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There’s a fight brewing that anybody paying attention could’ve seen coming.

Three disreputable factions wrestling over an array of talented singers who were being recorded by one of them in Memphis and doled out to the companies owned by the others situated in Chicago and Los Angeles, both of whom claimed ownership of said talent.

It was left to the courts to divvy up the artists between Chess and RPM, both of whom made out well in the short term and the long run.

At a glance it’s hard to say the real victim in this was the artist who got a Number One hit in the process, but when that hit was an inferior re-recording of this song for RPM, for which he earned all of six hundred bucks total, it’s hardly a stretch to say the one who got the boot in this affair was Rosco Gordon.


Gonna Load My Pistol, Gonna Sharpen My Knife
Any time you take shots at a revered historical figure, one whose reputation as a “musical prophet” has been universally accepted for generations, you’re going to get some flak for it.

Good. That means people are paying attention and in the case of the Sam Phillips defenders out there they need to be put in their place.

Phillips was, like most independent record label owners, a liar and a cheat who was the entire cause of this dispute over Rosco Gordon… not to mention Jackie Brenston and Howlin’ Wolf… because he went back on a simple handshake agreement with the Bihari Brothers of RPM which afforded them the right of first refusal of all artists Phillips cut at Memphis Recording Service.

That the Biharis were outright criminals in their own right doesn’t make Phillips’ decision to seek a better rate from the Chess Brothers in Chicago for those artists’ work excusable, especially since Phillips ripped off the artists of their rightful share of the money in the process.

But if you have the stomach for it you can read all about the particulars of those dirty dealings in past reviews, particularly Brenston’s work.

Today, while we’re not going to gloss over Phillips’ ongoing struggle with integrity when he placed Gordon’s Booted with Chess, despite Gordon having already signed with RPM last winter, we ARE going to focus on the one redeeming quality of Sam C. Phillips… his innate musical instincts which helped to not only give Gordon’s record a distinctive flair, but also gave his musical innovation a name…

Rosco’s Rhythm.


Get That Man
By the time this record was released at the tail end of November, Rosco Gordon (still with an “e” affixed to his first name on the label thanks to record companies that didn’t bother to ask how he spelled it) was already a rising star.

His first two releases, both on RPM but cut by Phillips in Memphis last winter, had made the charts. The first, Roscoe’s Boogie, was a regional hit on the West Coast, while its follow up Saddled The Cow (And Milked The Horse), scored nationally in the summer.

So Phillips knew that in Gordon he had his surest bet for recognition and in placing Booted with Chess he was looking to be rewarded for it with both credit, which he craved, and money which he needed.

Gordon’s idiosyncratic style was already established by those two earlier records, as his quirky sense of rhythm combined with his distinctive voice meant you weren’t mistaking him for anybody else, but it’s to Phillips’ credit that he coaxed an even more offbeat vocal out of Gordon here by telling him to sound inebriated, supposedly to match the drunken sax solo.

That fractured state of mind works brilliantly with the content which finds Gordon stewing over his woman’s misdeeds, vowing bloody revenge. He may in fact mean to carry out this retribution but in his drunken state he’ll be passed out before he gets out his own front door so the girl has nothing to worry about, especially since by the sounds of it Rosco hasn’t raised a finger to her in the past despite this behavior being nothing new.

In many ways that’s what makes this so great. Neither of them are morally pure and so we have no qualms about letting them slug it out and because there’s no rooting interest ethically we’re free to enjoy it purely as a spectator sport.

Gordon’s slurred speech is surprisingly faithful to the melody, even improving upon it at times as he slides his vocal chords over the most unexpected words, drawing them out until it almost sounds like a violent farce.

With his own loping piano, crackling drums and wheezy saxophone that gets progressively stronger during the solo as Rosco loudly encourages him verbally, the track is clean, crisp and well-balanced, all trademarks of Phillips even at this stage of his career.

As Gordon sinks further into delusion we can feel relieved that his vengeful fantasy alone is clearly going to be enough to satiate his anger and with no bloodshed to clean up we can appreciate the record for any one of its equally great attributes… a vivid and memorable story, an easily grasped melody, an intoxicating shuffle rhythm and Gordon’s unforgettable vocal mannerisms.


Steppin’ Out And That Ain’t Right
Though we’re loathe to give the Biharis any credit, what happened next was justifiable, as they had their newly signed talent scout and bandleader Ike Turner – himself a disgruntled former Phillips’ associate – bring Gordon in and re-cut the song to sound as close as possible to the Chess original so they could issue their own single.

We’ll get to that version soon enough, but while undoubtedly it was both versions raking in the sales and jukebox spins, it wasn’t the superior Chess single that got official credit when the song went to Number One, depriving Phillips of his second chart topper as a producer.

But it was still partly his vision which fueled Gordon’s approach and as always if we criticize someone because they deserve it, we’ll praise them when they deserve that too and here Phillips deserves praise, as this Booted is just flat out better.

Better sung, more atmospheric and yes, better produced as well.

In the end it might even be this one that gets heard more today and while Gordon inevitably gets screwed yet again by history in their attempt to focus more of the attention on Phillips’s role in all of this, it’s worth remembering that it was still Rosco Gordon who all of those successful – if unethical – record men were fighting over.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Rosco Gordon (RPM version) (December, 1951)