|Memphis Blues Pioneer Rosco Gordon Dies Aged 74|
With profound sadness, Stony Plain Records shares the news of the recent passing of recording legend - and dear friend - Rosco Gordon. The rhythm 'n blues pioneer and a guiding light of both rock and reggae was found dead of natural causes at his Queens, New York, residence on July 11, 2002, where he had lived since moving from his Beale Street roots in the early 1960s.
A native of Memphis, born April 10, 1928, Rosco Gordon skyrocketed to fame in the early fifties with a string of hits for the Chess, RPM and Duke labels, including originals like Booted" and "No More Doggin'." Many of his early recordings (some of which are available from ACE Records in the UK) were made at Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service, alongside friends and fellow music phenomenons Ike Turner, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King and Little Milton.
At the radio powerhouse WDIA, where Rosco played piano and sang on his popular weekly show, he made additional recordings with friends Johnny Ace, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Earl Forest, and when Sam Phillips created the Sun Records label in the mid-fifties, Rosco returned to work with his favorite producer and continued to release brisk selling singles for the growing radio market throughout that decade.
A noteworthy contribution to pop music during this phase of Gordon's career for Sun included "The Chicken," a song which not only started a dance craze but also made famous a rooster named "Butch," who, decked out in miniature suits to match his owner, gyrated and drank scotch during live performances, to the delight of audiences. However, Butch succumbed to his excesses at an early age, and Rosco could never find an equal talent among the henhouses of the South.
In 1960, inspired by a riff from fellow musician Jimmy McCracklin, Rosco penned "Just a Little Bit," a song which has become one of a handful of standards from the R&B era, but remarkably, on the heels of the success of his original rendition, Rosco walked away from the music business for love. After the failure of his first marriage to Ethel Bolton, thanks largely to the lifestyle of the touring musician, Rosco elected to settle down with Barbara Kerr, near the bright lights of Manhattan, to raise his second family. He purchased part ownership in a laundry business and became a full-time father to three sons and principal caregiver when Barbara was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1982.
Following Barbara's death in 1984, Rosco felt the pull of his first and most enduring love, music, and renewed his live performance career in the New York area, while writing and recording new material at home. His uncommon rhythmic expression was ill-suited to the synthesized trend, and Rosco suffered a number of disappointments before pairing with guitar great Duke Robillard for the recording of "Memphis, Tennessee," released in November, 2000, by Stony Plain Records.
Duke and his band recreated the shuffling beats and honking saxophones that had characterized Rosco's early career and restored the vigorous appeal of early hits, as well as providing the "Rosco Vibe" on new songs like the title track, a tribute to Gordon's hometown and musical past. As a result of the attention garnered by the album, Rosco was nominated for a Handy Award as "Comeback Artist of the Year."
Although suffering from diabetes, heart disease and a herniated disc in his lower back, Rosco jumped into his second coming with an energy and enthusiasm that delighted audiences everywhere. He participated in several major documentaries about early rock and R&B and performed in festivals at every opportunity. In May, he returned to Memphis, joining old friends B.B. King, Ike Turner and Little Milton for a performance tribute to Sam Phillips during the 2002 W.C. Handy Awards Show (which will be broadcast by PBS later this year). He culminated the busy weekend of activities and honors with a show featuring blues great Reverend Gatemouth Moore and jazz legend Calvin Newborn.
Rosco Gordon was an influential performer-composer, whose unique contributions to contemporary music of many styles will long endure. Among friends and family, he will be especially missed for his youthful optimism and unquenchable creative spirit.