Roscoe Gordon

By Russ:

This man was a very colourful American blues singer, pianist, and songwriter, best known for his hits “BOOTED,”, “NO MORE DOGGIN’“, and “JUST A LITTLE BIT“. But he wrote and sang many more songs and in a few of his early ones he did not hold back any double-entendre or sexual innuendo lyrical punches (perhaps influenced by artists like Blind Boy Fuller and the bawdy Hocum genre).

This is the story of a very prolific artist that got totally ripped off as he worked for several recording companies: Modern RPM, SUN, DUKE, VEE JAY, ABC PARAMOUNT, OLD TOWN… very sad. It wasn’t until he started his own label that he saw any significant money coming in. The recording industry was full of con artists.

Rosco N. Gordon III

 (April 10, 1928 – July 11, 2002),

Gordon was born in Memphis, Tennessee on April 10, 1928, the youngest of eight children. He learned to play piano from his sister who took lessons.

Gordon was a pioneer of the Memphis blues style. He played piano in a shuffle style known as the “Rosco rhythm,” with the emphasis on the off-beat. This rhythm was an influence on later musical styles.

In the late 1950s, Gordon toured internationally, reaching South America and the Caribbean, where his off-beat rhythmic technique influenced the sound of early Ska and Reggae.

VIDEO

Roscoe Gordon “Chicken in The Rough” 1957 Film “Rock Baby Rock It”

During his career, Gordon became associated with Johnny AceBobby Bland and B.B. King, sometimes collectively referred to as the Beale Streeters

Beale Streeters / Why Can’t You Be True

In 1946, he moved to Chicago “after getting in trouble in Memphis.” He returned to Memphis in 1949, and won first place at an amateur show at the Palace Theatre on Beale Street in 1950. Emcee of the show Rufus Thomas invited Gordon to play on his radio show at WDIA. Soon after, Gordon had his own show as well.

In 1951, radio station WDIA manager, David Mattis, introduced Gordon to producer Sam Phillips. Around this time, Gordon was scouted by Ike Turner, talent scout for the Bihari brothers, to record for Modern Records.

His first hit single, Saddled the Cow (and Milk the Horse),” released on RPM Records (subsidiary of Modern) reached No. 9 on the Billboard R&B chart.

ROSCOE GORDON – SADDLED THE COW (AND MILKED THE HORSE) / RPM 354 1951

(great lyrics in this one)

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Gordon’s next single “Booted” was recorded at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service. Phillips licensed the record to the Chess brothers at Chess Records, which was released as a single in December 1951. 

ROSCOE GORDON – BOOTED / CHESS 1487 1951

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ROSCOE GORDON – T-MODEL BOOGIE / SUN / 1951

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ROSCO GORDON – CITY WOMAN / RPM 322-A / 1951

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ROSCO GORDON – ROSCO’ BOOGIE / RPM 322-B / 1951

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ROSCO GORDON – OUCH! PRETTY BABY / RPM 324 / 1951

Rosco Gordon also recorded a version of Booted for the Biharis brothers at RPM Records, released in January 1952. The RPM release reached number-one on the Billboard R&B record chart in March 1952. The Chess and the Bihari brothers later settled the conflict, with the Biharis getting exclusive rights to Gordon and Chess signing Howlin’ Wolf to an exclusive contract.

For years, Gordon did not receive royalties for his songs. “Sam Phillips gave me one hundred dollars. One hundred. No royalties. No nothin’. But, I did it for the Biharis, now they gave me six hundred dollars. No royalties. No nothin’. But like I say, I didn’t know any better,” he said.

Gordon also had a successful record with “No More Doggin’” (No. 2 R&B) which was also released by RPM in 1952.

ROSCOE GORDON – NO MORE DOGGIN’ / RPM 350 1952

In early 1952, Gordon recorded “No More Doggin’” at musician Tuff Green’s house in Memphis, backed by Ike Turner also on piano. “No More Doggin’” was released on RPM in March 1952. The record reached No. 3 on the Billboard Best Selling R&B Records chart on April 19, 1952. It peaked higher at No. 2 on the Most Played Juke Box R&B Records chart on May 10, 1952.

No More Doggin’” became a popular song in Jamaica and laid down the foundation for the development of Ska music. “Towards the end of the 50s Jamaicans got keen on rhythm and blues, particularly a record called ‘No More Dogin’ sung by Rosco Gordon,” said Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell. “They got hold of this beat, cheered it up a bit, added some lyrics and called it ska….From 1959 onwards this was all the rage.” Ska music evolved into Rocksteady and then became Reggae music.

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ROSCO GORDON – WHAT YOU GOT ON YOUR MIND / RPM 365-A / 1952

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Between 1952 and 1959, Gordon released numerous singles on Duke, Sun, Flip, and Vee-Jay Records.

ROSCO GORDON – JUST IN FROM TEXAS / RPM 379 / 1953

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ROSCO GORDON – WE’RE ALL LOADED / RPM 384-B / 1953

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ROSCO GORDON – I FOUND A NEW LOVE / SUN 1955

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ROSCO GORDON – JUST LOVE ME BABY / FLIP 227-A / 1955

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ROSCO GORDON – YOU GOT MY BAIT / JOMADA M-602 / 1956

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ROSCO GORDON – THE CHICKEN / SUN 237 / 1956

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ROSCO GORDON – LOVE FOR YOU BABY / SUN 237 / FLIP 237 / 1956

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ROSCO GORDON – JUST LOVE ME BABY / SHOOBIE OOBIE / SUN 257 / 21 Nov 1956

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ROSCO GORDON – LET’S GET HIGH TOGETHER / SUN 801 / 1956

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ROSCO GORDON – TUMMER TEE / DUKE 173 / 1957

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ROSCO GORDON – I DON’T LIKE IT / SUN / 1957

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ROSCO GORDON – SALLY JO / ROCKABILLY / SUN 305 1958

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ROSCO GORDON – TORRO / SUN 305 / 1958

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ROSCO GORDON – THE DILLY BOP / DUKE 45-320 / 1958

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ROSCOE GORDON – JUST A LITTLE BIT / VEE-JAY 332 / (No. 2 R&B, No. 64 Pop) in 1960

His last single to reach the charts was “Just a Little Bit“.  He was paid $250 for the song which became an R&B standard, later covered by the Beatles, Etta James, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Butler. Gordon didn’t receive royalties from the millions of copies sold in cover versions, because producer Ralph Bass at King Records stole the song from a demo Rosco sent and had it copyrighted before him.

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ROSCO GORDON – GOIN’ HOME / VEE JAY VJ 332 / 1960 / (Flip side of Just A Little Bit)

ROSCO GORDON – SURELY I LOVE YOU / VEE JAY RECORDS VJ-348 / 1960

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ROSCO GORDON – LET ‘EM TRY / VEE-JAY 385 / 1961

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Rosco Gordon’s Bio states that In 1962, he quit the music industry and moved to Queens, New York with his new wife, where he purchased a partnership in a laundry business after winning a poker game with a pair of deuces. Yet, it is interesting that his songs continued to be released on ABC PARAMOUNT AND OLD TOWN labels right through 1964…

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ROSCO GORDON – A GIRL TO LOVE / ABC PARAMOUNT 45-10351 / 1962-63

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ROSCO GORDON – I WANT REVENGE / A LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC / ABC PARAMOUNT / 45-10407

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ROSCO GORDON – I DON’T STAND A CHANCE / ABC PARAMOUNT 45-10501 / 1963

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ROSCO GORDON – JUST A LITTLE AT A TIME / GOT KEEP ROLLING / OLD TOWN 1167 / 1964

ROSCO GORDON – SIT RIGHT HERE

LYRICS BY ROSCO GORDON:

I’m gonna sit right here and wait until my baby comes home
Well I know I never done anyone wrong
I hold my head up high, I never lose my smile
I’m half cryin’ but it’s down inside
I’m gonna sit right here and wait until my baby comes home

Tell me, tell me, tell me what have I done wrong
Well I’m outta my mind why, why can’t we get along
This can’t be life, this can’t be death
Without you, ohh, I don’t want no one else
I’m gonna sit right here and wait until my baby comes home
Well I’ve been sittin’ right here such a long, long time
Watching these walls I’m gonna lose my mind
Won’t you please come back and try me one more time
Before I go insane, yeah yeah

Tell me, tell me, tell me what have I done wrong
Well I’m outta my mind why, why can’t we get along
This can’t be life, this can’t be death
Without you, ohh, I don’t want no one else
I’m gonna sit right here and wait until my baby comes home

An example of Rosco being ripped off?

Here’s Colin James version of SIT RIGHT HERE

Lyrics are identical and attributed to Colin James.

In 1969, Gordon formed his own label, Bab-Roc, operated from his home.

1969 Rosco Gordon’s Record Label

70 Lenox Avenue
Suite 2K
New York, NY, United States
10026

ROSCO GORDON – LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC / BAB-ROC 006-A / 1970

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ROSCO GORDON – REVENG / BAB-ROC 012-A / 1971

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Rosco Gordon did not perform again until 1981.

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In 1983, he released the album Rosco Rocks Again, recorded live at the 100 Club in London. 

Following his wife’s death in 1984, he returned to touring.

In 2000, Gordon teamed up with blues guitarist Duke Robillard to release the album Memphis Tennessee.

2000 Album: Rosco Gordon and Duke Robillard

Tracklist

1Memphis, Tennessee
2Sit Right Here
3Bad Dream
4It Takes A Lot Of Lovin’
5No More Doggin’
6Now You’re Gone
7Just A Little Bit
8Let’s Get High
9Jelly, Jelly
10Tell Me I’m The One
11Cheese & Crackers
12You Don’t Care About Nothing
13Interview With Rosco Gordon

Credits

Interview with Rosco Gordon

In 2002, Gordon was invited by the filmmaker Richard Pearce to be included in a documentary film about several blues musicians returning to Memphis for a tribute to Sam Phillips in conjunction with the May 2002 W.C. Handy Awards. The documentary, The Road to Memphis, aired on PBS television.

Six weeks after filming finished, Gordon died at the age of 74 from a heart attack at his apartment in Rego Park, Queens on July 11, 2002. He was survived by three daughters, Victoria, Deborah, and Ruby; three sons, Marrc, Rosco III, and Keith; a sister, Ella Gordon Jefferson; and 10 grandchildren. He was interred in the Rosedale Cemetery in Linden, New Jersey.

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