Obituary: Gaylord Dubois
Every time blues singer Gaylord Dubois took the stage he seemed to reach deep inside himself to find the feeling in a song. When the slightly built Columbus bluesman — who died July 1 at 58 — opened his mouth to sing, listeners were constantly surprised by the presence in his voice and the emotion it carried. That his body was scarred by burns from a severe accident at age 18 went unnoticed by the end of the first verse.
“Onstage, there was no brooding or darkness,” said longtime friend and bandmate Greg Trout, “just the joy of making music. … I never saw him perform where he didn't connect with the audience.”
Dubois began on guitar as early as seven, according to his brother, Billy, who said he recently found a picture of Gaylord with his teacher Chuck Dailey and a “guitar that was as big as he was.” The boys grew up in a house with all kinds of music — their father sang in the Germania Club and Shriners choirs — and Gaylord had many basement bands with colorful names.
When the accident took his ability to finger a guitar, he concentrated on singing, a passion that grew with urgency. Mark Haines, whose band the Remains gave Dubois one of his earliest shots in front of the mic, remembered his first appearance with the group. For a couple hundred people, many of whom were Gaylord's former Whetstone High classmates, Dubois performed “Red House” at Zachariah's Red Eye Saloon and brought the house down, according to Remains (and later Smoking Section) bandmate Trout. “For everyone here,” Haines said that night to guitarist Rob Brumfiel backstage, “there is no excuse for a blown day.” “They believe what he's singing,” agreed Brumfiel, who would later play alongside Dubois in the Dogz.
Trout remembered sometime later seeing Gaylord playing bass, fingering the fret from the top, swaying soulfully like the passionate guitar player he once was. That poignant moment showed Trout what the musician had lost. Still, said guitarist Dave Workman, who played with Dubois in the band In Yo' Face during the mid-'80s, it was as though the higher powers had said, “We're going to take this away from you but we're going to give you the blessing to really touch [the audience].”
Dubois worked hard to honor that blessing, even taking vocal lessons from famed local jazz singer/instructor Michele Horsefield-Carney, who died in 2005. Mike McGannon, who played guitar alongside Gaylord for a half-dozen years in Men Of Leisure beginning in the late-'80s, didn't know about the singer's lessons in breath, pitch and volume until Horsefield-Carney told him that Dubois was “the hardest-working student I ever had.”
McGannon, who also noted Gaylord's sly sense of humor, described the hold the singer had on his audience: “The biggest thing was the warmth that drew them in, even after the music. He was very generous with his time.” Dubois sported that humor and generosity over decades during stints with a who's-who list of Columbus musicians.
Men of Leisure guitarist John Boerstler said Dubois left that band in the mid-'90s on the advice of his doctor. Dubois didn't perform often after that, sitting in with Frank Harrison from time to time. An appearance with Workman during his homecoming last winter at Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza is a sentimental memory today for the guitarist. “He was a blast to be around,” said Workman. “Everybody fell in love with him.”