A Black Top Double-Hitter!
Well folks, this is a first for me. Instead of doing your typical CD review on an individual artist; I chose to travel a new route. Earl Gaines and Roscoe Shelton were stablemates who recorded for the old Excello label during the 1950’s. Nashville, wasn’t just producing country singers during that time period. The R&B and blues scene was intense with Gaines at the forefront. As a vocalist with Louis Brooks & His High-Toppers, Earl nailed down an Excello hit in 1955. The song, It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," sold well over a million copies and since then, has become a standard. The song has been covered by Ruth Brown, Bobby Bland, and Delbert McClinton to name but a few. However, Gaines’ claim to fame was short lived. When the disco craze took hold in the 70’s, Earl left the scene and took a full-time job as a truck driver. Roscoe Shelton’s career paralleled Gaines, and had his own share of hits in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Shelton signed with Excello in 1958, and recorded 22 gems by 1962. His two major R&B hits: "Think It Over" and "I Miss You So" received national attention and airplay. By the late 60’s, Roscoe became increasingly disillusioned with the music business. The deaths of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding -- both very close friends of Shelton’s, anchored his decision to retire from music altogether; and he took a day job at a medical college in Nashville.
As a kid, I became familiar with the Excello sound through late night AM radio. It seemed like we all had little pocket-sized transistors, and when everyone was asleep, I’d tune into KAAY out of Little Rock, Arkansas. My favorite Excello artist at the time, was Slim Harpo. Things changed rather abruptly with the discovery of Earl Gaines and Roscoe Shelton. Both singers were blessed with pure gut-wrenching soul and a strong sense of place that was undeniably original. And now, after all these years they’re back -- and I mean in a big way! And we can thank the owners of Black Top Records, Hammond and Nauman Scott, for their re-discovering efforts that has been so instrumental in bringing these lost, but not entirely forgotten artists back up the ladder. With the help of producer/guitarist Fred James out of Nashville, we can once again lend our ears and heart to the above recordings -- this is real R&B not what’s being pawned off in the current charts.
Both discs have a lot of similarities. Fred James produced and played lead and rhythm guitar on both discs. He used the same musicians and even shared background vocals and the horn section plus baritone sax on both CD’s is simply brilliant! Really, this is a double-package must. For one thing, no two people are alike; including musicians. Some people will argue and say Roscoe’s vocals are more powerful than Gaines, vice-a-versa. My calling card reads: whatever. The music speaks for itself and just think; I haven’t even hit on the covers and choose not to. They’re nothing short of bliss and I highly recommend picking them up as a pair -- one is fun but two is cool -- shake those hips!
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dick Houff, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.