act of his career

Gaines settled for a series of jobs, ranging from security guard to van driver for a Holiday Inn, to working as a skycap for United Airlines. Gaines looks back on the decidedly nonmusical gigs with little regret.

"I made a lot of money doing those things," he says. "And so I just put my horn up. Didn't touch it for five years. Put it in the attic and didn't touch it at all. It was a decision I made and I'm not really sorry that I made it. It gave me a chance to pull myself together. Traveling the way that I traveled, the things you have to go through when traveling all the time, the wear and tear--I think the break did me good."

But by 1985, Gaines was yanked out of retirement, first by Sam Cooke's old manager, who happened to recognize Gaines at the Houston Airport and asked the saxman what he was doing lugging bags around, and then by Milton Hopkins, an original Upsetter, who talked Gaines into joining his band. That led to Gaines getting the Upsetters going again, which led to an increasing number of gigs around Houston, including a series of shows with the popular Roomful of Blues. Gaines went on to release an album, 1987's Full Gain, which collected critical acclaim for its big-sounding, grandstanding, rock 'n' blues revue songs. His most recent release, Horn of Plenty, is garnering applause for being more of the same, with added doses of East Texas/New Orleans energy.

Gaines' postretirement years are proving to be almost as busy as his days of hoofing it up with the R&B elite. His unofficial manager, Greg Gormanous, says Gaines recently wowed a crowd of more than 20,000 in Long Beach at a Little Richard reunion show. The highlight of the evening, according to Gormanous, was when the 63-year-old Gaines jumped on top of Richard's piano, just like the good old days.

"We knew he wanted to get on top of that thing, and we thought we'd have to help him up with a chair," Gormanous says. "But when they started playing 'Long Tall Sally,' he bolted up there like a running back."

Gormanous says that even Richard was humbled by the way the audience took to Gaines.

"He said, 'Grady, you took my mind back when I didn't know nothing,'" Gormanous says. "He goes, 'You and Milt and the guys taught me everything.'"

Gaines chuckles over the way his career's taking shape again.
"I don't know, things just seem to happen to me," he says. He adds that there's not much he would change if given the chance. "I wouldn't change nothing, really. Other than maybe if we could've got some hit records on our own, like all those acts we were playing behind, helping them get hits. I would change that. But I still enjoyed it. I was riding on their glory, and they were all wonderful to me."

Grady Gaines is scheduled to perform on Sunday, November 16, at the Phoenix Blues Society's "Hornucopia" show at the Rhythm Room. Showtime is 7 p.m.

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