Guitarist Roy Gaines was sharing stages with fellow Texans T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown in the early 50s, when he was still in his teens; after a road stint with drummer and vocalist Roy Milton, he joined the revue of popular R & B singer Chuck Willis--that's his guitar on Willis's hits "CC Rider" and "It's Too Late." Gaines later toured with Ray Charles and Diana Ross, among others, and the singles he cut in the late 50s and 60s (most notably the instrumental "Gainesville," released on DeLuxe in 1957) are now considered classics by collectors. But despite this impressive resume--and despite the critical acclaim showered on two of his recent albums, 1998's Bluesman for Life (JSP) and last year's New Frontier Lover (Severn)--he's still woefully underappreciated. Bluesman for Life is a tasteful pastiche of supple T-Bone-style string manipulation, jump 'n' jive rhythms, and juke-joint aggression, with an occasional outburst of raw funk. New Frontier Lover covers a little more ground: "What's the Reason" is loping, playful New Orleans-style R & B, anchored by Gaines's slow-burning leads; on "The World's Biggest Fool" (written by Hank Williams's widow, Audrey, and recast by Gaines into what he calls "a blues format"), a fusion of country sentimentality and hipster cool, Gaines's sparse, articulate guitar work begins by mimicking desolate weeping and swells into full-bodied sobs. But his vocals on the funk-driven title tune sound forced, and a class act like Gaines can't sound convincing, or even comfortable, delivering its crude innuendos ("All you pioneer womens, board my sweet rocket / Here's a plug--plug up your socket"). Thankfully, onstage he tends to stick to elegant straight-ahead blues, imbued with his hard-won artistry--he doesn't have much to show for it, at least as far as record sales go, but all his years in music have been time well spent. Friday, July 6, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. Gaines also plays Thursday, July 5, at 10 PM on the House of Blues Back Porch Stage, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-423-2000 or 312-527-2583.


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