Doctor RossDoctor Ross ‘The Harmonica Boss’ got his stage name from his habit of carrying his harps in a black bag like a medical man. An extremely unorthodox musician, Dr. Ross spent most of his career as a one-man-band in the spirit of Daddy Stovepipe and Joe Hill Louis. He started out playing near his Delta home before spending decades in Detroit before he came to some kind of fame on the Festival circuit in the 70s.

Charles Isaiah Ross was born in Tunica MS in 1925, playing his harp and guitar around the Delta juke-joints and eventually getting some gigs on the radio in Clarksdale and Memphis in the late 40s. This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips and Dr. Ross began his recording career at Sun Records, where he sang and played harp on ‘Chicago Breakdown’ and ‘Boogie Disease’ with a small rhythm section, sometimes just a washboard and broom-bass. The Dr. played his guitar left-handed but ‘upside down’ and blew his harp in a neck-rack but with the high notes to the left, and also kicked his ‘stomp-board’. In October 1953, he cut the first version of ‘Cat Squirrel’ for Sun, which was covered many times down the years. In 1954, Dr. Ross moved to Detroit where he worked for General Motors while playing the clubs at night. In Flint and Detroit he recorded for the DIR, Fortune and High-Q labels before recording his first album ‘Call the Doctor’ for Pete Welding’s Testament label in 1965, when he was billed as a one-man-band.

TV performance for the American Folk Blues Festival in 1965.

Also in 1965, Dr. Ross travelled to Europe with the American Blues Festival and cut the ‘Flying Eagle’ album for the Mike Vernon‘s Blue Horizon label in London, their first ever release. The Doctor was a popular act in Europe and was a very frequent visitor over the years. In 1971, Fortune collected their back-catalogue of his recordings on ‘Dr. Ross the Harmonica Boss’ where he was backed by The Disciples or the Messengers of Soul. In 1972 he cut a live album in Germany, then again at the Montreux Festival and yet again in 1974 in London. His final cut was a live album at The Burnley Blues Festival in England in 1991. While he was never a pioneering artist, Dr. Ross made a big impression on anyone who saw him, and he was much missed on the Festival circuit when he passed away in Flint, Michigan in 1993.