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DUKE 101; MAY 1952



There’s an uneasy feeling that has a tendency to cross people’s minds when they’re on a hot streak, as if they’re all too aware that great run can’t continue.

Eventually it has to come to an end. It’s the law of averages, water finding its own level and all of that.

Yet when the success is based not on good fortune and blind luck but on your own abilities, work ethic and existing popularity as Rosco Gordon’s has been, you might start thinking this roll you’re on could last forever.

Think again.


What You Got On Your Mind
Thus far on eight* sides released on three labels all but one of Rosco Gordon’s efforts have been above average to start his career, a very impressive feat for someone who sounded so distinctively different than most of his peers (* = we’re excluding the dreadful song credited to him but sung by Bobby Bland, of which the less said the better)

Then again maybe that uniqueness was the key to him standing out. If you can’t get his type of quirky music in other places you appreciate his singles more and you also have no better examples of that approach to compare them against and downgrade him simply because others have figured out how to surpass him.

But on this, the flip side of his first release on Duke Records, Gordon shows he’s prone to trip up just like every other mortal we’ve encountered in rock’s first six years.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it happens to the best of them and, if he really is as good as his résumé suggests, then he’ll be able to bounce back from the decidedly subpar Tell Daddy without too much trouble.

Even if you were skeptical that he could continue to impress us as consistently as he has in the past, you’d have to admit that this record’s failure was not hard to predict considering it’s stripped of most of the qualities we’ve come to enjoy so much in his work to date.

Then again, why is he messing with success in the first place by cutting something not only generic but doing so in a manner that doesn’t even try clearing the rather low bar set for something like this?


You Walk In The Door Loaded
I’m not about to accuse David Mattis, who was concurrently the program director at WDIA in Memphis, of using his station’s studio for a drunken after hours jam session, but let’s just say if I were the owner of said station I’d be giving sobriety tests as the band filed out after this recording session was over.

The horns are your first clue that they might not be serving just spring water because they sound slightly inebriated. The saxophone has a steadier tone than the others in its own responsorial lines, but it too is lurching around a bit melodically which suggests he’s not a teetotaler either.

The fact it’s not a very appealing melody on top of this certainly doesn’t help matters much.

Even when surrounded by seemingly incongruent pieces however, Rosco Gordon himself always seems to have the ability to pull things together and right the ship but on Tell Daddy he’s just as lost as the others are, giving us a lackluster story, a droning nasal lead and absolutely none of the familiar off-the-wall rhythms or quirky vocal touches he’s become known for.

In fact this is as indistinct a performance out of him as we can recall. It’s almost as if he’s not intent on letting you know for sure that he actually IS the famed Rosco Gordon, rock star and possessor of multiple big hits. Who knows, maybe he was worried about raising the ire of RPM for whom he may still be obligated to record for.

It’s not just his vocals that are subpar here, as his piano playing is staggering around more than is recommended which means it’s left to the sax solo to try and get things on an even keel. By this time though I’m sure the room itself probably seems as if it’s rolling around on ball bearings under their feet and because the song itself has such little structure to it, you might start believing that they all were indeed rather blitzed when the red light went on.

In some cases… okay in many cases… that wouldn’t be so hard to believe. WDIA went off the air at night which meant they were using their studios to record well after dark and we all know what high living reprobates those rock ‘n’ rollers were with too much time on their hands.

But this was Duke Records’ inaugural session, or at least their first secular sides, as Mattis recorded The Gospel Travelers around the same time and while we mock religion pretty regularly around here, we’re not going to suggest THEY were bombed too… unless of course we hear evidence to the contrary.

So Mattis was going to run a tight ship from the start because he wanted this venture to work and surely Gordon wanted it to work as well, especially since Duke Records might be his only shot to get a fair shake with a contract that would actually be honored by the label owner.

All of which means that Rosco Gordon and company were more than likely clear-headed when the tapes rolled… it was just their music that was a little sloshed for a change.


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