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Welcome back to Rosco-A-Go-Go… the chronicles of rock ‘n’ roll artist Rosco Gordon who has dominated these rolls as of late with one release after another.

Most of those have been on RPM, the record label he’d been with for over a year who’d been busy ripping off his writing credits as he gave them three Top Ten hits during that time.

Though this isn’t his first release on Duke Records, he’s had so many releases since then on RPM that you’d be excused for thinking he was still under their employ. But whatever the case, this is the point where he truly makes his break from that label with fresher material starting to come out with consistency from his new home.

But while the change of addresses is notable, what’s far more noteworthy is the change in his vocal style, discarding the quirky eccentricities he’d been known for and replacing it with something resembling a more mainstream approach.

Whether or not this was a good idea depends on what you want out of him… proven formula or new ideas.


More Than A Freight Train Can Haul
To call Rosco Gordon an unusual singer would be an understatement. It’s one thing not to necessarily have a traditionally smooth, resonant singing voice, but Gordon sounded at times like he’d never heard OF singing, let alone had done so before.

He affected an odd “catch” in the back of his throat which gave him an instantly identifiable style – and one that helped him get those earlier hits – but also was rather limiting, as once you had your fill of it the effect could become distracting if not downright annoying.

Rather than use it sparingly, he constantly accentuated it by letting the melody drift when he sang, in the process almost coming off as though he were drunk. You can see why he stuck with it (or more likely why RPM insisted he stick with it) as he scored his big hits in repaid succession last winter and spring with that style, but now a year later, freed from bondage as it were, you can see why he might be re-thinking that approach as he hadn’t enjoyed any commercial response since then in spite of his sky-high name recognition.

Down the road, when Gordon finally made the charts again in 1960, he sounded nothing like he did at his start, which ironically may have made it easier to get into him on a good song like Just A Little Bit, which hit #2 in 1960, but at the same time made him a lot more interchangeable with countless other artists whereas at the beginning of his career he stood out – for good or bad – because of how differently he sang.

While he’ll still venture into the more off-kilter vocals on occasion, with Too Many Women he seems to almost be making a clean break from that style in his past, even though this too was recorded by Sam Phillips in Memphis with his usual cohorts in the studio.

It wasn’t a hit though which may have Duke Records wishing he’d go back to his old oddball ways. But its lack of commercial success notwithstanding, it shows he didn’t need to be a nonconformist to make really good records.

Until They’re Standing In Line
The transition from one stage to another was somewhat incremental of course, as the loping but choppy piano Rosco Gordon plays is familiar to anyone who was a fan of his earlier sides from Chess and RPM, particularly No More Doggin’ which features an introduction nearly identical to this. Meanwhile his voice still has the same distinctive tone he was known for, though as stated the delivery is a lot smoother and more conventionally melodic which immediately makes this more accessible to most ears.

But it’s not just the performance that warrants attention, it’s the song too which is a gently rollicking number featuring a nice horn riff and the steady rhythm of the piano backing up a boastful Gordon talking about having Too Many Women and then doing his best to prove it with everything he says.

Far from being a non-stop boast, upon closer inspection it’s obvious he’s flaunting this because the girl he really likes dumped him and he’s trying too hard to show he’s over her. Of course he DOES appear to be having fun in the process and that’s the attitude that most listeners will pick up on.

Now this kind of thing can be a little grating to some. If you’re a guy who can’t get a date you probably don’t want to hear how Gordon is hoarding them all for himself. If you’re a girl who values her self-worth you’d be justified in taking offense to how he almost seems to be stockpiling them as if he were shopping for non-perishable food item before a harsh winter storm.

But if you’re a rock fan you’re bound to say… where can I get some more of this? By “this” I mean the song, not the girls (though if they came with the record, I’m guessing few would send them back unopened).

This is Gordon at his most infectious, singing with a grin on his face and a glint in his eye, treating the song seriously enough but treating the situation behind it a little facetiously which takes the edge off him asking for a girl’s number in the break, suggesting that he’ll forget it unless she writes it down because he has so many in his mental rolodex.

As good as Gordon is vocally on Too Many Women the musical backing by The Beale Streeters sees his bet and raises him with an intense and focused group performance. Drummer Earl Forrest and saxophonist Billy Duncan are both really good here and together with Gordon’s piano provide the track with its best moments as their combined driving beat after the choruses, building and building upon itself with demented glee, rocks harder… physically harder in a way… than almost anything we’ve encountered to date.

All of the pieces are fitted together expertly, as this is one side that is miles away from the haphazard stuff a few weeks back where arrangements seemed to have been made up as the tapes were running. By contrast this is a concentrated dose of rock ‘n’ roll power that shows what he was capable of when tackling a song without trying to be so unique in the bargain.


Don’t Ask Me For No Money
There’s a saying that goes… “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” and certainly that applies to Rosco Gordon’s move to Duke Records which was just now in the process of being forcibly taken over by Don Robey who is widely referred to as a “gangster” in most rock histories.

An aspect of that slur of course is racist, because those histories started to get written fifty years ago when such thinking wasn’t going to get you reprimanded and Robey was one of the few black label owners they were discussing, but when you have a tendency to settle disputes with artists by pulling out a gun and placing it ominously on your desk, the term may actually fit.

Whatever crimes against Gordon he committed will come out in due time here, but for now Rosco has just got to be happy to have gotten away from the Bihari Brothers who aside from misspelling his name, routinely stole writing credits and were probably the ones demanding more cracked vocal performances out of him to duplicate those early smashes.

In their defense I’m sure somebody will bring up the fact that after he stopped using it from here on in, he didn’t have any hits for the rest of the decade, but as Too Many Women shows full well, it wasn’t because the records weren’t deserving of being widely heard.

Far from being a one-note performer, Rosco Gordon excelled in many different ways and though one solitary year may not sound like very long to be confined to using just one of those ways, any creative soul gets restless when their options are limited.

This performance is different enough to prove he was anxious to start a new chapter of his career while still good enough to almost match the best of what he already had given us.


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