Earl Gaines is a kind of hard-luck case as a recording artist. His biggest hit, far and away, was "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)." But that record wasn't credited to him, as it was the work of Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, the group with which he was singing lead, and he was never able to duplicate its impact. Gaines was born August 19, 1935, in Decatur, AL, and early in life was singing in church. He left home at age 16 and headed for Nashville, hoping for a career as a blues singer. In order to survive, he also cultivated further musical skills as a drummer.
His first professional work was cutting demos for songwriter and impresario Ted Jarrett, who got him work in the city's clubs. With Jarrett's help, he met Louis Brooks, who was then leading the group the Hi-Toppers as an instrumental outfit, recording for the Excello label. Gaines joined them as a singer and sometimes a percussionist, and their first recording was the Jarrett-authored "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," which rose to number two on the R&B charts nationally in 1955. It not only became the group's claim to fame, but was the record that gave Excello a national profile for the first time. Both Gaines and the label were tempted to try and spin him off into a career of his own, and he was more than willing. The Hi-Toppers were content to remain a local act rather than concertize nationally and build on what that record had done. Gaines became part of the package tour called the 1955 R&B Caravan of Stars after its Nashville engagements, a gig that eventually took him to New York's Carnegie Hall for their final show.
Gaines and Excello tried without avail three times over the next two years to repeat the success of "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)" without reaching the charts. In 1957, he rejoined Jarrett, recording for the labels Champion and Poncello over the next four years, without success. In the meantime, he'd joined Bill Doggett's band as lead vocalist an worked as a session musician on the drums, appearing on numerous recordings. By 1963, he'd joined Bill "Hoss" Allen's stable of artists, through which he worked on the album Best of Luck to You, the title track of which yielded a hit single on the HBR label that put Gaines back in the spotlight again. It was also through his work for Allen that Gaines got onto syndicated television (in color, no less) on the soul showcase The !!!! Beat. He subsequently recorded record for Deluxe/King and Sound Stage 7, including "Hymn Number 5" -- originally by the Mighty Hannibal -- for the latter label.
After recording for the Ace label in 1975, however, he wasn't heard on record for another 14 years, and reportedly left the music business for at least part of this period, working as a truck driver instead. He began reviving his career in 1989 with the album House Party on Meltone Records, and by the 1990s was once again singing full-time, thanks to the efforts of Fred James, a Nashville-based producer whose affection for the classic Excello sound also resulted in the resurrection of onetime label staples including Clifford Curry and Roscoe Shelton; for Appaloosa, Gaines issued his 1995 comeback effort, I Believe in Your Love, and in 1997 he also joined Curry and Shelton for a joint live recording. Gaines continue to record and perform, and a collection of lost soul recordings was released in 2006. ~ Jason Ankeny & Bruce Eder