Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 10 April 1928, Memphis Tennessee; d 11 July 2002, NYC) R&B singer, songwriter, pianist. He was an original Beale Streeter at WDIA in Memphis in 1949, the band's live gigs variously including people like B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. He began recording at the Sun studios in 1951, titles leased to RPM and Chess; after Sam Phillips started the Sun label some of Rosco's tracks appeared there as well as on other labels, some of which spelled his name "Roscoe." "Saddle The Cow" was a Billboard top ten R&B hit on RPM in 1951; in 1952 "Booted" on Chess was a number one and "No More Doggin'" on RPM a number two.

"Do The Chicken (Dance With You)" appeared on Sun in early 1956, and "The Chicken (Dance With You)" on the subsidiary Flip label a few months later; this was one of the dance fads of the time, sources citing various composers including Rosco and Billy "The Kid" Emerson, another Sun artist. But Rosko's live version was unique, featuring a rooster named Butch decked out in a miniature suit to match his owner. Butch gyrated and drank scotch during performances, but unfortunately succumbed to his excesses at an early age, and Rosco could not find an equal talent in the henhouses of the South.

In 1960, inspired by a riff from Jimmy McCracklin, Rosco wrote "Just a Little Bit," which became an R&B standard; at the time it was a number two on Vee-Jay and crossed over to the pop Hot 100. But following his biggest success, and after the failure of his first marriage due largely to the lifestyle of the touring musician, Rosco moved to New York in the early 1960s and settled down with Barbara Kerr to raise a second family. In that decade he recorded for ABC-Paramount and Old Town, often with Barbara as Rosco & Barbara; they also had their own Bab-Roc label in the 1970s. He purchased part ownership in a laundry business and became a full-time father to three sons, and principal caregiver when Barbara was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1982.

Following Barbara's death in 1984, Rosco came back to music, doing live dates in the New York area while writing and recording new material at home. His down-home R&B sound was out of fashion in the 1980s, and he endured many disappointments until he teamed with the band of guitarist Duke Robillard for the recording of the album Memphis, Tennessee, released in 2000 on Stony Plain Records. The album recreated the shuffling beats and honking saxophones that had characterized the early years in Memphis, and Rosco was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award as Comeback Artist of the Year. Although suffering from diabetes, heart disease and a herniated disc in his back, Rosco enjoyed his second coming, testifying in music documentaries and performing in festivals. In Memphis he joined old friends B.B. King, Ike Turner and Little Milton for a tribute to Sam Phillips during the 2002 W.C. Handy Awards Show; that busy weekend also included a gig with Bluesman Reverend Gatemouth Moore and Jazz legend Calvin Newborn.

Rosco's valedictory No Dark In America appeared on Dualtone in 2004, collecting recordings he had made at home in his apartment in Queens, overdubbed later, as well as a few made in Nashville in 2002 just a few weeks before his death. The title track was Rosco's spirited, patriotic, ska-flavored reaction to 9/11, and the album as a whole showed that his singing and songwriting skills had never left him.