Woe Ain’t Me – Reflections of a Florida Blues Man

2013-03-15 21.32.27Joey Gilmore is a blues man, but not the kind that brings you down.

Whether as a response to discrimination, poverty, injustice, or simply a lost love, traditional blues music has forever been synonymous with melancholy and human misery. You’d think that blues singers were the same; always feeling, well…, blue. If so, then Joey Gilmore is the light that cracks through that stereotype.

See the thing about blues, well, you know that’s what R&B means, rhythm and blues. It’s blues with rhythm to where you can dance.

There was such a stigma about the blues [back in the day]. Blues was mostly considered music for poor people; poor, black and ignorant…

The sad part is that people miss out on so much about the blues because there’s such a terrible misconception about it.

Blues is great music, man.

Gilmore, 68, plays blues with an upbeat. He uses guitar progressions and rhythms that make you feel good, even if [he] used to wake up every morning, to get to work by nine, but then [he] lost his job and now [he] can’t even borrow a dime.

Gilmore was born in Ocala, Florida. By the time he was 5 years old, he was an orphan.  His mother passed away and his father ran off, leaving him and 7 brothers and sisters behind. The children moved in with whoever would take them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. Young Joey found solace in music.

I started banging around on tin cans, buckets and barrels and stuff. Whatever I could find a beat on.

He taught himself well enough that he was invited to join the high school band at Lincoln Park High as a drum major. Gilmore also taught himself guitar and started his own band at 14. One afternoon, the band was invited to play a gig at the opening of a gas station in Mascotte, FL.  The year was 1959, and small Florida towns like Mascotte were deep into segregation, much like the rest of the south. Gilmore’s band proved to be quite popular at the event. People were dancing, mingling, integrating. And then, from a distance, Gilmore saw a truck. As it approached, he could make out the passenger. It was Fred Thomas, then Mascotte’s mayor and chief of police.

He came stormin’ in… while the party is going on. Rolled in with his foot dragging out the door. The car didn’t hardly stop long enough.  In those days they had one of those big long whip antennas and the dirt road wasn’t paved like they are now and he come in with a cloud of dust behind ‘em and the whip antennae just going back and forth…He jumped out the car and came over and said, I ain’t gonna have it, I ain’t gonna have it, I ain’t gonna have these nee-gees and white folk mixing in my town.

He broke the party up and everybody had to go home.

It was funny. 

To others, the memory might have had a lasting emotional effect. But to Gilmore, it plays like a comedy. He goes on to say it was no big deal, we got through it. ‘It’ being the ‘it’ that segregated people by the complexion of their skin, the period when whites and blacks stood at diametrically opposite ends of the social ladder. And Gilmore’s reaction, some 50 years later? It was no big deal.

For the most part…, blacks and whites got along better [back then] than they do today.

That’s how Joey Gilmore carries himself.  He doesn’t let things make him blue.

And in return, the universe seems to bestow goodness onto him.

In 1962, after graduating from Lincoln Park High, Gilmore was looking for a proper reason to leave his hometown of Groveland (FL).  One day, Gilmore received a phone call that would change the course of his life. It came from his brother-in-law who lived in Miami. The call went something like this: Hey Joey, Frank William’s band is looking for a guitarist. Do you want to come down here?

Soon after, he was on a Greyhound bus, one-way ticket stub in hand. Gilmore arrived in Miami on a Sunday. By the following Wednesday, he was performing at Cafe Society in Overtown with Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, one of Miami’s most popular R&B bands of the 1960s. But the progression from Groveland to the Cafe Society stage wasn’t so linear.

After meeting Frank Williams that Sunday, Gilmore learned that the band was actually looking for a bass guitarist, not a lead guitarist. They told him he had three days to learn how to play it.  Gilmore got to work.

They had a dressing room upstairs over the stage. That’s where I would go, every day, day and night, and practice on bass.

It turned out Gilmore was no stranger to the bass guitar.

When I was at home, I used to get on my back porch, turn my record player on, get me a stack of records and I would take my amplifier and I’d turn all the treble off the amplifier, nothing but bass. Just turn the bass wide open and turn the volume up high so I can get that punchy sound. And I’d take my guitar and tune the strings down…and I would sit down with the record player and play the bass line on every song.

The Wednesday night performance at the nightclub went smoothly and launched Gilmore’s professional career, one that would figure prominently in Miami’s surging inner city nightclub scene of the 60s and 70s.

Frank Williams & the Rocketeers. Gilmore is second from left.

Frank Williams & the Rocketeers. Gilmore is second from left.

Gilmore played bass guitar with the Rocketeers for two consecutive years until 1964 when he joined the Army. When he returned after a two-year stint, Frank Williams had found a replacement, bringing in Arkansas-native guitar virtuoso, Willie (Little Beaver) Hale. No worries. Frank Williams formed a new band for Gilmore and named them The Rocketeers No. 2.  And this would be Gilmore’s band. He would play lead guitar and often handle lead vocals.  The Rocketeers No. 2 performed at popular nightclubs in Overtown and Liberty City, among them, Double Decker Lounge, Mister James Club, and the Continental Club. This went on for a few years.

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Then in January 1971, The Big Break: R-1550594-1227729210

Gilmore cut his first ever record as lead. The song was written by Little Beaver and titled, Somebody Done Took My Baby And Gone. It was issued on Frank William’s independent label, SAADIA RECORDS, which was named after one of his twin daughters.

The record was then reissued two months later by the Philadelphia soul label, PHIL-LA-OF SOUL, one of the major soul labels of that time.

It was a national hit record. It was in the top 10 on every soul radio station in the country.[1]

I ask him to tell me about that experience.

Sad to say it but I was green as grass. I didn’t know anything about the business end of it so consequently I never got a dime from none of it.

But I had popularity as far as going to different towns and playing. I had radio play all over the place. I would go to places and it was like wow, this is superstar. But I didn’t know it. I thought I was a band player.

When he says he was green as grass, he means it. Joey Gilmore got ripped off by concert promoters over and over again. He didn’t have a manager to help him with those things. He says all he knew how to do was put a band together and play music.

But Gilmore doesn’t dwell on it, and we move on.  gilmore45

In 1976, Gilmore signed with the Henry Stone label, BLUE CANDLE, a division of TK Records. He released a few singles and a self-titled (Joey Gilmore) funk album.

He rode that wave for a few years.

Musicians thrive on the whims of the public but that can be risky because things might be roaring today and tomorrow it’s different. That’s the way the music world is, constantly up and down.

Gilmore then turned to blues music.  In 1989, he released So Good To Be Bad, a blues album in the style of his hero, B.B. King. The record landed him gigs overseas, including a 12-week tour in Switzerland.

Since then, Gilmore has recorded four additional blues album, the last two titled The Ghosts of Mississippi Meet the Gods of albumsAfrica (2006) and Bluesman (2008), both to critical acclaim. A few years ago, he won the prestigious International Blues Challenge awarded by The Blues Foundation of Memphis, TN. These days, he’s still going strong. This summer he’s booked to play blues festivals in Austria, Italy, and Germany. You may occasionally get a glimpse of the man performing at the Sunday Jazz Brunch in Fort Lauderdale. And when you listen to Joey Gilmore play the blues, don’t expect melancholy.  Not from him.

Everybody has stories and you want to spend time whining about yours? [No way.] I could be down in the dumps and I turn on the TV or go out and talk to people and man, if you listen for awhile, you say, I ain’t got no problems. Homeless people… and people who don’t have jobs.

Every day I wake up on the green side of the earth is a blessing to me.

I don’t let anything get me down.

… even if somebody done took his baby and gone.  Here is Gilmore’s 1971 hit song:

_______________________________________________

Footnote:

[1] I checked the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits, an anthology that covers the period 1942-2004. While Gilmore’s song Somebody Done Took My Baby and Gone does not appear to have cracked the Hot R&B chart in 1971, a reflection more of the times, in the 1940s, there were 2 similarly titled songs that did garner a mention: Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door (Louis Jordan, 1945) and Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red (Eddie Vinson, 1949).

Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami

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