Cecil Gant : The Forgotten Pioneer ©1999JCMarion


Cecil Gant jumped into the R & B world's consciousness during a war bond rally in downtown Los Angeles in 1944. The 29 year old pianist / singer made a great impression on many in the audience that day and so he was soon in a makeshift recording studio for the small independent Gilt Edge label. The first record released was "I Wonder" / "Cecil's Boogie" on Gilt Edge #501 billed as "The G.I. Sing-sation". Using hidden neighborhood pressing plants and black market supplies of shellac, the record got out on the streets and sold. The side sold in a big way, and so big that this was the record heard around the independent label world. It offered proof that a Black R & B performer on a small independent label could turn a big profit, and so the entrepreneurs cranked it up and the small indies began in earnest in Los Angeles.

Gant tried to follow up his huge success with "Wake Up Cecil Wake Up" / "Boogie Blues" on #502, "Put Another Chair At The Table" / "New Boogie" on #503, "I'll Remember You" / "Cecil's Mop Mop" on #504, "Killer Diller Boogie" / "The Grass Is Getting Greener" on #505, and "Are You Ready" / "I'm Tired" on #506, and "Cecil Knows Better" / "You're Going To Cry" on #508 through 1945 and 1946. Gant made sporadic personal appearances in the Los Angeles area during these years and he continued to try and dent the hit charts with further recordings for Gilt Edge. "Fit As A Fiddle" was #510, Gant's own personal version of "In A Little Spanish Town" on #511, "Rhumba Boogie Woogie" on #512 which got some local action for the jump instrumental in 1947. "Way Down" / "Nothing Bothers Me" on #513, "I Got A Gal" on #514, "That's The Stuff You Got To Watch" / "Make Believe Girl" on Gilt Edge #515, "I Feel It" / "Jam Jam Blues" on #516, "Solitude" on #517, and "It's A Great Life" on #518. These steady records for the little label did not make any earthshaking impressions, but kept Cecil in the scene as a good vocalist and boogie woogie piano player. "Midnight On Central Avenue" came next and was one of Cecil's best piano tunes. Unfortunately, it did not fare any better than any of the other records in the wake of his one big hit of four years before.

In 1949, Gant moved to Bronze Records in Los Angeles and then to Four Star a part of the Gilt Edge group. Gant moved back to his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, to try and get his life back together both professionally and personally. He made personal appearances at clubs in Nashville and in other areas of Tennessee and Kentucky. He recorded for two hometown labels in the late forties - Jim Bulleit's Bullet label, and Randy Woods Dot label. For Bullet he released "Nashville Jumps" on #250, "Train Time Blues" on #255, "9th Street Jive" on #258, "Cecil's Jam Session" on #289, "Rose Room" on #313 among others. Cecil then moved on to Dot which eventually purchased all the masters Gant made for Bullet. For Dot his best sides were "Waiting For My Train" on Dot #1030, and "Raining Blues" on #1069. During the last months of 1949, Downbeat and Swing Time issued sides by Gant that were also not very successful.

As the year 1950 began, Cecil Gant was again searching for the right combination that would allow him to reclaim his place in the spotlight. The continued pressure of trying to make it back to the top had also had a devastating effect on Gant. His mental state and his battle with alcoholism were other demons that he was attempting to control. He began in 1950 recording for the Imperial label and in early January they released "When You Left Me Baby" and "You'll Be Sorry" on #5066. This was followed by "Blues By Cecil" and "Come Home" on #5112. Once again there was little interest in the sides and Imperial did not renew his contract. However, he still had his name as a innovator and 4 Star had some records that were unreleased. In April a strange change of pace as Gant recorded his version of "Comin' Round The Mountain" on 4 Star #1452. This was followed in July by "I've Heard That Jive Before" on #1482 and "Can't Get You Off My Mind" on #1526. Once again sales and airplay elude Cecil Gant and 4 Star Records lets him go and Gant is surprisingly picked up and signed by Decca Records as the venerable old major tries a move into the building R & B field.

The first sessions for Decca are marked by trying something new - a change of name for Gant who is listed on the label as Gunter Lee Carr (for his main influence Leroy Carr) and his version of "Goodnight Irene" and the followup record called "We're Gonna Rock" on #48170 in July of 1950. "Rock" was not very well received when originally issued, but over the years has gained in importance as a historic early influence on the development of rock music. After that original Decca session Gant reverts back to his own name and late in the year a seasonal side is issued - "Hello Santa Claus" / "It's Christmas Time Again" on #48185. In December the next Gant release is issued on 45 rpm for the first time - "Train Time Blues" and "It Ain't Gonna Be Like That" on #48191.

In January of 1951, Gant records a version of Tennessee Ernie's country hit "Shot Gun Boogie". There are hopes that Gant's R & B version of the tune could become his long sought after hit record. Before that determination could be made, Gant succumbs to years of battling personal and professional demons, and dies on February 4th in Nashville. The cause of death is listed as pneumonia. Cecil Gant was 38 years old. After his death, "Shotgun Boogie" sells well and Dot Records re-releases "Waiting For My Train" / "Cindy Lou" on #1030. In June Decca released "Don't You Worry" / "My Little Baby" #48212, In September "Owl Blues", and the last Decca release was in late October - "The Grass Is Getting Greener" and "God Bless My Daddy" on Decca #48249. Surprisingly in the spring of 1957 Decca re-releases "I Wonder" and "Cecil's Boogie" on #30320.

Cecil Gant, the "G.I. Sing Station", never did recapture the magic of that wonderful first tune "I Wonder" that so sensed the time and the sentiments of a nation. He originated the impetus to preserve on record the vital music being created by the Black community in America, and proved that small time entrepreneurs could take on the major recording companies and succeed, some of them beyond their wildest dreams. He had begun a musical revolution that continues to this day, but he passed on before even the first rumblings of what he had started took hold. Cecil Gant-remember that name.

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