Friday, April 25, 2008



Alright boys and girls, here we go again... that's right, it's time for the third annual Mystery Contest!

Travel with me now, back through the swamp of time...
there's my ol' high school podnah Bernie scrambling to find a blank tape so he can record the amazing sounds that are coming out of his radio. It's Carnival Time in New Orleans, and up here in Brooklyn that can only mean one thing; it's gray and cold and ugly outside. Bernie can feel the heat emanating from this WBGO Mardi Gras broadcast. He fumbles a little bit with the cassette, but manages to catch about a half an hour of the most incredible music he's ever heard...

As you know by now, that tape has become the stuff of legend. After spending about ten years in my car, it became lost in space in the wake of the big switchover to CDs in the nineties. When it turned up in my basement a couple of years ago, I couldn't believe it. It was like finding a long lost friend. The music on that tape has served us well, and provided the subject matter for our last two mystery contests. Why mess with success? Let's go to the audiotape!

The 2008 Mystery Song:


Like our last two selections, this one just knocks me out! This is the first song the Big Bern managed to get on the tape, and it's missing the first few bars... it's also got a little FM radio drift goin' on but, hey, that's OK because it totally CRANKS!! Talk about high energy! GET OUT THE WAY!! This is some full throttle Crescent City R&B here, folks, deep in the pocket and good to go; "...there ain't nothin' happenin', so get on outta my face!" I'm lovin' it, kids.

Now, I feel like I should know who this is... as a matter of fact I was kind of reluctant to use this one, as it might point out to all of you just how dumb I really am! Oh well, some things can't be helped, I guess...

It sounds like the J&M studio band, but then again, in some ways, it doesn't... hmmm. So put on your thinking caps, detectives, and let's see who turns out to be this year's lucky winner!

We're looking for:


As always, the first one of you to leave the correct answer in the 'comments', wins. I'll figure out just what this year's cool prizes are going to be while I'm down there in Sugar Town.

Good luck! - red


Well, I told you I was dumb! That's right, this year's contest was pretty much over before it even began... our lucky winner, Jeremy Epstein (aka The Tubegeek), correctly identified our mystery selection within a few hours.

OKEH 6972 B

It Ain't Nothing Happening

As Jeremy stated down there in the comments, it was first released as the B side of Okeh 6972 in May of 1953 by the great Paul Gayten. As he also mentioned, it is available on the CD Compilation The Okeh Rhythm & Blues Story 1949-1957, a box set that I actually own (duh!).

Paul Gayten was one of the most influential (and under-appreciated) figures in the history of New Orleans R&B. Let's check it out:

The nephew of Little Brother Montgomery, Gayten was born to play the piano. While still a teenager, he cut his teeth in the 1930s bands of Don Dunbar and Doc Parmley, as well as fronting his own 'Sizzling Six'. After a stint with Silas Green From New Orleans, Paul and his band (which included the great Teddy Edwards) hosted one of the the first black radio shows in the South on WSLI in Jackson, Mississippi, starting in 1938. During the war, the army shipped him down to Biloxi, where he led the popular base band, entertaining thousands of GIs. After his release, he headed down to New Orleans and formed a trio along with George Pryor and Robert Green. They took up residency as the house band at the Club Robin Hood in 1946.

When the Braun Brothers came down to New Orleans in early 1947 looking for talent to record on their Deluxe label, they signed Gayten and his band right away. With the addition of guitarist Edgar Blanchard and singer Annie Laurie, they cut what were to become the very first Crescent City R&B hits, Since I Fell For You and True, both of which would break into the top five that fall. The Gayten band was just huge in their hometown after that, and played to sold out houses wherever they went.

In the excellent Blue Monday, Rick Coleman relates a story of how the young Antoine Domino was invited up to play the piano by Gayten at an outdoor concert in 1947. He "stopped the show", and from that moment on was hooked on the idea of being a star. When Gayten took him to dinner at Dooky Chase, that sealed the deal. Talk about being an influence on rock & roll! Around this same time, Gayten also cut a number he wrote called Hey, Little Girl, a song which Professor Longhair would later claim as his own.

After Deluxe sold out to Regal in 1949, Gayten made the move and began working with a young vocalist named Larry Darnell. Released under Darnell's name, Gayten composition For You My Love became the band's biggest record, spending eight weeks (!) at number one R&B at the end of the decade. They would break the top ten seven more times for the label the following year, backing both Darnell and Annie Laurie. At this point, Paul Gayten was arguably the biggest R&B act of them all, regularly headlining at places like The Apollo and the Savoy Ballroom.

Tired of the road, Gayten returned home to New Orleans and put together a band which would rule the city from its roost at the fabled Brass Rail for the next few years. The star of the new outfit was a young Sax man named Lee Allen, who Paul hired away from George Miller and his Mid-Driffs in 1951. In the awesome Under A Hoodoo Moon, Mac Rebennack paints us this picture: "Most of the guys in the house band were the same cats who became the standard studio musicians for Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studio later on; Lee Allen on sax, Frank 'Dude' Fields on bass, and Charles 'Hungry' Williams on drums. Paul Gayten... never played a song the same way twice. One time it might be a ballad, the next time a cha-cha... There was no standard arrangement... they didn't look at no music like it was sacred. They just f#*ked with it, and that was so hip to me."

In late 1952, Regal went belly up, and sold Gayten's contract (along with Darnell's and Laurie's) to Columbia Records, who placed them on their Okeh R&B subsidiary. Due to what Gayten saw as a lack of promotion, none of them would chart for the label. This period, however, produced some of Gayten's most influental work, like the smokin' song that got us all going here, It Ain't Nothing Happening. Small wonder it sounded like the J&M Studio band, because it was, even before it existed as such. I believe that's Gayten himself handling the vocals. Killer stuff!

Cow Cow Blues

A guy who was hanging around the Brass Rail at the same time was the young Ray Charles Robinson, who was then living at the Foster Hotel. I'm not sure if Ahmet Ertegun knew it, but when he wrote the words for Brother Ray's Mess Around in May of 1953 (and took the composer's credit as A. Nugetre) the music Charles came up with was an almost note-for-note transcription of Gayten's Cow-Cow Blues, which had been released on Okeh 6982 the year before. Incredible.

In late 1953, Gayten was approached by Leonard Chess, who offered him a position as their southern A&R man, talent scout, and producer, as well as picking up his contract as a recording artist. In addition to his own great records like You Better Believe It and Yo-Yo Walk, Paul was the man behind all time classics like Ain't Got No Home and But I Do by Clarence 'Frogman' Henry, and Bobby Charles' Later Alligator. As his presence at the label increased, he would become involved with folks like Chuck Berry (playing the piano on Carol) and Etta James (co-writing My Dearest Darling for her with Eddie Bo).

Gayten would take Nervous Boogie and Windy into the Pop Hot 100 for Chess' Argo subsidiary in the late fifties, although neither record hit the R&B charts. In 1959, he recorded The Hunch for Billy Davis' Anna label (which was being distributed by Chess), and it climbed to #68. When Chess decided to open an office on the west coast, they put Paul in charge, and he moved out to Los Angeles in 1960.

After Leonard Chess died in early 1969, Gayten started up his own label, Pzazz, and recorded everything from his contemporary Louis Jordan to the funky organ grooves of Warm Excursion. The records didn't sell much, and he folded the label after a couple of years. Thanks to his good friend Billy Vera, Paul got to see some of his Chess and Regal sides re-issued before his death in 1991.

Truly a giant of R&B, this is a man who doesn't get nearly enough credit... I mean, consider this contest. I had no idea that was him...

Anyway, this year's valuable prizes include a J&M Studio T-Shirt (which benefits the New Orleans Musicians Clinic) and an assortment of genuine vinyl obscurities like the Sonny & The Pacers 45 I bought from Sonny Burgess at the Stomp. I'll get all of that out to you as soon as possible, Jeremy... thanks for playing!



Blogger J Epstein said...

Paul Gayten "It Ain't Nothing Happening"
available on The Okeh Rhythm & Blues Story.

6:55 AM  
Blogger J Epstein said...

Sorry - I was in a rush to be first - the label is Okeh, and the release date must be between 1949 - 1957 because that's the scope of that compilation.

I heard a trial snippet of the song at this site and it's definitely the right track:

6:58 AM  
Blogger J Epstein said...


Paul Gayten, May 1953, Okeh #6972 "Time Is A-Passing"/"It Ain't Nothing Happening"

according to:

7:11 AM  
Blogger Jer.Eps said...

Still wearing the T-Shirt, Red! Thanks again!

4:03 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Still wearing mine too... I'll be packing it for The Stomp in October for sure!

9:39 AM  

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