Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cheese & Crackers....Happy Birthday Roscoe!

November of '56

Rockabilly artist Hayden Thompson storms out of the Sun Recording Studio at 706 Union Avenue, after wasting the whole day with Sam Phillips. The boys had been trying to work up some material good enough for an upcoming single, most of the songs that day were covers of old blues songs, but one "Cheese and Crackers" was penned by Hayden himself. Unfortunately the song's awkward structure left Hayden creatively lost. Disgusted at the lack of inspiration with the song, Hayden left the lyrics on top of the studio's beat up Wurlitzer piano and headed for home.

sittin' at the bar, high as a bat
when up walked to me, this old alley cat
he looked at me and said now son "Cheese and Crackers anyone?"
i said "No! I don't like 'em!"

At this point in time, the national music scene was ever changing, thanks directly to Sam and his little studio in Memphis. Not only did he make rhythm and blues popular with a white audience but he also introduced the world to Elvis Presley, Rock N' Roll, and Rockabilly.
However, in the 50's black music would chart on the rhythm and blues charts exclusively while white artists like Carl Perkins with "Blue Suede Shoes" would have crossover hits on the pop,country and R&B charts. Sam Phillips thought in '56 that the music scene was ready for black music to land on the pop charts if it was adapted for white radio,the artist he hoped would accomplish this was Roscoe Gordon...

Roscoe was already a star by that point having several #1 hits on the best blues labels at that time: Duke, RPM, Modern, and of course Sun. The main reason all the labels were attracted to Roscoe- his unique rhythm. Roscoe's "rhythm" accented the off beats and is actually credited as the foundation for Jamaica's reggae and ska music. (Yah man!)

Sam and Roscoe had already ventured in the Pop territory with a song called "The Chicken". The record was released in Dec. 1955 and started a dance craze. As a publicity stunt for the record Roscoe bought a chicken, named him Butch, and took him to appearances. The two became best of friends and worked up a routine at gigs, both would wear matching suits and while Roscoe performed, Butch would peck scotch out of a shot glass and dance on top of the piano. Unfortunately Butch succumbed to the Rock N' Roll lifestyle (alcoholism and chicken livers don't make a good couple) and passed away at an early age.

my friend got sick, laid up in the bed
Ole' doctor came over, you know what he said?
"Cheese and crackers anyone?"
I don't like 'em that's why I said No!

Back to the story...
Sam calls Roscoe and tells him to come to the studio for a night of recording, and Roscoe finds Hayden's unused lyrics on the piano and in about 10 minutes he has worked up the song as a shuffle. The novelty song is so strange that Sam reserves it for the B side and has Roscoe cut a Fats Domino inspired song called "Shoobie Oobie". Neither side cracked the charts but "Cheese and Crackers" was quoted by Billboard as the "weirdest record of the week."

Roscoe had a few more hits on the charts but walked away from it all to start a family with his second wife Barbara Kerr. Roscoe didn't perform again until his wife passed away in 1984. He also started to record and even though he suffered from diabetes, heart disease and a herniated disc he toured extensively and is seen in several major documentaries. In 2002, Roscoe returned to Memphis and played with old friends Ike Turner, Little Milton and B.B. King and even won a W.C. Handy award. He passed away July 11, 2002 at the age of 74. Tomorrow would of been his 80th birthday...

when i was just boy, still at home
that's before i decided to roam
when the dinner bell rang, you could hear my daddy yell...
"Cheese and Crackers anyone?!"
I said No!

You can hear a new version of "Cheese & Crackers" by Roscoe here:

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