DOCTOR ROSS - With a stage name of ''Doctor'', a theme song about curing the boogie disease, and over 30 years performing as a one-man band, it's
no surprise that fans, publicists and commentations built Doctor Ross into an even more clear-cut groove than he developed for himself. But back in the early 1950s, the music Ross made for Sam Phillips was not performed as a one-man band and it had a freshness
that sounded current even though it was based on much older songs and styles. Doctor Ross was not the the first to use the theme of the musical medic come to help you feel better - Doctor Clayton and others got there first - but Ross was one of the best.
Georgia Tom recorded some musical medic themes pre-War but Ross's take on it was the boogie - that if you wanted to hear the music, or wanted to dance, or wanted the other thing, then he
was your man.
Born in Tunica, Tunica County, Mississippi, in October 21, 1925, gained his nickname in the US Army and is reference to some medical knowledge he obtained
while in the service. He played for his service buddies in 1943 into 1947 in the Philippines at the Pacific Theater of Operations and frequently entertaining the troops, and in 1950 became fully professional, broadcasting over radios KFFA, WROX and finally
WDIA in Memphis.
Charles Isaiah "Doctor" Ross played a guitar and a harmonica mounted on a rack around the neck while playing a bass drum and/or high hats with foot pedalsand,
he played also the kazoo. Ross were at their best playing rhythmic riffs and boogie-woogie patterns, which gave a fuller sound.
Perhaps it was the surplus of country
blues talent and the notorious competitiveness of the blues scene in Memphis that sustained this one-man band, for they could simulate the sound of a larger combo while being hired to perform for the price of a lone musician.
Doctor Ross grandparents were Indians, his father was Jake Ross, a farmer who played the harmonica. Ross is raised on a farm and is one of 11 children (six girls and five boys), was interested in music in the
early years and learned the harmonica at the age of 6 years. ''My father's name was Jake Ross and my mother's named Lulu Ross'', he told Barry Lee Pearson. ''My father and them used to work over 107 acres of land. I used to be the water boy. I take water to
the fields for them. My father was mostly a new ground man. He'd clean up the woods about hundreds of acres. And he was a harmonica player. ''Music was in both sides of the family. Some of them played violins and banjos. Lots of them plated fiddles, pianos
and organs. My uncle, Jody Nixon, was a great guitar player. That was my uncle on my mother's side. My sister and them used to have one string upside the wall. Put a brick at the bottom end and maybe a bottle up at the top end and make some of the best music
you ever heard. I guess when I was born I just had that in my blood. My sister got married to a World War One veteran and he bought me a couple of harmonicas. Then, a couple more years, I had another sister to get married and she bought me four harmonicas''.
Being left-handed, he played the harmonica upside down (as he would the guitar), meaning in his words, ''I have my coarse keys to the right and my fine ones to the left''.
he worked at the local churches and parties in Tunica, Mississippi area in 1934 and worked with George P. Jackson at the local roadhouses and juke joint in Tunica, Mississippi in 1936. ''He heard me playing one day and he decided, ''I'm gonna ask your father
can you go out with me to play birthday parties''. Jackson was born in Alligator, Mississippi on May 16, 1920. He took up the guitar aged 17 and taught himself to play slide but it was his friend Wiley Galatin (whose name recently metamorphosed into Gatlin)
who taught the teenage Jackson how to play conventional guitar. ''He never was a great guitar player'', Jackson told Hartmut Munnich. ''He just had something going that the people in the South liked''. Jackson and Ross became a team around 1939, with the occasional
addition of Doc Tolbert, who provided percussion on a bucket, an arrangement that lasted until Jackson joined the Army in 1942.
In the late 1930s; he teamed with Willie
Love to on tour with the Barber Parker Silver Kings Band and working on dances through the Mississippi Delta; worked with Wiley Galatin, or solo, at the local house parties in the Tunica area in 1942 into 1943. ''So G.P. played in natural and Wiley played
in Spanish. I like both of them playing but I liked Wiley more because he would get the notes more plainer on the guitar. Wiley had plenty plays because he was big time around here''. They formed a band with guitarist John Dillon and washboard player Reuben
Martin. Dillon was sent to Parchman Farm in 1950 for murder and there's speculation he was the John Dudley Alan Lomax recorded there in 1959. As work became more frequent, Ross had trouble with Galatin. ''Wiley, he'd mess around, ''Oh, I ain't gonna get drunk'',
you laying about two o'clock in the morning. Wiley done fell drunk many times. I had to have somebody to pack him up. I had another young man that come in there so he'd play''.
December 16, 1943 Ross entered the Army and, returning to Tunica in August 1947, Doctor Ross, in Tunica to work outside the music on a farm and appeared on WROX-radio in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1947, and frequently worked at the local dances, parties and
picnics in the Tunica area through the end of the 1940s; appeared with his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys on Katz Cloting Shore Show on KFFA-radio in Helena, Arkansas in 1949; worked on Owl Cafe in Helena, Arkansas in 1949; working on Hole-In-The-Wall;
the Isidore's Bar; the Roger's Club and appeared with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Alex Miller) on the King Biscuit Time on KFFA-radio in Helena, Arkansas in 1950. He also appeared in 1950; with his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys on WDIA-radio in Memphis,
Sam Phillips heard this broadcast and invited him to the Memphis Recording Service studio. He recorded with the Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys for the
Chess label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1951. Recorded for Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee from 1951 into 1954. He was heavenly influenced by Joe Hill Louis and, like him, recorded a great deal for Sam Phillips. His two singles "Come Back Baby"/"Chicago Breakdown"
(SUN 193) and "The Boogie Disease"/"Jukebox Boogie" (SUN 212) sold quite well.
Doctor Ross married in 1952 and after divorce in 1954 he married that same year again.
Ross have 2 children, and is influenced by De Ford, Arthur Crudup, Lonnie Glossen, George Jackson, Muddy Waters and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson.
Ross toured with
the King Biscuit Boys on workings in juke joins through the Arkansas and Missouri area in the early 1950s; appeared on KLCN-radio in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1953, and worked outside the music in Champaign, Illinois. In 1953-54, Ross appeared on the Doc Ross
Show, on WDIA-radio in Memphis, Tennessee and formed the group Dr Ross and the Interns group for working on local club dates in Memphis, Tennessee in 1953 into 1954.
1954 into 1990s, he soon left Memphis and the music for the car plants of Flint and Detroit, Michigan often worked as one-man band in Flint, Michigan. Ross married Beatrice, Willie Love's second cousin. Then he fell out with his wife, who began a court case,
''I said, 'You took a woman out of the South, take her North and you know she can destroy you in no time. In three days she can destroy you, bring your pup tent down''.
rediscovery he has made many tours of Europe, playing as a one man band in Flint, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois from 1954 into 1970s; recorded on his own DIR label in Flint, Michigan in 1958; recorded for Fortune label in Detroit in 1959; recorded for Hi-Q
label in Detroit in 1961 into 1963; recorded for the Testament label in Flint in 1965; worked at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois in 1965; toured with the American Folk Blues Festival on working concert dates through England and Europe in 1965
(portion of the Hamburg, West- Germany concert are released on the Fontana label); recorded for the Blue Horizon. Xtra labels in London, England in 1966; worked at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1970; at the Holiday Inn Bar in Saginaw,
Michigan in 1971; at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, Canada in 1971; recorded with The Disciples for the Foretune label in Detroit in 1971; toured in England and Europe on working concert dates, radio appearances and TV-show in 1972; recorded for the
Big Bear-Munich label in London, England in 1972; recorded for the Esceha label in Koblenz, West Germany in 1972, and worked on the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland in 1972 (portion are released on the Big Bear-Polydor/Excello labels).
In 1973, Doctor Ross on the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in Ann Arbor and toured with the American Blues Legends on working concert dates through England and Europe in 1974 (portions are released
on Big Bear label); appeared on In Concert Show on Radio-4, London, England in 1974; worked BJ's Buffeteria in Bay City, Michigan in 1977, and toured in Europe working concert dates in 1977.
According to Ross, Sam Phillips told him if he could find a white man who could play and sing as good as a black man, he would make him a million dollars. Doctor Ross recalls, "The next time I went back, Elvis Presley had come through...
so they took my promotion off of my record and they put it on him... I was probably one of the first ones. Me, Joe Hill Louis, and Willie Nix. There was a bunch of us there that was on that thing. But we were the ones who really started it". Doctor Ross was
filmed at a concert on January 10, 1993 and subsequently a DVD, ''Doctor Ross The Harmonica Boss'' was issued.
There can be little doubt that Doctor Ross is one of the
most individual and expressive blues singers and player around today, Ross has the artistic ability and lifetime experience to create significant blues. Ross decided to retire after 37 years from General Motors Shop during the summer of 1993, but Charles Isaiah
"Doc" Ross died at May 28, 1993 in Flint, Mississippi of the age of 68 before that day arrived.
Doctor Ross was survived by seven children from his three marriages (and
three divorces) and 20 grandchildren. Ross' funeral was attended by 200 people, and family friend Robert Williams told the Flint Journal: ''He was a loner who rarely visited or called anyone. I used to take his dinner to him daily to make sure he was eating.
He'd stay at home, he'd go to work and work all day. Then he'd come home and watch his black and white television set... watch the Tigers. He would practice music by himself - wouldn't let anyone in the house. He wasn't selfish, he'd help you with his heart.
He was close to his family. He didn't care about money and never spent any on himself. He wouldn't buy a color television and drove a 1979 Buick''.
A few years after
Ross' death one of his sons sold a pile of Ross' memorabilia at a flea market in Detroit, including Ross' contract with Sun Records that now resides in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. (CE) (HD) (MH)