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Los Angeles-via-Houston bluesman Roy Gaines started off his musical life on the piano, but it wasn’t long before he found the electric guitar. “I played piano from ages six until about 14,” recalls Roy. “I switched to guitar after I saw how my brother Grady, who plays saxophone, would get all the girls by walking around the club while playing. I said, ‘Boy, I want some of those girls!’ and made the switch to guitar.”

Introduced to the music scene by Grady (who played with Little Richard’s Upsetters), Roy took a heavy dose of inspiration from the Lone Star State’s T-Bone Walker and quickly established himself as a prime purveyor of searing electric guitar, earning a reputation as a fierce player who was billed as “The 14-Year-Old Sensation” on placards. 

At 16, he set off for California, where he became a fixture of the late-night bar scene. He toured with Roy “Pops” Milton and spent time on stage and in the studio with blues greats like Chuck Wills and Ray Charles, earning a reputation as an ace sideman. Soon enough, calls started coming in for Gaines to bring his Texas-blues sound to sessions with Stevie Wonder, Les McCann, the Supremes, Albert King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Quincy Jones, the Jazz Crusaders, and Big Mama Thornton. 

All the while, Gaines recorded stinging solo cuts, from early singles like 1958’s raw “Skippy Is a Sissy” to his 2009 album Tuxedo Blues, recorded with the horn-packed big band joining him at the Playboy Jazz Festival. A sort of blues Zelig, his co-composition “No Use Crying” was recorded by country singer George Jones, and Gaines himself can be seen singing “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” in Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award–nominated 1985 film The Color Purple. In 1999, Gaines received the W.C. Handy Award and Living Blues Magazine’s “Comeback Artist of the Year” award. Gaines’ style, which finds him happy to jump from driving bop to lively swing, is nonetheless summed up by the title of his 1998 JSD Records release: Bluesman for Life