Monday, May 5, 2014

Dr. Ross - Chicago Breakdown

(originally published, 6/10/11)
Dr. Ross originally hailed from Tunica, Mississippi and made many of his earliest recordings at the fabled Sun Records Studio in Memphis, TN with producer Sam Phillips. Today's SoTW, is the flip-side of Ross' second record (the first was for Chicago's Chess Records) and was recorded on October 3rd, 1952. Dr. Ross was known as the one man band as he often played guitar, harmonica, kick drum and sang all by his lonesome. This recording happens to have a guest musician, Reuben Martin, on washboard.

Doctor Isaiah Ross remains largely unknown, even to casual blues fans. Why? Well, his brand of blues was rough and droning and he lacked the sophistication that a Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson brought to the genre. Add to that the fact that Dr. Ross took a job in 1954 with GM in Flint, Michigan, which, in a huge understatement, is no music mecca. On top of that, Doctor Ross recorded for multiple labels and, like John Lee Hooker, to whom comparisons are obvious, recorded under multiple names and re-recorded his more popular songs multiple times. That all adds up to a hard to pin down musician and hard to break into a larger audience market.

Today's song is the Chicago Breakdown. While it is the flip-side of the single, it is the better known side. The droning open chord riff is complimented by Ross' guttural harmonica work that weaves seamlessly with Ross' hollerin' vocals. I think I would pass out if I was going between singing and blowing a harmonica like he does. Ross gives a little history of himself in the song and he sings it with quite a thick southern accent, y'all.
Below is a vid of him doing his one-man band thing in Germany circa 1965.


  1. This is freaking cool! Love the boogie, love the harp! A little bit Hooker, a little bit Little Walter, a lotta bit fantastic. What a great find Morgan. Dr. Ross is now my favorite 'band" from Flint Michigan (bye bye Grand Funk Railroad)!

  2. Fastest response to a post ever. GFR is still pretty cool. Have you ever heard their song "Bad Time"?

  3. I'm not speedy, just serendipitous. I've never heard "Bad Time" (I'm just a casual Grand Funk'er) but I'll hunt it down. Back to Dr. Ross, loved the video clip of "Feel So Good" as well. I thought I heard a little precursor to some Magic Sam in "Chicago Breakdown", and "Feel So Good" verified that notion.

  4. Your right Mr. Geebee, I was trying to figure out where I heard that refrain from Feel So Good. Magic Sam's I Wanna Boogie is the answer. I'm particularly impressed with the opening harp work on Chicago Braeakdown.

  5. Another thing to note, is both the guitar and the harp are upside down.