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RPM 324; JUNE 1951



It’s not like Rosco Gordon – even with just one record to his credit – was the easiest artist to slot to begin with but with this effort he continues to carve out a niche that may be destined to have only one member in its club.

That’s not the worst thing for his prospects of course, since there’s no one else on the landscape where you can go to get the same fix, but it tends to be hard on when it comes to putting them into the proper perspective since their records have no easy comparison to make.

When this became a big hit others normally would be inclined to follow in the same direction, but it wasn’t until rock ‘n’ roll reached Jamaica that it was truly picked up on and taken further. It’s not fair to Jamaican musicians to call this the first ska track, but if you want to trace the evolution of that form of rock then this isn’t a bad place to start.


Nearly Blew My Fuse
I try not to delve too deep into musical theory in these reviews because not everyone is well versed in it and you never want to lose readers when trying to make a point, but this one is simple enough to grasp even if you can’t tell one note from another and is crucial in explaining Rosco Gordon’s place in rock ‘n’ roll.

The twin elements of music are essentially melody and rhythm with European derived styles favoring the former while those which were African sourced relying more heavily on the latter. Whether this was originally a result of cultural differences when it came to taste, or if it simply began due to which instruments each region had at their disposal is unclear, but eventually it became a very proud cultural distinction for both.

With America being a melting pot – not always willingly – it was inevitable that the two begin impacting one another more overtly and in rock ‘n’ roll, as with jazz before it, you see them co-mingling without any unease and it quickly became so universal that nobody takes notice… except when one of the two is drastically downplayed.

When that happens, usually when the melody is all but eliminated (since of course most writing about music tend to be of European lineage) such as James Brown’s funk excursions from the mid-1960’s on, or when rap emerged in the early 80’s, the lack of melody is invariably seen as an obstacle that you have to somehow get around to enjoy the other aspects of the song… and many claim they never can manage to do that leaving them cold to the innovations in those fields.

With that in mind we’ll admit that Saddled The Cow is somewhat devoid of melody and as such, despite its success in the rock market, it was an unlikely candidate to cross over and draw even passing interest to those who tended to use pop-based melodies as their reference point for everything.

Yet Rosco Gordon gave the audience who wouldn’t be as disturbed by what was “missing” plenty of other attributes to focus on and was promptly rewarded for it with the first hit in his long career.


So Tight, Alright
If you’re one of those aforementioned people who need a strong melodic line to follow in order to “get” a record, this obviously isn’t for you. If you’re also someone cursed with the affliction of not appreciating – or not even being concerned with – lyrical content, then this SURE isn’t for you, because that’s where Gordon’s wit and creativity shine most as he crafts a song where the lyrics are the main draw, something made clear by the title.

Obviously the focus of Saddled The Cow (And Milked The Horse) is on his mental state and what might’ve happened to make him so confused that he’d mix up the jobs of unsuspecting farm animals who were in for a big surprise – and in the horse’s case potentially a molestation charge to bring against Gordon.

This being rock ‘n’ roll there are two likely reasons for his actions – drunkenness or women. The first would be more self-explanatory whereas the latter – the one he chooses – means there’s some drama behind the scenes to touch upon as well.

It seems he’s got a crush on this girl and that’s causing him too lose focus on the task at hand, whether it’s greeting his time-clock and punching his boss when he gets to work or tying knots in his spaghetti and then dousing his shoes with ketchup (Ketchup, you ask? A poor man’s substitute for tomato sauce).

Distraction is a natural consequence of falling in love, as any kid who flunked a math test in junior high because the cute guy or girl across the room looked at them at the start of class, but Gordon was in his twenties now and usually you have a little more experience at dealing with this sort of thing by then, so naturally there has to be more to the story than just a cute girl smiling at him… right?

Right. She hugged him.

No, there’s nothing more than that, I assure you. Just a hug. With their clothes on in case that was your next question.

Must’ve been some hug.

The joy of this record of course is found in the overreaction to that hug which makes him so disoriented the day after. The jokes themselves are funny enough to draw a smile but it’s the rather innocuous cause of it that takes the humor one step beyond as you envision what he might’ve done if she’d kissed him too.

I Beat The Ivories And Tickled The Drums
We’ve already said how the lack of melody here is a key attribute to the song but it’s not just the lack of a hummable line that makes this distinctive, it’s also the fractured rhythm he gives it.

Gordon’s piano playing is percussive by nature. Much like James Brown treated all of his instruments after 1964 as if they were drums, so too does Gordon in a way with his work on the keys.

Now there IS a drummer on the session but he’s primarily sticking with the cymbals. The bulk of what Gordon plays on the piano here are drum parts, pure and simple. They’re easy enough to translate if you doubt this, just pat out that rhythm on your thighs as he plays. Yes, he’s also playing specific notes, but they’re guideposts, it’s the pattern they set that’s driving the song.

When you apply that mindset when listening to the song it becomes easier to appreciate because the melodic absence doesn’t seem as pronounced.

Ska would even take one additional thing that Gordon does here to heart as the instrumental break on Saddled The Cow is handled by a reedy sax in the upper register and while ska generally leaned a little heavier on this to give listeners a melodic handle on the songs, the concept is the same. The rhythm is what matters most, everything else is to set that rhythm off.

If the sax here had been a little more memorable rather than wandering – or at least wandered in a more interesting direction – it’d have helped some, but there’s still plenty to take from this if you adjust your thinking along the way.


Right In The Nose
It’s always something of a surprise whenever a newer sound actually is met with commercial success and when it happens is rarely predictable. Bop was initially seen as weird and despite its acknowledged musical brilliance would never have the mainstream acceptance that more traditional forms of jazz would.

Rock though was shaping up to be a slightly different story. That Rosco Gordon was able to break through early – and for a brief time fairly consistently – starting with Saddled The Cow (And Milked The Horse) is a promising development when it comes to showing rock fans willingness to accept new ideas.

In fact that’d be one of the genre defining characteristics and the very thing that kept rock ‘n’ roll from ever getting stale. Each generation embraced new sounds… many built on the old ones to keep it connected, but all with their own identity and it had a broad enough fan base that there could be many different quirky styles all hitting at one time.

Gordon was more or less alone in this style but even that got its own name – Rosco’s Rhythm – when trying to market it. What nobody figured was the market for it was just a little bit south in the middle of an ocean and it was there that this horse gave plenty of milk.


(Visit the Artist page of Rosco Gordon for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)