Earl Gaines (August 19, 1935 – December 31, 2009) was an American rhythm & blues singer.
Born in Decatur, Alabama, he sang lead vocals on the hit single "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)", accredited to Louis Brooks and his Hi-Toppers, before undertaking a low-key solo career. In the latter capacity he had minor success with "The Best of Luck to You" (1966) and "Hymn Number 5" (1973). Noted as the best R&B singer from Nashville, Gaines was also known for his lengthy career.
After moving from his hometown in his teenage years, and relocating to Nashville, Tennessee, Gaines found employment as both a singer and occasional drummer. Via work he did for local songwriter, Ted Jarrett, Gaines moved from singing in clubs to meeting Louis Brooks. Brooks led the instrumental Hi-Toppers, who had a recording contract with the Excello label. Their subsequent joint recording, "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," peaked at #2 on the US R&B chart in 1955. It was Gaines biggest hit, but his name was not credited on the record.
Breaking away from the confines of the group, Gaines became part of the 1955 R&B Caravan of Stars, with Bo Diddley, Big Joe Turner, and Etta James. Their tour culminated with an appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall. Without any tangible success, Gaines recorded for the Champion and Poncello labels for another few years, as well as joining Bill Doggett's band as lead vocalist. In 1963, he joined Bill "Hoss" Allen's repertoire of artists, and by 1966 had issued the album, The Best of Luck to You, seeing the title track reach the Top 40 in the US R&B chart. He appeared on the television program The !!!! Beat, and later released material for King and Sound Stage 7, including his cover version of "Hymn Number 5". Recordings made between 1967 and 1973 for De Luxe were reissued in 1998. On many of his De Luxe recordings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gaines was backed by Freddy Robinson's orchestra.
In 1975, Gaines recorded "Drowning On Dry Land" for Ace, before leaving the music industry for almost a decade and a half, to work as a truck driver. He finally re-emerged in 1989 with the album House Party.
In the 1990s Gaines worked with Roscoe Shelton and Clifford Curry. On Appaloosa Records, Gaines issued I Believe in Your Love (1995), and in 1997 he reunited with Curry and Shelton for a collaborative live album. He released Everything’s Gonna Be Alright in 1998. Gaines work was on the 2005 Grammy Award winning Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945–1970, an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. His own albums The Different Feelings of Blues and Soul (2005) and Nothin’ But the Blues (2008) followed, the latter released on the Ecko label.
In late 2009 Gaines had to cancel a concert tour of Europe due to ill health, and he died in Nashville on the last day of that year, at the age of 74.
He is not to be confused with Steven Earl Gaines, a fellow American musician.
Earl Gaines was amongst the first generation of chitlin circuit R&B road warriors, finding success in 1955 as a solo singer on the Excello label and with Bill Doggett's band, while doing dual duty as a busy session drummer. By the mid 1960's was an associate of producer Bill “Hoss” Allen and a regular performer on Allen's legendary "The !!! Beat" television variety show. He maintained a prolific recording schedule, despite moving from label to label through the early 70's. Gaines worked as a long haul truck driver during his musically lean years but by the early 1990s made a comeback in earnest, recording outstanding records throughout the decade for Appaloosa, Black Top,Magnum and Cannonball Records, both under his own name and as “The Excello Legends” with Roscoe Shelton.
Earl Gaines first got started in music singing demo recordings for Nashville songwriter Ted Jarrett and this led to a gig as singer, and sometimes drummer, with Louis Brooks and The Hi-Toppers in the mid 1950s. Their first effort was the Jarrett penned “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)” on Excello Records. The song was a smash hit in 1955, going to #2 on the R&B charts and Earl took this opportunity to go solo, joining the “1955 R&B Caravan Of Stars” when it came through Nashville. Earl's star trip slowed after he put out three more singles on Excello Records under his own name, but none were hits.
In 1957, Earl hooked back up with Ted Jarrett and recorded four singles for his Champion and Poncello labels between 1957 and 1961. Again, no hits were forthcoming, but Earl kept busy on the road, most notably as vocalist with Bill Doggett’s band. He also stayed busy as a session drummer. He played on the classic “Baby Let’s Play House” by Arthur Gunther and did sessions with Tom “ Shy Guy” Douglas, Christine Kittrell, The Skylarks and many Gospel sessions at Nashboro Records. He did a remake of “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)” for Excello in 1962 before entering into a management/production deal with Bill “Hoss” Allen in 1965.
Together with Hoss Allen, they recorded the classic “Best Of Luck To You” LP (wrongly credited to Earl Gains) in late 1965/early 1966. The album, featuring Johnny Jones & The Imperial Seven and Frank Howard & The Commanders, was released by HBR Records in 1966. The title tune was a hit (#28 R&B) and was a real boost to Earl’s career. The entire unit became the musical backbone of Allen’s syndicated television show "The !!! Beat". In addition to performing on the program, Earl also drove Mr. Allen to and from Dallas each week. HBR was a short-lived label and Hoss took Earl and several of his other artists to Hollywood/Deluxe Records in 1967.
Earl recorded prolifically for the label through 1972. In 1973, Earl signed with Sound Stage 7 Records and had a few minor hits, including a cover of The Mighty Hannibal’s “Hymn Number 5”. He did one single for Johnny Vincent’s Ace label in 1975, and didn’t resurface until 1989 with the “House Party” LP on Meltone Records. It seems he had been working as a long haul truck driver during the lean years of the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1990s he made a comeback in earnest, recording outstanding records throughout the decade for Appaloosa, Magnum, Black Top and Cannonball Records, both under his own name and as “The Excello Legends” with Roscoe Shelton. In recent years he has been recording again with Ted Jarrett, though nothing so far has been released.
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