Bill Gaither had all the right connections for an aspiring bluesman during the 1930s, including a Decca recording contract and personal friendships with Leroy Carr, Big Bill Broonzy, Jazz Gillum, and Tampa Red. Yet Gaither has never achieved the kind of posthumous popularity that has settled upon many of his acquaintances and contemporaries. All of his known works were reissued on five CDs by Document in the '90s, with volume one containing 23 recordings dating from 1935 and 1936. A true understanding of his life and accomplishments needs to be grounded in the background and events leading up to his earliest sessions. William Arthur Gaither was born in Belmont, KY on April 21, 1910. He was descended from African American slaves owned by the Gaither family, after whom Gaithersburg, MD was named. During the 1780s, Gaither's ancestors were brought to Bullitt County, a region south of Louisville, KY. After the Civil War they remained in the area and specialized in tobacco cultivation. William's parents were named Samuel Gaither and Bertha Kennison. In 1920, following their divorce, his mother took young Bill to Louisville, and it was there that he learned to play the guitar from his uncle, a mandolin handler who worked with various jug bands. Bill is known to have cut two records for a Victor field recording unit in 1931, but these were not released and have never been located. When in 1932 Gaither moved to Indianapolis, IN, he fell in with the local blues crowd and spent much of his time maneuvering around a stretch of Indiana Avenue known as Naptown; this was the city's epicenter of African American musical activity. Soon after returning to Louisville in 1934, Gaither began appearing in clubs with various groups under his direction, providing entertainment for both black and white audiences. It was a successful time for Gaither, and he became famous throughout Louisville. The following year, this restless individual returned to Indianapolis. During a visit to Chicago he cut his first records for the Decca label on December 15, 1935, singing and strumming the guitar in duo with an excellent piano player by the name of Honey Hill. Within the framework of the 8- and 12-bar blues, Gaither had a tendency to vary the structure of his songs, more so than some of his contemporaries like Peetie Wheatstraw or Bumble Bee Slim. Most of Gaither's songs describe interpersonal relationships, with lyrics that emphasize his bittersweet attitudes about women. Leroy Carr was a major influence that Gaither proudly emphasized by having himself billed as Leroy's Buddy. Beginning in October 1936, the instrumentation was expanded to include an unidentified string bassist and an unnamed individual who operated a pair of spoons as implements of percussion. On "Who's Been Here Since I Been Gone," Hill switches from piano to the gentle celeste, and the tune is recognizable as "Organ Grinder Swing," a whimsical air popularized by the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.
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