The world lost not only a great blues and gospel singer in May 2004, but a truly charismatic, larger than life figure when Arnold "Gatemouth" Moore passed in Yazoo City, Mississippi at the age of 90. Gatemouth summed up his talents as a blues singer this way: "I am one of the ultra-men blues singers. I am not accustomed and don't know nothing about that gut-belly stuff in the joints…I put on tuxedos, dressed up, sang intelligent…Without a doubt, and I'm not being facetious, I'm the best blues singer in the business with that singing voice. Now I can't wiggle and I can't dance, but telling a story, I don't think them other boys are in my class." Often labeled a blues shouter,with his perfect diction and huge, mellow, enveloping voice he was more accurately a blues crooner of the highest order. His heyday as a blues career was short lived, cutting a couple of dozen sides between 1945 and 1947 that saw release on Gilmore's Chez Paree, Savoy, National with his final records cut for King at the very end of 1947. His most famous number was the immortal "Did You Ever Love A Woman" although his output was consistently high cutting should-have been-classics like "I Ain't Mad at You Pretty Baby", "Walking My Blues Away", "They Can't Do This to You", "Highway 61 Blues" backed by swinging big bands featuring top flight jazz musicians such as Budd Johnson, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Tiny Grimes, and John Hardee. His blues career came to a close in 1949 when he had a religious conversion on stage at Chicago's Club DeLisa. After walking off stage he eventually became a preacher, gospel disc jockey and gospel recording artist.
Inexplicably in 1977 he stepped back briefly into the world of blues cutting Great Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7, an exceptional album despite it's generic title. The album was produced by Johnny Otis and issued on the Blues Spectrum label. According to the notes: "Three years ago in Los Angles, Moore startled his longtime buddy, Johnny Otis, by announcing his intention to record some of his old blues. 'You can't do that, Gate, you're a minister,' Johnny protested. 'Yes, I can, ' Moore countered, 'I'm not going to be a blues singer again but it is part of my heritage and I want you to produce it.'" On the surface this is an easy album to overlook; firstly it's not available on CD, there's that generic title and a program of remakes of older material. Yet Gatemouth was in dynamic, inspired form, backed by spirited support from Johnny Otis and his son Shuggie.
Good old fashioned blues singing, the ability to really sell a song, to tell a compelling story to your audience don't seem to be the attributes favored by white fans who value instrumental prowess and equate sophistication with commercialism. Gatemouth puts on a clinic of good old fashioned blues singing on this album, refashioning his old material and delivering some fine new compositions. The album kicks off with the chugging"I Ain't Mad At You, Pretty Baby" sung with gusto. The number was first cut in 1945 and based on a real life incident as Gatemouth recalled: "I was in Washington D.C. when I wrote that one. A woman had just taken her shoe off and busted her old man across the head with it. As the cop car came to take her away, the guy ran up behind it, blood still running from his forehead, yelling 'I ain't mad at you, baby'." Gatemouth tells the following story regarding "Did You Ever Love A Woman" which he also remakes on this album: "Well, my wife wasn't home when I came back to Memphis from a trip, so I went down on Beale Street to look for her. A fellow said, 'Yeah, she’s upstairs.' I'm mad now. The band leader saw me. 'Sing something, Gate,' he said. I was looking for my wife, and I told him to turn up all the lights. I shouted out singing: 'My wife is here with another man/and I swear we’re going to fight.' That song came from me looking for Willa Mae. She got outta there too." Many have covered this song but no one sang it better than Gatemouth and here he delivers a vigorous, impassioned remake that has all the power of the original cut thirty tears previously. Those famous lines still resonate: "Did you ever love a woman/And love her with all your might/When all the time you knew she wasn't treating you right." Backed by Johnny Otis' sparkling vibes, "My Mother Thinks I'm Something" is a marvelous update of "Something I'm Gonna Be" originally cut for King in 1947. It's another great story song:
My mother thought I was something
You know folks something I gotta be
I tried so hard to make fame, so I could let my dear mother see
I tried so hard to make fame, so I could let dear Georgia see
See my mother thinks I'm something, and I declare something I gotta be
"Gate's Christmas Blues" is a silky remake of of his 1946 number "Christmas Blues" again featuring terrific vibes from Otis. 1945's "It Ain't None of Me" is remade in glorious fashion as "Somebody Got To Go" as Gatemouth bellows out the blues with that great opening line : "Say Mr. Jones, turn up all them lights/My baby's in the house with another man and I swear we gonna a fight." Newer material includes the deeply soulful blues of "Everybody Has Their Turn" which has more updated sound, the rocking "Boogie Woogie Papa" (I wonder what the congregation thought about this one?!) and a gorgeous interpretation of "Goin' Down Slow" sporting some sympathetic guitar work from Shuggie and piano from Johnny.
The album's masterpiece is "Beale Street Ain't Beale Street No More" an impassioned six minute lament on the destruction of Gatemouth's old stomping grounds. According to the liner notes this was done off-the-cuff which would make it all the more remarkable. Like many, Gatemouth cut his teeth singing the blues at the Beale Street clubs and for almost a hundred years it was the center of black urban life in Memphis. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History: "In 1969 the city undertook urban renewal projects, including Beale Street I and Beale Street II, which erased the area's housing, demolished 474 buildings, and placed a block-wide barrier of empty lots and parking spaces between African Americans and Beale Street. This project left a thin commercial (blue light) district between Second and Fourth Avenues, where African American businesses were forced out through condemnation of buildings and high property resale prices. The Memphis Press-Scimitar (June 10, 1979) declared "Urban renewal destroyed Beale Street." This is the backdrop of Gatemouth's passionate, bitter insider's recounting of the old street as he recalls the street in better days: "My mind run back/When it was a fast track/The old Street was jumping."He nostalgically recalls now shuttered joints like the One Minute, Pee Wee's and the Palace ("where I learned to sing the blues") and to the street's characters like Robert Henry, Little Mickey, Brother Moss, Lieutenant Lee and Memphis Ma Rainey. The song slowly builds up steam to rousing finish as he sadly concludes: "Beale Street ain't Beale Street no more/My street is gone, gone to come back no more."