It was another age, of course. But I can’t help thinking about the blues songwriter Rosco Gordon who died recently. He and Jimmy McCrackin wrote “Just a Little Bit” in the fifties and played it to a record company who passed on the song – but decided to copyright it anyway just in case. It went on to be recorded by some 50 performers.
More rough treatment followed. For the single “Booted”, he received $700 despite a version reaching the n° 1 spot on the Billboard R&B charts in 1952. He later wrote “Just a Little Bit” which was again copyrighted by someone else, Ralph Bass at king records, and went on to be covered by covered by the Beatles, Etta James, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Butler.
“When I found I had lost the rights to over 300 songs,” he once said, “it felt like someone was choking me when I try to sing.” He subsequently set up a dry cleaning business with money he won at poker.
Rosco’s loose off-beat piano-playing, known as the Rosco Shuffle, is often cited as one of the early influences on reggae.
In 2002 he took part in the documentary film ‘The Road to Memphis’, a tribute to the legendary Sun label owner Sam Phillips. Sadly, Rosco died from a heart attack in his New York apartment a few weeks later. The final insult was when Universal lost his master tracks in the fire that destroyed their storage facilities in 2008.
The moral? I don’t know. But it can be a tough business, songwriting. Sure you still want to get involved?
Check Rosco Gordon on Spotify.