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One hit early in your career, particularly if it’s something of a fluke, is a hard thing to deal with artistically. Going forward do you try and artificially replicate something that was a unique performance, or do head off in another direction with no evidence that it will have any appeal.

While the success you enjoyed will likely get you more opportunities to record, thereby extending your career and giving you the chance to possibly score again, it also might give record companies an unrealistic expectation on their return.

Of course if worst comes to worst you can always cut records for the biggest thief in Los Angeles who simply needs product to hawk and is not even going to pretend to pay you a cent for your efforts.


Don’t Need A Dime
In some cases, if asked our opinion, we’d tell ambitious artists to avoid John Dolphin and his recording shenanigans at all costs.

This was the entrepenuer who owned the truly ahead of its time record store, Dolphin’s Of Hollywood on the corner of Vernon and Central in Los Angeles that was open all night and had a disc jockey broadcasting live on the radio from the store window. It was an innovative idea and naturally became a gathering place for kids to hang out – at least until the racist police department hassled them for the integration taking place there.

Anyway, with all of those musically inclined kids congregating around his store, Dolphin started a record label Recorded in Hollywood in which he’d have local aspiring artists cut songs in the back room, often telling them it was just a “demo”. Then he’d press it, play it over the air and sell it without the artist even being aware of it and certainly not getting paid for any of it.

The good news, if you want to call it that, was there were no contracts involved so while you’d have your compositions stolen, you wouldn’t be bound to record for them any longer as you would if you’d signed a standard one or two year deal with a legitimate company. Because of this you could theoretically use the record as a calling card when you went to other (slightly) more reputable companies in the hopes of getting a record deal.

For someone like The Great Gates however, already 34 years old, possessor of one national hit with a vocal version of what is one of the first “black standards” in popular music, Late After Hours, he wasn’t on the way up, but more likely was on the way down. The only question being how fast a fall would it be.

While that record from 1949 would keep his name recognizable enough for another few years and enable him to get a fair share of local gigs, it stood to reason that if he could have a few more songs of his heard over the air he could boost his asking price… since as he admits he Ain’t Got No Money.

As a result this was a record that had a slightly less ambitious goal than most, as you could argue it was simply being used to peddle his wares to the community rather than to get a hit or snag a long term deal with another label.

If either of those should happen though he probably wouldn’t complain… and neither would John Dolphin for that matter.


Got Some Lovin’ And It Sure Is Fine
Though he was a capable performer, The Great Gates wasn’t exactly a tremendous singer. He sang more or less in key and could reasonably follow the melody of a song, but he certainly wasn’t bringing much more to the table. He was a slightly reedy low tenor who was lacking resonance and had a fairly thin tone. More concerning was that he clearly lacked the imagination to deliver any melodic embellishments which would’ve helped make up for his technical limitations. Even such relatively simple changes as holding notes for dramatic effect seemed out of his grasp.

Consequently his role in Ain’t Got No Money is very basic… convey the story, provide the requisite mood or energy it calls for and then get the hell out of the way and let the band pick up the slack.

The problem is that the story he’s saddled with has such a limited perspective that it reads like a blurb on the back cover of a cheap paperback… he’s broke, his girl is not and he’s living it up with her which indicates that despite his lack of funds she’s more than satisfied with his other attributes, whatever they may be.

It’s a plot outline that’s ripe for juicy details. A Wynonie Harris would surely let us know how he’s satisfying her carnal needs to compensate for his empty wallet, while Roy Brown might be getting across the same basic information as Harris would but in a far different manner, probably expressing ecstatic joy that he’s found someone like this.

But Gates is just delivering it in a rather matter-of-fact manner. The television program Dragnet was just a few months old when this record came out and it’s almost as if he took his “just the facts, ma’am” approach from Joe Friday. He may get a little more enthused down the stretch but there’s absolutely no interesting information to be found in the repetitive lyrics and no wild joy in his delivery.

For that we turn to the band, particularly Marvin Phillips on sax who rips off a frantic solo that hits all the right spots. At one point Gates cries out “Blow Jay Blow” indicating it could be Big Jay McNeely sitting in – and who Phillips was working with at the time – but other sources say it was more of a spoof to reference him that way, though Gates isn’t saying this with an irrepressible grin on his face so your interpretation may vary.

Whoever it is sounds good though, playing with a strong robust tone and the right hang-on-for-dear-life attitude. Meanwhile Earl Brown’s drums are thumping away as handclaps help propel it along even more, all of which makes you wish that The Great Gates himself was more unhinged during his spots.

But we know you can’t have everything you want in life or in music, especially with artists who even at their best are just competent, so we’ll take what we can get and be happy that it delivers the goods in other ways.


Blow Man, Blow
As with so many records from this era that didn’t chart, most of our questions regarding its success or failure can’t be answered.

Did John Dolphin sell a bundle by having Hunter Hancock plug it incessantly on the radio? Or did he struggle to even make back the printing costs for having it pressed in the first place?

As for the artist, did The Great Gates get enough work out of it where he didn’t have to keep telling us that he Ain’t Got No Money, or was this yet another bet on himself that didn’t quite pay off?

Chances are it was somewhere in the middle… not enough of a success to stand out, but not completely incidental when it came to sustaining his career as a reliable local act around Los Angeles.

No, he wasn’t going to be a national star, we know that by now just as well as he surely does. But that doesn’t mean he’s irrelevant either and like the armed forces the strength of any musical genre isn’t only found in its Generals, but in its foot soldiers and this record shows that on the rock battlefield The Great Gates was still firing away admirably from the front lines.


(Visit the Artist page of The Great Gates for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)