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Monday, March 1, 2010
Doctor Ross, the harmonica boss
Doctor Ross, the harmonica boss, was an American blues singer, guitarist, harmonica player and drummer — a one-man band — who was born Charles Isaiah Ross, in Tunica, Mississippi.Ross played various forms of the blues that have seen him compared to John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson I, and is perhaps best known for the recordings he made for Sun Records in the 1950s, notably "The Boogie Disease" and "Chicago Breakdown".In 1951 Ross began to be heard on Mississippi and Arkansas radio stations, now nicknamed Doctor because of his habit of carrying his harmonicas in a black bag that resembled a doctor's bag. Over the next three years he recorded in Memphis, Tennessee for both Chess and Sun, creating exhilarating harmonica or guitar boogies made distinctive by his sidemen playing washboard (with a spoon and fork) and broom.In 1954 Ross took a job with General Motors in Flint, Michigan, and reduced his playing. He released a string of 45s on the Detroit-based Fortune Records. Some singles, among them his first true one-man band effort, "Industrial Boogie", filtered into blues circles, leading to a Testament Records album and a 1965 American Folk Blues Festival booking in Europe.While in London he recorded what would be the first LP on Blue Horizon Records. In 1972 he recorded for Ornament Records during a German tour. Europe loved Ross and gave him work and recording opportunities; he was never as popular at home, and in the 1980s his performing profile was barely visible.
Ross won a Grammy for his 1981 LP 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.