In his curiously personal liner notes, seventy-three year old bluesman Roy Gaines explains that he went into considerable debt making Tuxedo Blues. Borrowing against his house and car, he invested everything he had to realize his dream of crafting an old-fashioned big band blues album. Having built many lasting relationships during his decades-long career, he didn’t hesitate in calling in as many favors as he could. A small army of musicians and arrangers were assembled for Gaines’ self-produced release.
The resulting bold and brassy sound is quite a bit of fun. Of the dozen tunes that make up Tuxedo Blues, half were written or co-written by Gaines himself. Aside from an instrumental take on Rod Temperton’s “Rock With You” (originally made famous by Michael Jackson), Gaines sings every song. His crisp, clean guitar leads are all over the album. The massive horn section snakes in and out behind Gaines playing and singing, adding an agile commentary to each song.
Jazz legend Joe Sample, of The Crusaders fame, plays piano on all but two tracks. The drumming is handled efficiently by Raymond Pounds, who got his start with Stevie Wonder in the ’70s. There are too many saxophone, trumpet, and trombone players to name. Collectively they flesh out the sound, stepping forward occasionally for brief solos. Tenor sax player Wilton Felder is spotlighted on “Rock With You,” soloing effectively throughout the song.
Gaines’ guitar phrases are particularly on the money during a rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Reggae Woman (Calpyso Blues).” The orchestra breathes life into the old warhorse “Route 66,” with hyped-up horns nicely contrasting relaxed solos by Gaines and Sample. Best of all is the album closer, “Outside Lookin’ In.” This minor blues, a Gaines’ original, is distinguished by some moody vibes (and from the sound of it, uncredited flute) courtesy of Onaje Murray.
If there is a weak link to be found, it has to be Gaines’ vocals. By no means unpleasant, his laid back delivery doesn’t really change from song to song, regardless of the mood cast by the orchestra. Perhaps a few strategically placed guest vocals may have helped by adding some variety. Tuxedo Blues does, however, succeed overall in realizing Gaines’ goal of assembling a blues orchestra and pulling out all the stops. For more information about Roy Gaines, visit his official website.