1972 Arhoolie Records (S) 33rpm Arhoolie 1065 mono
DR. ROSS HIS FIRST RECORDINGS
13-track vinyl LP, compiling a number of outstanding recordings by the Delta bluesman Doctor Ross, originally recorded for the Sun label and all featuring the Doc's unique guitar-and-harmonica style. Recorded 1951-1954 Memphis
Recording Service and Sun Studio, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee.
The mention of the name ''Dr. Ross'' to the uninitiated may bring to mind a certain variety of
dog food popular in the 1950s, but to the blues aficionado the name will certainly connote a legend also launched in the fifties, personified in one Isaiah Ross, famous for his raucous, infectious harmonica and guitar boogie and blues style.
These recordings, his first but largely unissued until now, did not of course make his reputation, but we are confident they will enhance it greatly.
Doctor Ross now (1972) resides in the industrial city of Flint, Michigan. But before he made the trek northward in the early 1950s, he was main somewhat of a living playing music in and around his hometown, the
small town of Tunica, in Mississippi.
Ross was born October 21, 1925, into a large family of 11 children. His father, Jake Ross, played harmonica and it was from him
Isaiah inherited his musical abilities. John Lee ''Sonny Boy'' Williamson, in turn, greatly influenced the plating style of the young harmonicist.
He strove to be a professional
musician from the age of nine and by the late 1940s, after his release from the armed forces, he had accomplished his goal.
Many musicians worked under the aegis of Doctor
Ross - Memphis Piano Red, Henry Hill, Barber Parker, Tom ''Slam Hammer'' Toy and Wiley Gatalin being among the most notable.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Doctor
Ross was featured in a number of live radio shows for stations in the area, including KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, the station famous for its King Biscuit Time; WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi; and WDIA in Memphis, Tennessee; were he was ''Medical Doctor'' of
Dee Jay. A.C. ''Mr. Blues'' Williams, ''The Royal Amalgamated Association of Chittlin Eaters of America, Incorporated For The Preservation Of Good Country Blues'', the other officers of which included Joe Hill Louis, Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters.
It was in Memphis that he made these, his initial recordings. They are among his finest, and some predate his decision to become a one-man blues band.
At the time of his first session, Doctor Ross did not feel that he had then sufficiently mastered the guitar to articulately accompany his own singing and harmonica playing. Consequently he called on the abilities
of the aforementioned Wiley Galatin, and Tom Toy, from time to time.
Eventually under the able tutelage of George ''G.P.'' Jackson, now popularly known as ''Kansas City
Bo Diddley'', Ross was able to perfect a guitar style suitable to his needs.
Mention should be made at this point that Doctor Ross is lefthanded and naturally plays hold
the guitar and the harmonica upside down and backwards; that is, the guitar is played with the treble strings at the top and the harmonica with the bass and at his right. This is a truly remarkable feat on either instrument, as anyone who has ever tried to
play in this fashion can attest.
This LP drawn from (probably) five sessions give a sampling of Ross progression toward his unique one-man blues band conception, still
in crystallization at that point.
With one notable exception, none of the tracks in this collection have ever been released before. They provide a clearer picture than
any previously-issued material, of the early musical activities of a latter-day saint of the blues and boogie idioms, Dr. Isaiah Ross.
''Shake A My Hand'' is modeled after Sonny Boy Williamson's 1946 recording of ''Shake The Boogie'', although the lyrics have been somewhat altered and some of the harmonica phrases seem to
be inspired bu Sonny Boy's earlier ''Sonny Boy Jump''.
''Little Soldier Boy'' relates to Ross' experiences in the Army, including references to Korea. The Korean was
was still being fought at the time of the session. As Ross served overseas in the Philippines and Southwest Pacific from 1944, it is possible that this song is a reworking of the song he remembers playing early in his career, ''Philippine Jump''. However,
Doctor Ross also served in the Army in 1950-1951, so that the song could have been inspired in that latter period. The guitar introduction is reminiscent of John Lee Hooker's work, and the song is in fact melodically similar to Hooker's ''Don't You Remember
Me'', recorded shortly before, for King.
''Country Clown'' is the only track included here which has been issued before, and it included on its own merits. It is based
on a record by Lil Son Johnson. Although his harmonica style is still in the vein of John Lee Williamson's playing, this song is uncommon in Ross' repertoire in that he has not established new lyrics of his own for the piece, in contrast to many other of the
songs in this set.
A new arrangement and slightly different words to Booker (Bukka) White's immortal ''Shake 'Em On Down'' are the features of Ross' version of the number.
This side gets site one stomping, and leads into possibly the finest tune Ross ever recorded ''Down South Blues''.
''Down South'' is not Sonny Boy's tune of similar name,
but lyrically is an adaption of two of Williamson's other songs, with some alterations. The initial verse is based ob ''Lacey Belle'', while the remaining verses seem to have added 0n bloc from Ross' memory of an earlier piece. The harp sound on this tune
is beyond description: Al Wilson would have fallen down.
''Going Back South'' features an unknown vocalist, who may be Wiley Galatin or Reubin Martin, both of whom Doctor
Ross reports as playing on other tunes from the session.
These tunes allow us to hear Doctor Ross in the company of the fine barrelhouse pianist Henry Hill (the father
old saxman Raymond Hill who was recently with Albert King), and a washboard player, possibly Reubin Martin. At any rate, the pool of musicians is a formidable one, and the result is a rocking sound unlikely to grace the sterile walls of a recording studio
''Mississippi Blues'' has been recorded several times since by Ross, as ''Cat Squirel'', and in was under this name that it became a hit for Eric Clapton and Creak
in the 1960s. The guitar plays the familiar ''Catfish Blues;; riff, the washboard fills the role normally assumed by a drummer, and Doctor Ross plays some fine harp.
Ross Breakdown'' is an alternate take to ''Chicago Breakdown'', which was released in the fifties. Its lyrics contain an interesting biographical mention of the life style of the working man in Tunica; together with the typical southern expression ''all (of)
''Turkey Leg Woman'' is melodically similar to Sonny Boy's ''You're An Old Lady'', but the lyrics are original, with very funky references to a cookin'
''Memphis Boogie'' an alternate take of which was issued in the 1950s, is the only tune in this collection from the fourth early session. It is also the only
one featuring a drummer, probably by Barber ''Bobby'' Parker, who was rated, with Joe Hill Louis, as one of the two most professional bluesmen A.C. Williams ever met. Parker still has a band in Tunica, the ''Swinging Silver Kings''.
''Going To The River'' and ''Good Thing Blues'' are from Ross' last session in Memphis. By the time he made them he was living in the north and had returned south on a visit.
''Going'', which has no harp, is a re-make of Blind Lemon Jefferson's ''Wartime Blues'' and ''Good Thing Blues'' is based on Sonny Boy's ''Cold Chils'' or on Hooker's version, but Ross has
added new lyrics in part, including the unusual phrase ''god things come to my remind''.
It is easy to concentrate to on Doctor Ross influences. The fact that he is a
musical personality in his own right should, however, be obvious to anyone who has read his auto-biography as told to Pete Wekling, in ''Nothing But The Blues''. Certainly the music here is a good representation of the best barrelhouse music of the fifties.
Liner notes by Steve LaVere and Bob Eagle, 1972
Cover Photo by Jim Marsh, taken at the 1970 Ann Abor Festival
Side 1: Contains
1.1 - Shake 'Em On Down
1.2 - Down South Blues
1.3 - Shake A My Hand
1.4 - Little Soldier Boy
1.5 - Mississippi Blues
1.6 - Going Back South
1.7 - Dr. Ross Breakdown
Original Sun Recordings
Side 2: Contains
2.1 - Going To The River
2.2 - Good Thing Blues
2.3 - Turkey Leg Woman
2.4 - Country Clown
2.5 - My BeBop Gal
- Memphis Boogie
Original Sun Recordings
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