Booted : Rosco Gordon ©2008JCMarion


Rosco Gordon was born in Memphis, Tennessee in April of 1928. He absorbed the musical legacy of his home town and as a teenager began to explore his budding talents as a piano playing blues musician. By the time he was fifteen years old he began to write songs in his own style which was a combination of the sounds he was familiar with that could be heard most nights on Beale Street. This famous thoroughfare was the heart and soul of the Black community in Memphis. His style was somewhat distinct in that it played slightly off tempo somewhat like the "Spanish tinge" used by pioneer Jelly Roll Morton, and the rolling barrelhouse sound of Roeland Byrd known as "Professor Longhair". Some of his early songwriting efforts were composed with Bobby Bland who would later become world famous in the R & B field.

By 1949, he was part of a loose knit group of musicians known as The Beale Streeters. This merry band of blues practitioners was composed of some of the greatest names ever to come out of Memphis. Among them were at one time or another were B.B. King, Earl Forrest, Bobby Bland, Ike Turner, Junior Parker, and Johnny Ace. A so called advisor to the group was performer and radio personality Rufus Thomas. It was Thomas that persuaded Gordon to try his hand at broadcasting his own radio program for the voice of Black Memphis, WDIA radio. By late 1950 Rosco had finally made it to the recording studio, for Los Angeles based RPM Records which was part of Modern label family. His first effort was "Rosco's Boogie" (bw "City Women") on RPM # 322. Oddly, it wasn't Memphis or L.A. where the record took off first, but in the San Francisco Bay area. By early June it was a top R & B seller in Oakland. After a nice run RPM released "Saddled The Cow(And Milked The Horse)" and "Ouch Pretty Baby" on # 324. Again it was Oakland that jumped on "Saddled The Cow" and made it a pick hit and good seller. "Dime A Dozen" and "A New Remedy For Love" was recorded for RPM and issued on # 336.

The year ended for Gordon with a budding controversy. Gordon was announced as having signed a recording contract with Chess Records in Chicago, while still under a binding contract with Modern-RPM in Los Angeles. Confusing the matter further were two recordings of the song "Booted" on each label. The RPM version paired "Booted" with "Cold Cold Winter" on # 344. On Chess "Booted" was released with "Love You Till The Day I Die" with Bobby "Blue" Bland on Chess # 1487. In December "Saddle The Cow" broke into the R & B best seller charts in New Orleans. In that same city the Chess version of "Booted" is also a top seller. In February of 1952 Modern and Chess settled their differences regarding Rosco Gordon. In the deal Chess gave four masters back to Modern Records.

In February of 1952 "No More Doggin' " (bw "Maria") on RPM # 350 is a good seller in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi. In May, Poppa Stoppa (Clarence Hamman) top R & B dj in New Orleans, books Rosco Gordon with Jackie Brenston and Ella McRaney in that city. By June Rosco is again embroiled in a legal fight. This time it is with a Memphis recording firm known as Tri-State which issues recordings on the Duke label. RPM issued "New Orleans Women" and "I Remember Your Kisses" on # 358. The same song is on Duke # 106 (with "T Model Boogie"). Also Duke released "Tell Daddy" and "Hey Fat Girl" on Duke # 101. That record is a good seller in some Southern cities muddling up the situation even further. By July Tri-State denies it has been served by a court ordered injunction, and continues to release recordings by Gordon on its Duke label. That summer Rosco tours with The Clovers and the Buddy Lucas band on the West Coast. Also, the RPM version of "New Orleans Women (or Wimmen)" on # 358 is selling well in Atlanta and Jacksonville, Florida. In August Don Robey and Peacock Records based in Houston, Texas, takes over the Duke label from Memphis and announces an exclusive recording contract with Rosco Gordon. The tour dates with The Clovers did such good business that new dates are set for September. RPM releases "What You Got On Your Mind" and "Two Kinds Of Women" on # 365, and about the same time Duke # 109 features "Too Many Women" and "Wise To You Baby" as by Rosco Gordon & The Beale Streeters. Rosco and The Clovers stop off for a two week engagement at Central Avenue's Club Alabam. In November RPM issues another previously recorded side - "Dream Baby" and "Trying" on # 369, followed quickly in December by "Blues For My baby" and "Lucille" on # 373.

In January of 1953 RPM is still at it with "Just In From Texas" and "I'm In Love" on # 379. In March Sam Phillips, with whom Gordon recorded some sides that were leased to Chess, forms his own record company to be called Sun Records located on Union Avenue in Memphis. In May, RPM releases its last Rosco Gordon record - "We're All Loaded" and "Tomorrow May Be Too Late" on # 384. During the summer Rosco joins Ray Charles for a few tour dates in the Midwest, and then a new tour is announced that will feature Rosco Gordon, The Clovers, Little Esther, and Chuck Willis. In October "Ain't No Use" and "Rosco's Mambo" are issued by Duke Records on # 114. The record is a hit on the R & B charts in New Orleans and also does well in Texas. The great amounts of touring by Rosco Gordon slow the recording sessions. There is one record for Duke in 1954 - "Three Cent Love" and "You Figure It Out" on # 129. By September the record gets good airplay and sales in Los Angeles.

In early 1955 Duke Records is still advertising # 129 in the trade press. During the spring Rosco Gordon changes record labels and "comes home" to Memphis, and its city based Sun Records. He records for Sam Phillips, and during the year he has two records that are released on both Sun and its subsidiary label Flip Records. They are "Weepin Blues" and "Just Love Me Baby" on Sun # 227 (and Flip # 227), and "Love For You Baby" and "The Chicken (Dance With You)" on Sun # 237 (and Flip # 237). In the late summer of 1956, the Flip release of "The Chicken" does well in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Late in the year "Shoobie Oobie" and "Cheese And Crackers" are released on Sun # 257. With some of the success Gordon has with Sun, Duke Records takes one off the shelf and issues "Keep On Doggin" and "Bad Dream" on Duke # 165. In June of 1957 Duke releases "Tummer Tee" and "I've Loved And Lost" on # 173. During the summer Rosco Gordon is featured as part of an R & B package tour of South America. In the late summer of 1958 Sun Records releases "Sally Jo" and "Torro" on # 158.

In 1959 Gordon plays a few tour dates and some club work as he hopes for a new record deal. That comes in the spring of the year as he is signed to Vee-Jay Records of Gary, Indiana. In June his first effort for the label is released - "A Fool In Love" and a new version of his previous song, "No More Doggin" on Vee-Jay # 316. During the summer the record hits the R & B charts in Chicago and Detroit. In November an article in the trade press mentions the fact that certain American artists are popular in Jamaica, and are having an influence on the music of that nation. One of the performers that is mentioned often is Rosco Gordon. In November "Just A Little Bit" and "Going Home" is released on Vee-Jay # 332. Again, the record sells well on the R & B charts in the Chicago area. "Bit" is a good sized hit for Rosco, which is supposedly based on part of a song by Jimmy McCracklin. It is also recorded by R & B performer Little Milton who had some success with his own version for Checker Records. Gordon's influence on the Jamaican music scene of the early sixties was felt with a Laurel Aitken recording called "Boogie In My Bones" which copied much of Gordon's "lag tempo" style of piano. This sound launched the Jamaican Ska move of the early sixties.

Meanwhile a series of sly moves by music industry people combined to cheat Gordon out of many royalty payments for his many songs that he wrote and recorded. He had married Barbara Kerr and because of his displeasure with the music business, he decided to get out and start a new life. He became a partner in the dry cleaning trade in the New York area and helped raise his three children. There were still sporadic records issued from previous recording sessions on Vee-Jay, ABC Paramount, and small independent labels, even a few records on his own Bab-Roc label. With the death of his wife in 1984 he returned to performing and by 2000 he recorded a cd called "Memphis, Tennessee". It was well received enough to have Gordon nominated for a Comeback Entertainer of the Year award by the W.C. handy Foundation. Two years later he had a reunion with B.B. King, Little Milton, Ike Turner, and others at the W.C. handy Awards presentation. Soon after, on July 11, 2002, Rosco Gordon passed away. After sixty years, the "Rosco Vibe" was stilled but it lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who experienced the music of this Memphis master.

The lasting musical legacy of Rosco Gordon are preserved on a number of available cds. The best of which are "Bootin' : The Best of the RPM Years" on Ace(U.K.) in2004 with 24 tracks. The Duke and Sun recordings are found on "T-Model Boogie" from Official in 2000 with 27 tracks. Other cds with some duplication to those that are out are "Rosco's Rhythm" for Charly (U.K.) in 1999 covering Sun and Vee-Jay, "I'm Gonna Shake It" from Varese Saraband in 2002 with 22 tracks from the Sun years, and "No More Doggin" from Proper Intro in 2004 with 24 tracks covering Gordon's entire career. The two newer cds from his later period are "Memphis, Tennessee" from Stony Plain in 2000 with 12 songs and a fifteen minute interview, and "No Dark In America" from Dualtone in 2005 with fifteen tracks recorded just a short time before his death in 2002.

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