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4 STAR 1504; JULY 1950



If the rock ‘n’ roll market were like restaurants certain artists would be the specialty dishes of the house, the kind of expensive meals you buy to impress your date and the ones which dedicated “foodies” talk about in glowing terms.

At the other end of the street are the fast food joints where the food is technically edible but whose main appeal is the speed of service and the low cost.

That’s where you’ll find Cecil Gant flipping burgers at the drive-ins, while in the other direction Amos Milburn is serving up filet mignon and lobster at the high end joints.

In between those two extremes are the family restaurants which don’t have anything but draft beer and six or eight basic meals on the menu, but their food is reasonably priced and always come in generous portions. You might not ever be impressed by eating there, but you won’t feel ripped off or walk away hungry.

Musically speaking The Great Gates ran one of those basic meat and potatoes kind of places featuring good service and a clean dining area, no wait for a table and food.. err records… that will always stick to your ribs.


He’s Got To Rock Today
Pick a song, any song… out of the nearly one thousand we’ve reviewed so far… and you’ll probably find something in most of them that gets used here.

From the churning horns to the lyrical boasts this is almost like page one of the rock playbook for beginners. Yet the reason those tropes keep getting recycled is because they consistently deliver the goods and this is no exception.

Now The Great Gates wasn’t called “great” because of his vocal tone, which is too nasal, too thin and too indistinct to make much of an impression, but he’s at least showing great understanding of how to utilize it on Rock Me Baby by flooring the gas pedal and hanging on for the ride.

The horns that open this are, like Gates himself, lacking that extra measure of power that would’ve made this really explode but even without a strong baritone sax to hold down the bottom the other horns are grinding away with precision, cycling through their riff with energy and enthusiasm, capped by a nice freestyle performance from the tenor.

With that as a launching point it’s hard not for Gates to be caught up in the excitement and he jumps in at full speed moments later, hitting on a girl who catches his eye in a manner that isn’t crude enough to be off-putting but isn’t quite respectful enough for her to be exactly eager to take him home to meet her parents either.

Like so many guys Gates is trying to mask his own insecurities by bluffing about his social stature and his prowess in the art of love and merely hoping that his rapid fire boasts will put her back on her heels enough not to question him or ask for references.

The lines themselves are familiar for anyone who’s either listened to a lot of records… or for that matter any girl who’s been crassly propositioned on street corners before… but they’re effective in setting both the scene he’s describing as well as the tone of the song itself.

Though Rock Me Baby is obviously a pretty basic composition for the topic at hand that doesn’t mean it still isn’t enjoyable to hear and truthfully had someone with more impressive vocal gifts than Gates – say the lung-shredding power of Wynonie Harris (who undoubtedly would’ve added far more subtext to each of the lines on reputation alone) or maybe the high intensity drama of Billy Wright – the song would sparkle even more despite the paint-by-numbers approach of the lyrics.

Gates though does all he’s capable of with it and then some, selling the lines with conviction and getting you to believe he’s delusional enough to think the front he’s putting up is having a positive effect on the girl in question.

In case she’s a little harder sell than us in that regard, Gates has smartly brought along reinforcements to vouch for his character and rather shockingly the band may just convince you he’s all he claims after all.

You Know I’m Gonna Treat You Right
Much like the lyrics, the arrangement is straight from Rock Records 101, but again, as with the words, they must have a certain universal appeal to keep getting hauled out by every band seeking to keep their instruments out of hock.

No longer backed by The Rhythm Riffers who handled things for him when he was on Selective Records, whoever the replacements are they were well-equipped for the job. The horns carry the rhythmic duties here with their endless riffing behind Gates as each time he pauses they drop in with the same hook before giving way again for the next line. When they get stand alone spots they show appropriate grit and a fair amount of power even if the top stars on the tenor around the rock galaxy could shred this in volume and intensity.

The more the sax wails in its extended solo however the more we notice the guitar in the background playing a discreet little boogie riff to offset it, grounding the horn in a way that is very subtle and appealing. We’d paid scant attention to it earlier, other than a very brief turn at the end of the intro that scorched with unexpected intensity but was too far back in the mix to do more than pique your interest, but now it jumps out at you to great effect.

But surely this brief appearance was going to be the extent of its supporting role, staying well in the background, an unassuming benefactor to Rock Me Baby that added to the overall ambiance without attempting to make itself noticed.

Shows what we know, for after Gates comes back into view the saxes mostly sit out, ceding the responsorial role behind his vocal lines to the guitar which slices off notes in economical fashion and give the record some much needed sonic diversity.

Granted, none of this is virtuoso material, either the saxes or the guitar, but it’s also more than just sessionists going through the motions without any personal investment. These guys all sound not just committed to what they’re playing, but also they come across as if they’re enjoying it wholeheartedly and that goes a long way in getting you to enjoy it too.

Like To Take You Out Tonight
With his modest vocal skills The Great Gates was always going to be more like the “The Ordinary Gates” no matter how exceptional the band and the material may be, but there’s an admirable quality to someone making the best out of limited talent and being content to carve out a decent career in spite of being outclassed in most ways by those he was competing with.

But that’s true in any walk of life and like the restaurant analogy that opened this review it’s not a coincidence that places serving nourishing meals with basic ingredients are rarely empty come dinner time.

Rock Me Baby is like a well cooked steak. Maybe not the finest cut of meat, but it’s grilled right and served with spicy fries and cold beer it’s going to fill you up for sure and maybe even get you coming back for more.

In that way I feel a little stingy in not leaving a slightly bigger tip, but they definitely earned every one of these points and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this place to to anyone looking for a really good meal.


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