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RPM 344; DECEMBER 1951



An ominous title to read as summer officially winds down…

Also an ominous record to study because of the controversies surrounding the entire corrupt band of cutthroat record company bigwigs who discarded any semblance of honesty and integrity in an effort to increase their bankrolls at the expense of the artists that kept them in business in the first place.

But since we’ve already hashed and re-hashed that countless times with this motley crew, let’s instead just focus on the music that the aforementioned artist made for them… what’s his name? Rosco Gordon, isn’t it?

No, he couldn’t even keep his own name, they changed that too and gave him an extra “e”, one he didn’t want. Not surprisingly it’d be about the only thing they gave him voluntarily.


Sleeping All Alone
Where this was recorded and who it was recorded by is still in doubt in these circles. Most sources list it as being recorded by Sam Phillips in his Memphis Recording Studios on December 3rd 1951 for Modern Records (or rather, their R.P.M. subsidiary).

It seems unlikely though considering the Bihari Brothers who owned that label were irate with Phillips for pawning an earlier Gordon cut, Booted, to Chess Records after having done the same thing in the spring with a Jackie Brenston song that went to #1, in spite of the deal the two had for Phillips to send everything Modern’s way.

The Biharis had Rosco Gordon under contract no less and so they had him come in and re-record Booted with a new band led by Ike Turner… except that the same sources that say this side was cut December 3rd by Phillips also say THAT side was, which makes no sense, but what about these crooks does make sense?

So we’ll put that question aside and assume that Turner was leading the band and the Biharis were attempting to freeze out Phillips so he’d be in for a Cold, Cold Winter thanks to his endless duplicity.

Gordon though was anything but cold, having had hits, both local and national, since making his debut last winter and with the top side of this – whichever version you prefer – would wind up scoring his biggest ever smash when it went to #1 in 1952.

While the flip side of the Chess release, Love You ‘Til The Day I Die, was atrocious thanks to the first vocal appearance of future star Bobby Bland who wrote and got to “sing” a duet with Gordon, this side for RPM is a different song altogether and Bland, who was currently acting as Rosco’s chauffeur, apparently stayed in the car practicing his scales.

My Morning Thrill
If nothing else the intensity of the track is sure to catch you off guard.

Rosco Gordon’s musical reputation at this point is that of a quirky artist with a casual approach to recording featuring a laid-back vibe that can be quite enchanting.

Not so here.

On Cold, Cold Winter everything is pushed to the max – his piano, the tenor sax, the bass drum kicks and Gordon’s voice at times – and the result is almost alarming to hear, the sound of fury if you will.

Naturally the cause of this is his woman has left him and he’s claiming she’s hitting the bottle while raging internally at the thought of her with another man while he’s left to stare at the snow out his window I suppose.

Luckily he’s got his anger to keep him warm, because at times Gordon’s voice sounds as if it’s scorched which certainly hammers home whatever vengeful sentiments the lyrics only hint at and gives you a good glimpse into his state of mind. You can’t necessarily respect the evil thoughts swirling in his addled brain, but you commend the single-minded focus he has in expressing them without ambiguity here.

That said, if the band wasn’t up to matching him with the same kind of take no prisoner’s approach it all might fall flat, as he’d overwhelm a more dainty arrangement and perhaps send the musicians fleeing for their lives, but here they give just as well as they take and slug it out with him, with the saxophone being the heavy hitter of the bunch, as the lines coming from Willie Sims’ (presumably) horn sound as if they were burning his lungs.

The deep rich tone, how the horn actually seems to smolder during the first part of the solo before we’re left with just smoke wafting through the air, all of which is backed by some ferocious fills on the drums while Gordon adds percussive melodic accoutrements on the keyboards, make this a mesmerizing track even if it’s a little too bone-shaking for most casual fans of the day to get into.

By the time spring rolled around one thing was certain, there’d be no snow around Rosco Gordon’s house, this kind of playing melted it all in three minutes.


I Miss My Baby
Records… or songs on records… can be viewed in a number of ways, all of which are valid even if all of them contradict one another in a way.

Certain songs are designed for maximum commercial appeal… a catchy hook, smooth vocals and a basic story with universal appeal.

Other songs are designed to be experimental and oftentimes are never appreciated in their musical lifetime, but take on greater importance when future acts discover them and take those experiments in new directions.

Cold, Cold Winter falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not that it has a new musical concept in terms of chords, style or technique… but rather that it pushes the sonic limits in place at the time into overload and does so with instruments not exactly known for such things, all of which is matched by his singing.

As such there’s not much chance that something this intense would’ve been likely to connect with audiences in 1951… outside of the state penitentiary that is, yet it’s never anything less than captivating in spite of – or maybe because of – those qualities.

You can debate influence, certainly it’s an influential sound in theory, but anger is something that really has no starting point to give credit to any one individual.

Then again, maybe it’d be appropriate for once to credit Sam Phillips for something musical in a sense… creating all this turmoil which resulted in Rosco Gordon recording for two record labels, neither of which paid him his due, which is enough to make anyone angry.


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