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OKEH 6870; MARCH 1952



We’re getting to the point where certain talented artists who were vital in rock’s early growth are finding their versatility to be a detriment rather than a benefit, at least when it comes to building a consistent audience for their work.

Few figures covered as broad a ground as Paul Gayten did. His résumé touted plenty of experience as a singer, pianist, bandleader, songwriter, talent scout, arranger and producer, but even beyond those individual skills he had no shortage of stylistic avenues he was comfortable pursuing to put them to use in.

He could croon pop songs, he could play straight jazz or avant garde, he could reasonably delve into cocktail blues and he could flat out rock if he wanted to.

But the one thing he couldn’t do apparently was to decide which of these things interested him most, or which of them he’d devote his career to, which is a shame because in order to firmly entrench himself on the charts record buyers and jukebox denizens tend to like to know just what kind of record they’re going to get before handing their money over.


I Know How Much She’s Missed Me Since I’ve Been Away
We’re well past the compact disc era in music (though apparently they’re still being manufactured), and while unlimited streaming may be good for people’s budgets and help in keeping their homes and cars free of clutter, the one thing it’s not good for is shining a light on shamefully forgotten artists of the ancient past, particularly from the singles era, who needed remastered career spanning collections to make their work available again.

There are a few skimpy Paul Gayten discs that got released years ago, but the track listings for them show they only skim the surface and don’t provide anywhere near an in depth survey of his career.

This is where an Ace Records of Great Britain would’ve stepped in (though they too are still putting out CD’s… leading to the question of who buys these things anymore?) and collected Gayten’s vast DeLuxe, Regal, OKeh and Chess/Checker catalogs spanning a dozen or more years (and at least that many styles of music) and let us see for ourselves just how all over the place he was during his tenure as an artist.

Since we’re likely never to get that chance you can still get some idea of how wide his musical interests lay simply by taking a gander at both sides of this one release. Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Love is a weird pop jazz hybrid from twenty years earlier that finds Gayten singing in exhibitionist fashion, letting his voice soar far beyond what is recommended for someone without the power or strong tone necessary to handle such a burden. That the song is as silly as the title doesn’t help matters any and the idea that anybody would think it was commercial in 1952 was naively optimistic, if not out and out delusional.

For the flip however he envisions Happy Days in his future, which makes a little more sense if he’s going to stick to rock ‘n’ roll which is the market he’s going to have to attract if he wants to remain a headlining act.

But considering how often he’s let us down in the past by looking elsewhere, or shortchanging even efforts like these by adding elements from other styles, we may have reached the point where his diversity, always a good attribute to have in every day life, has finally killed his chances for a hitmaking career.

Gonna Draw A Crowd
Around here we tend not to give up on artists completely until the last shovelful of dirt has been tossed on their coffin, so Paul Gayten’s work is still going to be covered obviously, but whereas once it was looked forward to with a fair degree of optimism, now it’s being approached more tentatively, like you would a bear digging through your cooler at a campground.

Gayten’s not likely to maul you with his music, but at least he does get around to growling quite a bit here and showing off his teeth and claws for a change.

Starting off with horns that are way too uptown to convince us this is going to be anything different than usual, Gayten’s arrival starts to change our mind… slowly maybe, but surely, especially once he begins to pick up the tempo and adding more rhythm into his vocals, spitting out words with a funky undercurrent to them.

The song itself is standard fare romantic bliss as he’s spouting off to anyone within earshot how satisfied he is about his lady, but at least his enthusiasm is genuine and the horns pick up on that, alternately delivering quick bursts of sound that punctuate his joy and then letting their lines slide with satisfaction in the chorus giving Happy Days a brighter catchier feel.

With a discreetly popping bass behind him, Gayten’s leaning harder into his New Orleans roots, constantly stirring the pot, raising the energy and yet not letting it boil over… until the sax solo that is, which is where this sets itself apart from his attempts at jazzier motifs.

This too starts off rather controlled, content to keep things moving with a strained tone that suggests a lot more effort than is really being exerted, but by the midway point the shackles come off and is played with a blowtorch effect that will scorch your eyebrows if you get too close.

Gayten jumps back in behind the wheel get things back under control and get us home in one piece, but in the course of two minutes or so he shows that he hasn’t forsaken us after all and proves that if he ever gets focused enough – or smart enough – and concentrated on providing even more intense rock performances he might even have it in him to make one last stab at fame and glory.

This alone won’t do it by any means, but in terms of at least keeping his hat in the ring this will suffice for now.

When I Come Home To Stay
The funny thing about so many of these artists with broad horizons is that while their ability to effectively play more “respectable” music, be it jazz or pop, appeared to give them far more options in the late 1940’s and early ‘50’s, the changing market and the eventual dominance of rock ‘n’ roll meant that guys like Paul Gayten – if they wanted to remain employed – were destined to be stuck doing it exclusively whether they liked it or not.

Unfortunately for him and a lot of others, by the time this became apparent their own chance for stardom had passed them by… it was a young man’s game after all… and so Gayten, along with a number of musicians without his writing or producing skills, would wind up working for record companies behind the scenes, churning out the kind of rockers left and right that they long resisted in their own careers.

As his own prospects begin to fade however, Happy Days is a solid enough reminder to keep him on the roster awhile longer even though he’s lost his starting position long ago by barnstorming in too many other leagues.

In one way that wandering eye when it came to his musical pursuits might’ve made for a more interesting life’s work. He didn’t have to keep repeating himself in a narrower genre, wasn’t as reliant on seeing his lifestyle grind to a halt if the hits stopped coming in and he didn’t have to have sleepless nights worrying about the next big thing making him suddenly seem irrelevant.

Along the way he could scratch whatever creative itch was bugging him and, as long as he didn’t become dead weight commercially, he was more or less left alone to do his thing as he saw fit.

Maybe that IS the recipe for a happy day and a happy life, but when those days are over that approach doesn’t always make for an enduring legacy.


(Visit the Artist page of Paul Gayten for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)