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Musician Helped Define Rock n’ Roll in 1950s and 60s

The music we call “Rock n’ Roll” became popular in the United States about 60 years ago. Rock n’ roll developed from two other musical traditions: Blues, and Rhythm-and-Blues.

Saxophone player Grady Gaines was one of the people who helped define rock music in its early days. He performed with such 1950s stars as Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino.

Grady Gaines has now told the story of his life, in a book called “I’ve Been Out There.”

During the early years of rock n’ roll, sax player Grady Gaines felt like he was on top of the world. He can be seen performing with Little Richard in the 1956 film “Don’t Knock the Rock.”

White teenagers loved rock n’ roll music. Their support helped break down racial barriers in the United States.

Grady Gaines says he and his fellow musicians did not fully understand the powerful effect they were having on American society. He thought they were just playing the songs they had always played, but with a few small differences.

“We didn’t know that it was going to be rock n’ roll, because we all thought we were doing rhythm-and-blues.”

Mr. Gaines says Little Richard should be recognized for what happened.

“He actually is the first one who created the rock n’ roll stuff, Richard, Little Richard is. He had funny jokes to tell. He always had something exciting to make you laugh. To be around him, your whole spirit just lifts because he was that type of guy.”

Just as he became the most famous rock n’ roll star in the country, Little Richard left the music business to become a clergyman. Grady Gaines then began to play for singer Sam Cooke.

“If I played with Sam Cooke, it would be mellow and I tried to make my band sound Sam Cooke-style.”

Mr. Gaines played with many of the most-popular singers of the early rock n’ roll period. He then returned to his home in Houston, Texas, where he continues to perform with his own band.

Rod Evans helped Grady Gaines write his autobiography.

“I went to Grady’s house and I just sat down with a tape recorder and after researching his life (I) came up with a bunch of questions to ask him about different segments of his life.”

Mr. Gaines says he worked hard to remember the events of his life.

“I tried to tell ‘em all in that book (as) much as I could, much as I could remember, and every time I read that book it’s just like me re-living my life over again.”

Rod Evans says he is sorry he was not able to talk with Little Richard about the book.

Initially, we, I thought I was gonna to be able to get him into the book and talk to him about bringing Grady into his band, but his health just declined to the point that he just really wasn’t up to doing it.”

Grady Gaines is now 81 years old. He continues to play the saxophone, mostly for private parties. People continue to enjoy seeing and listening to one of the musicians who helped create rock n’ roll.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Greg Flakus reported this story from Houston. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

stuff – n. (informal) a word that is used to speak in a general way about something that is talked about or written about

mellow – adj. very calm and relaxed

style – n. a particular form or design of something

autobiography – n. a biography written by the person it is about

bunch – n. (informal) a large amount, a lot

segment – n. one of the parts into which something can be divided

initially – adv. occurring at the beginning of something

up to doing it – idiom feeling strong enough or healthy enough to engage in an activity

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