Rosco Gordon Biography

10 April 1928, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 11 July 2002, Queens, New York City, New York, USA. A self-taught boogie-woogie styled pianist with no acknowledged influences other than a presumed awareness of the work of Amos Milburn and Little Willie Littlefield. Gordon was part of the Beale Streeters group in the late 40s, alongside Johnny Ace, B.B. King and later, Bobby Bland. Ike Turner, then a freelance producer and talent scout, recognized the potential of Gordon’s powerful singing and recorded him for Modern Records. He was still a teenager when he first recorded at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service in January 1951. Phillips sold masters to both Chess Records in Chicago and RPM in Los Angeles, and thus, Gordon’s ‘Booted’ appeared on both labels, a possible factor in its becoming the number 1 R&B hit in the spring of 1952. The follow-up, ‘No More Doggin’’, was another Top 5 R&B hit and typified what became known as ‘Rosco’s Rhythm’, a loping boogie shuffle rhythm that predated and perhaps influenced Jamaican ska and blue-heat music. Gordon signed to Phillips’ own Sun Records label in 1955, recording a regional hit, ‘The Chicken’, which led to his appearance in the movie Rock Baby, Rock It two years later. Moving to New York, he formed the duo Rosco And Barbara, making singles for Old Town. Many tracks recorded during this time remained unissued until the 70s and 80s.

Gordon’s most well-known song reached number 2 in the R&B charts and was recorded in 1960 for the Chicago-based label Vee Jay Records. With its catchy saxophone-driven riff, ‘Just A Little Bit’ captured the imaginations of British R&B groups as well as black record buyers. A cover version by Merseybeat band the Undertakers was a minor hit in 1964. Further records for ABC Records, Old Town, Jomada, Rae-Cox and Calla made little impression and in 1970, Gordon created his own label, Bab-Roc, issuing records by himself and his wife Barbara. An album of new compositions plus remakes of his hits was recorded for Organic Productions in 1971 but never released. A brief visit to England in 1982 brought an onstage reunion with B.B. King at London’s 100 Club. At that time he was financing recordings from his own cleaning business. Memphis, Tennessee, a newly recorded batch of songs with musical support from Duke Robillard, appeared in 2000. It is a great pity that Gordon left it so long to deliver a new album of such quality, and unfortunately he passed away two years later.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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