Rosco Gordon, Prince Buster invent Reggae


Charly Records pulled Rosco out of obsurity in the late '70's

Charly Records pulled Rosco out of obsurity in the late '70's

Seems incredible that an artist partially responsible for the invention of both Reggae and Rock n Roll is someone you probably never heard of. He was a great singer, songwriter, and a very charismatic performer.

Rosco and Elvis

Rosco Gordon (April 10, 1928 – July 11, 2002) was an African American Blues singer and songwriter. He is best known for his 1952 #1 single “Booted”.

Born on Florida Street, in Memphis, Tennessee, Gordon was one of the Beale Streeters, a moniker given to a group of musicians who helped develop the style known as Memphis Blues.

Gordon created a style of piano playing known as ‘The Rosco Rhythm’ and made a number of his early recordings for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. This rhythm placed the accent on the off beats, and is cited as the foundation of Jamaican bluebeat and reggae music. “Booted” (1952) gave his career a sound start, and was followed by “No More Doggin’” the same year. Sam Phillips later sold the master tape of “Booted” to two competing labels, Chess and RPM, both of whom released it as a single. This seeming mix up did not prevent the song from hitting number one on the Billboard R&B chart. However there were no further hits despite Gordon’s youth, talent and exuberant and oddball personality. In 1962, he gave up the music industry and moved to Queens, New York with his new wife where he purchased a partnership in a laundry business. Following his wife’s death in 1984, he returned to performing in the New York area.

In 2002, he was invited by filmmaker Richard Pearce to be featured as part of a documentary about several blues musicians returning to Memphis for a special tribute to Sam Phillips in conjunction with the May 2002 W. C. Handy Awards. Called The Road To Memphis, the documentary aired on PBS television. Six weeks after filming finished, Gordon died of a heart attack at his apartment in Rego Park, Queens. He was 74 years old. He was interred in the Rosedale Cemetery in Linden, New Jersey.

“That’s What You Do To Me” and “Honey Let’s Get High” come from “Sun Records, The Blues Years, 1950-1956″, a nine record set released by Charly in 1985, and unissued at the time they were recorded (1956). “Keep on Doggin” is not the 1952 hit, “No More Doggin”, but a 1957 sequel.

Cecil Bustamente Campbell, (born May 28, 1938), better known as Prince Buster and also known by his Muslim name Muhammed Yusef Ali, is a musician from Kingston, Jamaica ans is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Ska and Rocksteady music. The records he made on the Bluebeat label in the 1960s inspired many Reggae and ska artists.

Campbell began his professional career as a singer in 1956; performing in Kingston nightclubs. He formed a succession of bands with several of his friends, none of which were successful.

Campbell’s music career reached maturity with the growth of the Jamaican Sound System. Across Jamaica, music promoters drove vans filled with stereo equipment to stage mobile parties. The operators of the sound system would play the popular Rhytmm and Blues dance records of the day and often they would have a vocalist called a “toaster” call out the dancers’ names, chant in rhythm, and make light-hearted boasts. Deejay “toasting” was one of the precursors to the style of vocal delivery that eventually evolved into Rap music.

Eventually, Campbell was introduced to Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, a musically-inclined businessman who operated one of Kingston’s most popular sound systems. Interestingly, Campbell was not hired as a musician but as security; because of rivalries between fans devoted to a particular sound system, the parties sometimes could become quite rough, and Campbell had been a skillful amateur boxer as a teenager. It was in this line of work that he earned the nickname “The Prince”, which along with his boyhood moniker “Buster” (from his middle name Bustamente), formed the name under which he would later become famous.

He joined the Nation of Islam after meeting Muhammad Ali whilst on a tour of England in 1964.

In 1960, Buster produced a record for the for the Wild Bells label, “Oh! Carolina” under his nickname. This record was Jamaica’s first to involve an element of African music – the drumming in the record was provided by “Count Ossie” , the lead nyabinghi drummer from the “Rastafarian” camp, Camp David in the hills above Kingston. It was an instant hit in Jamaica, and Buster’s early records, which were released in the United Kingdom by Blue Beat” Records contributed greatly to the developing sound of “Ska”.
Buster was soon recording his own compositions as well as producing records for others.

From 1963 to the end of the decade, Buster wrote and produced hundreds of songs for Blue Beat” . Soon after his initial success, Buster was drawing international attention. He toured Britain extensively during this period, playing to sellout crowds, and appeared on commercial TV broadcaster Rediffusion London’s Friday early-evening pop show “Ready Steady Go!” in 1964. He became notorious for releasing “Big Five”, a raunched-up re-write of Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia”.

Ska Originator Prince Buster

Ska Originator Prince Buster

Besides being a pioneering musician, Buster, like Clement Dodd, was also very interested in business. He started a Record Shop in Kingston in the early 1960s which is still owned and operated by his family today. Later he founded a Jukebox company. He also started the Prince Buster Records label, at first as an attempt to keep the Melodisc label viable, but today is used to reissue his music.

“Oh Carolina”, “Millie Girl”, and “Never Never” come from “Prince Buster Record Shack Presents The Original Golden Oldies” on the Prince Buster label. No date, but I bought this vinyl lp at the Rhino Records Shop in West LA in the early ’80′s.

That’s What You Do To Me
Honey Let’s Get High
Keep On Doggin’
Oh! Carolina
Millie Girl
Never Never

7 thoughts on “Rosco Gordon, Prince Buster invent Reggae

  1. Yes I! True, true..

    Rosco seems to be milking the Rocket 88 cow a little too hard for these ears. I’ll take Jackie Brenston at the wheel, and Rosco can sit in the back. But then again I like this kind of stuff when they’re all jacked up on reds-witness Amos Milburn, “Down the road a piece”. Riiiiide.

    The prince buster cuts are fascinating. Oh Carolina sounds like they are drumming along to the record. One of the most awesome examples of Nyabinghi drumming I’ve heard occurs at the beginning of the movie “Rockers”, when the Sons of Negus are pounding away, and Kiddus I starts up the chords to “Satta Massagana”, and they all fall in. Don’t even need any weed for that one. Never Never has an interesting arrangement, with the harmonica. Don’t hear that too often- it points out how important choice of instruments is; imagine Augustus Pablo playing a harmonica instead of a melodica. Which brings me to the whole point of my story, which is to warn you off a beer called “Yardy”, brewed in Kingston. This is hands down the most vile concoction known to man. Instead of hops and barley they use pork rinds and toe cheese. Floaters abound, and there is a distinctive finish of fuel stabilizer. I definitely chose the wrong instrument the day I picked up a Yardy. Great post, thanks.


  2. Red Stripe is pretty bad, too. They might taste good ice cold if you were sweltering in jamaica, and smoking a spliff with U-Roy.

  3. It was really hard narrowing down the songs that best supported the text. Rosco employs a pretty diverse palette on records. I used a couple that really emphasized Rosco’s Rhythm.
    For this reason I didn’t include an amazing Prince Buster tune featuring only the Nyabinghi drummers and a doo-Wop vocal trio singing “Chubby”. It’s worth a post by itself.

  4. Uh…

    Sorry, I guess I’m just too high to make a comment of any worth.

    Saria Sarhaddi Nelson
    NPR News, Kabul Afghanistan

    P.S. You should try the shitty beer they have over here!

  5. Pingback: Playlist for Ska’s the Limit on May 15, 2010 | STL SKA

  6. Is it ok if I use part of your article in an article I am writing? I will credit you and link back to your article.

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