This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 146 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!
Music is a great healer, and this week I feature one of the many music “doctors” that have beguiled us with their music.
The artist is Dr. Ross and this is the CD album – Boogie Disease.
The album was released on the Arhoolie label and it has the identifying code of CD – 371 and was released in 1992.
The album has 22 tracks, pretty much reflecting all the best of his music recorded between 1951 and 1954.
There isn’t a great deal written on Dr. Ross in fact it has been said that generally if you mention the name Dr. Ross some people may recall an advertisement in the 1950’s for dog food!
Here is some of what I do know.
Dr. Ross is one of those wonderful bluesmen whose career started post world war 2, in the 1950’s to be exact.
Born Isaiah “Ike” Ross in Tunica Mississippi in October of 1925, he was one of 11 children. His father Jake Ross was a harp (harmonica) player and there is little doubt that he not only influenced the young Ike, but that Ike got his talent from his father.
Ross has claimed that his most important influence was the great John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson – better known as Sonny Boy Williamson I [not to be confused with his equally famous and talented namesake, Sonny Boy Williamson II – Alex, or Alec Miller.]
Not unexpectedly the young Ike played around with the harp but did nothing professionally until after he was discharged from the armed forces.
Now Ross claimed to have native American blood in him and most certainly the nickname “Doctor” seems to have resulted from the knowledge of medicine of his ancestors.
While serving in the Army, with the fear of the Korean war escalating, he was posted in the military hospital and after the war became known as the “doctor”.
On leaving the army and returning home, for a short while he teamed up with Willie Love to go on tour with Barber Parker’s Silver Kings band, and then with the King Biscuit Boys.
Then he formed his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive band and later, formed another group called Dr. Ross and the Interns.
Certainly the later was considered as a good country-blues band which traveled extensively through the tri-state area.
He played with many very good players including but not limited to, Wiley Gatlin, Tom “Slamhammer” Troy (sometimes referred to as Toy), John “Memphis Piano Red” Williams and Barber “Bobby” Parker.
During the early 1950’s he featured on many, many radio programs.
He ended up in Memphis Tennessee where he became the “Medical Director” of DJ A.C. “Mr “Blues” Williams’ “The Royal Amalgamated Association of Chittlin’ Eaters of America, Incorporated for the Preservation of Good Country Blues.”
Now THAT is a mouthful.
But indeed other officers of the fictitious organisation included Joe Hill Louis, Lightning Hopkins and the legendary Muddy Waters.
In fact it was while in Memphis that he made his initial recordings which are considered by purists as among his finest, and some pre-date his decision to ditch the band members and become a one-man band.
The transition to a one-man band was made between 1951 and 1954.
He married in 1952 and got divorced in 1953. He remarried in 1954 and had two children.
Ross was a natural left-hander and naturally played the guitar and the harmonica upside down, and backward – preceding Jimi Hendrix by some 10 or more years.
So let’s move onto this CD
1. Boogie Disease
2. Going To The River
3. Good Thing Blues
4. Turkey Leg Woman
5. Country Clown
6. My Bebop Gal
7. Memphis Boogie (Juke Box Boogie-Take 1)
8. Shake ‘Em On Down
9. Down South Blues
10. Shake A My Hand
11. Little Soldier Boy
12. Mississippi Blues (Cat Squirrel)
13. Going Back South
14. Dr. Ross (Chicago) Break Down-Take 2
15. Taylor Mae
16. Texas Hop
17. Chicago Breakdown
18. Juke Box Boogie-Take 2 (Memphis Boogie)
19. Feel So Sad
20. Polly Put Your Kettle On
21. Industrial Avenue Boogie
22. Downtown Boogie
Yet again I’ll start with track #1 – as I have found that it is generally a good indicator of what the artist wants to present to us.
Boogie Disease is a magnificent track and surely does set the scene for what is a very good album.
This is the version which was originally released on the old 78 disc – being the first release of this track.
Now while I applaud this being track #1 it is very interesting because apart from his very unique vocal delivery style, and an example of his great spin of boogie music, it does not have his trademark harmonica on it.
Yet is really is a fantastic example of his lyrics and actually is quite a sonic delight with some terrific echo effects throughout the track and some fantastic Dr. Ross guitar playing.
Some reviews on this track talk about a second guitarist, but the only guitarist is the good doctor, who is accompanied on drums by Barber “Bobby” Parker.
Boogie Disease b/w Jukebox Boogie (Sun 212) was recorded in Memphis at SUN Records in 1952 and is an absolute classic and perhaps the finest song ever written about “musical clap”.
There is some debate among blues aficionados that John Lee Hooker is probably the very best exponent of boogie blues – but this track by Dr. Ross really does challenge that claim.
Track #5 is on the other hand a fantastic example of two other elements of Dr Ross’ music, maybe three!
There is his mighty fine “harp” [harmonica] playing, but then there is his fantastic “delta” style guitar work. This in fact very much demonstrates that Dr Ross was as accomplished at playing delta-style blues as he was the boogie.
I think it is very easy to claim that Ross’ harp playing on this track is right in the vein of one of the greatest blues harp players of all time, Sonny Boy Williamson.
There is nothing documented to suggest that what I propose about this track is true, but it seems to me that this is so unlike the “classic” Dr. Ross style of playing it may very well have been something he was playing around with well before this recording session in 1952.
Let us not forget that he claimed that one of his strongest influences was indeed Sonny Boy Williamson (I), so it is not drawing too long a bow.
Oh, the track title is Country Clown, and why he would give such a beautiful bit of blues this title is something not documented anywhere – but we can enjoy it anyway.
We jump past some might fine pieces of music to stop at track #12 – titled Mississippi Blues.
Interestingly this track was also known as “Cat Squirrel”.
The track was recorded in October 1953 and it is believed that Reubin Martin accompanied Dr. Ross on washboard.
This track was famously reinterpreted by Eric Clapton when he was with Cream, yet as we listen to the track we can hear how Clapton would have been influenced and so resulting in the version Cream recorded.
One of the big differences between the two versions, apart from the years and the recording technology, is the fact that Ross’ original actually has lyrics while the Cream simply used “All right, all right, all right“.
Well I’m goin’
Yes I’m goin’
Baby don’t you want to go
I’ll be leavin’ in the mornin’
Won’t be back
Won’t be back
Won’t be back
Won’t be back
Lord I wish
Went to the churchhouse
There they call on me to pray
Got me down on my knees darlin’
Not a word
Not a word
Not a word
Sure no word
Gone my baby
She gone way
yer like a cat squirrel
In a cave
She get up in the mornin’
Come that day
Come that day
Come that day
Come that day
Track #15 – Taylor Mae is very interesting as it was recorded in October 1953 and really echoes the melody of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” by Sonny Boy Williamson.
Whether Ross was paying homage to his mentor or whether it was a case of the melody being in his head and him adding his own well chosen potpourri of words, we don’t know.
However, Ross does make this tune his own.
It really wasn’t unusual for blues artists to modify, adapt and adopt the tunes of their contemporaries to form their own blues song. In fact it has been argued many times that most of the blues tunes are adaptations in one way or another of traditional songs and, the old bluesmen would not hesitate to “adapt’ words or melodies of their contemporaries into a tune and call it their own.
Back in this period the concept of taking a fellow musician to court on a copyright breach because elements of the tune or the words were the same or similar, was something simply not even considered.
That was left to later years when the talentless (in the main) did so in order to promote their own flagging stocks.
But we listen, we tap our feet and we love comparing this track back to that original “Good Morning Little School Girl“, and enjoy making the comparisons.
Texas Hop is track #1.
It is one of Ross’ great dance tracks which is for all intents and purposes is an instrumental, featuring his guitar and harp playing,
Although the good doctor does declare “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,yes, yes – Texas Hop” early in the track, repeating it again in the middle with the additional lyric ‘awhile again“.
Then he lobs in a “Hop a while“!
This track surely demonstrates that Dr. Ross was using a distorted guitar sound well before it became popular, such as when Ray Davies slit the cone of his speaker to get that distorted sound in “You Really Got Me”, later in the 1960’s.
There is another “Texas Hop” as written and recorded by Pee Wee Crayton circa 1948, but the two versions have nothing in common apart from their name.
Track 19 is Feel So Sad.
This track was recorded in 1952 with Barber Parker on drums. The track is a bit of an enigma for me as we have Dr. Ross singing about feeling so sad, “One of the worse feelin’ I ever had“, yet he sounds so upbeat!
But this is what I love about Dr. Ross he always sounds like he absolutely enjoying himself.
Feel So Sad
There is no reason why any of the tracks on this album couldn’t have been discussed, including track #18 Polly Put The Kettle On.
This was published in 1803 and would be the oldest published track on this album and, a version of this track unlike any ever recorded previously.
But I’ll finish with the penultimate track on the album – Industrial Avenue Boogie.
Recorded in 1954 it is the most recently recorded track on the album and showcases Dr. Ross’ ability to play a damn fine boogie on a steel string acoustic guitar as opposed to his penchant for electrified guitars.
It also shows post WWII how the bluesmen of this era moved the songs of struggle and trouble from the “cotton fields” into the struggles they experienced in the streets of the industrialised cities of the USA.
Industrial Avenue Boogie
Dr. Ross went on to keep recording right up until 1992, with a further 17 albums released posthumously.
Ross won a Grammy for his 1981 album Rare Blues, and subsequently enjoyed a resurgence of popularity and critical acclaim towards the end of his career.
He died in 1993, at the age of 67, and was buried in Flint, Michigan.
The notes in the accompanying book finish off saying, “It is easy to cite Dr. Ross’ influences, but the fact that he has a musical personality in his own right should be obvious to anyone who has ever heard him perform in person.
The recordings here (on this CD) are amongst the finest examples of boogie and barrelhouse dance music of the 1950’s.”
Based on the tracks on this CD, I think it puts Dr. Ross at the absolute top of the heap as a Blues dance musician.
Putting it bluntly, he just rocks!
As he said rather prophetically in Boogie Disease, “Thought I’d boogie to the doctor, boogie to the nurse; Gonna keep on boogiein’ till they put me in the hearse.”
And that’s exactly what Dr. Ross did.
Is Boogie Disease the best Dr. Ross album?
The man has 62 albums out and there are some rippers, but, it is as good as any of the best, and if you want Dr. Ross during his formative years then this is the album for you!
It is readily available and can be purchased on Ebay for around Au$26.00 including postage.
These are only two live performances of Dr. Ross that I could locate on Youtube, but we have to be grateful that there are even two.
A superb live one-man band performance
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:
#108: Paul Simon – Graceland
#139. Mary Wells – The Best Of
#144. Madonna – Ray of Light