Cosmo: Let Him Go, Let Him Go, God Bless Him

Posted: September 8th, 2013 | Filed under: Culture, Music, Ruminations | 20 Comments »

cosmo1If there’s one image that lingers, one that underscores why I miss Tommy Cosdon oh so much, it’s the one in my mind’s eye from the summer of ’61. Taylorsville Road Frisch’s, the one known as the Atherton Big Boy. Cosmo and a couple of his Sultan band mates are sitting in a car around back . . . listening to “It’ll Be Easy.”

Maybe on WAKY. Perhaps WKLO,

Whatever, it was an indelible teen moment. American Graffiti.

Our band, our guys. Guys we knew. On the radio. In the Top 40.

Oh, what a time it was. Such a time.

Cosmo’s passing reaffirms for the thousandth time that those halcyon days of Friday nights dancing at the VFW are long ago far away, it underlines one last definitive time that we can’t go back.

Our sadness is as much about us as it is about Tommy. We who grew up at that special time in Louisville are the lucky ones. And now, with our aches and pains and daily reminders on the obit page, and the sad news about Cosmo, we know for absolute sure there will be no more one more once. We’ve lost the chance to ask that gal or guy across the room from Waggener or Sacred Heart to slow dance. Those memories are finite.

How many times did I hear Cosmo’s amazing voice?

Hell, I haven’t a clue.

VFW. Zachary Taylor. Richmond Boat Club. School dances. On the Belle. At the Watterson or Henry Clay or Seelbach Hotel.

The first time, at an Atherton sock hop.

Another memorable moment was when The Sultans opened for the Beach Boys at the Fairgrounds. They wore gold tuxedos.

Cosmo’s singular musical interlude I particularly cherish came at his club, his most successful business venture, The Head Rest. It happened to be the night before the tornado, which closed the joint down for a long while. (Before the neighbors later after its reopening closed it down for good, voting the Crescent Hill precinct dry, because too many of us parked on their lawns and peed in their bushes.)

I can’t recall what band was playing. But Tommy sat in and let loose with the most soulful, inspired version of “St. James Infirmary” I’ve ever heard.

The guy felt it. How many times did I hear him carry on about Bobby Bland or some other blues shouter known mainly by the cognoscenti? I recall him waxing ecstatic when the band worked up a cover of The Capris’ “There’s A Moon Out Tonight.”

For years I tried to get him to join me in New Orleans for JazzFest, regaling him about sets from “The Tan Canary,” Johnny Adams, or Aaron Neville or Bobby Marchan. But there was always Derby week in the way. When I mentioned one year on my return, of hearing Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Cosmo just sighed, assured me he’d make it down. He never did.

But, oh my, that voice. A perfectly soul-infused, teen rock & roll voice.

Suitably nasal. Slightly thin. Often a quiver. Emanating both yearning and bravado. Full with woe and wonder.

He was a good guy. A friend. My junior year at Atherton, I ate lunch with him daily, along with he who would become Dr. Death, George Nichols.

Yes, Cosmo was a character. Ran a glob of glue in the Derby named Rae’s Jet, who finished last. Owned a place on Fourth Street called Cosmo’s Wiggery. For years had a great Derby Sunday party, when he lived in Pee Wee Valley.

But, above and beyond all the rest, it’s the songs.  “It’ll Be Easy,” of course, The Sultans’ first and biggest hit.

Their cover, with Cosmo singing lead, of The Gladiola’s “Sweetheart Please Don’t Go.”

Audio MP3

After Tommy left The Sultan’s for solo gigs with The Counts, there was the cute and clever, “Small Town Gossip.”

Audio MP3

“I’m A Little Mixed Up,” which I include because, well, because a lot of you really like it, and because my buddy Mike, who helped me download all these tunes so they could be included here, warned, “You gotta include ‘I’m A Little Mixed Up.”

Audio MP3

And my personal favorite, his splendid version of Frank Bugbee’s  haunting “I Belong To Nobody.”

Audio MP3

There really isn’t a way to describe how his inimitable croon soothed my soul. Carried me through hard times when only melody could calm the heartache.

Cosmo was one of many coulda woulda shouldas. Most every town had one at the dawn of rock & roll.

But . . . he was a cut way above the rest.

And . . . he was ours.



20 Comments on “Cosmo: Let Him Go, Let Him Go, God Bless Him”

  1. 1 Marty said at 9:21 pm on September 8th, 2013:

    In an era where the following words are too often meant to be ironic, I mean them sincerely: Thank you for sharing this. I was 10 when ““It’ll Be Easy” came out, but I remember to this day being happy to hear a song by a LOCAL BAND on Top 40 radio. And I remember feeling teenage heartbreak at the age of 10.

  2. 2 Marsha Bornstein said at 11:54 pm on September 8th, 2013:

    A poignant and beautifully written tribute to Cosmo and reminiscense of that special time.

  3. 3 Wildcat said at 10:11 am on September 9th, 2013:

    In the fall of 1969, I moved to Kentucky to further my education and took a job at a fraternity at UK as a “housemother.” I had not been in the state for a week before I heard a wonderful album called “13 by Request.” It was totally new to me and I was blown away. The kid who had the album was named Davy Crockett (really) and I begged him to let me borrow it. The music spoke to me and over the years I learned the history of the musicians and the time and place of its origin. Those of you lucky enough to come of age in Louisville fifty years ago experienced something that those of us from small towns never knew….truly great locally produced music. The Maven’s piece spoke to me even though I wasn’t there at the American Legion Post….but, then again, perhaps I was in spirit. Thank you Maven.

  4. 4 joanie said at 11:33 am on September 9th, 2013:

    Chuckie that was beautiful. And thanks for including all those recordings. You made it so easy get the full Cosmo experien e.

  5. 5 will hall said at 5:33 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    the “COS”… I can assure you there will never be another. from teenage idol in louisville…to backside jockeys’ agent and trainer, Tommy Cosdon did it with a style and flare like no other. that impish little smile when he greeted you and that infectious laugh when you spoke of old times….all made the magic that was “COS”. Tommy will be missed by thousands, but more importanly he will be remembered.

  6. 6 sandy said at 6:56 am on September 10th, 2013:

    What a beautiful tribute for one of our own. If you were a teen in the 60’s Saturday night “hops” were the pace to be; Ewing Lanes, Middletown, Whispering Hills, The Belle, to name a few. Cosmo-there’ll never be another like you. Thanks for the music & the memories.

  7. 7 Don B. said at 11:20 am on September 10th, 2013:

    Chuck- Thank you so much for your tribute to Cosmo. I just listened to all of the great songs you included. Gosh! Time flies too fast! Tommy was a really good guy and always had time for everyone. Like you, I couldn’t guess how many lucky times I got to see and hear his magic. What a shame the rest of the USA was shortchanged.

  8. 8 Michael Sales said at 1:43 pm on September 10th, 2013:

    Chuck, Thanks so much for your lovely tribute. My heart is so saddened by Coz’ passing. I was an enormous Sultans’ fan. Lenny Whatley, Frankie Rush, Georgie (can’t remember his last name!), and who could forget the incredible Johnny St. Claire. Those guys changed my life forever. Louisville had an incredible, incredible white rock scene– let alone what was happening west of about Jackson Street– a Tommy was the center of it. We were a movement and we were so very lucky to have such a nice (and complicated) person as our leader.

    Here’s the piece I wrote in tribute:

    It is appropriate to make much of the fact that Tommy (Cosmo) Cosden, Jr. was a great white soul singer, probably the best there was in Kentuckiana in the 1950s and 60s…Maybe ever. But for me, Cosmo’s highest calling was that as a freedom educator. He was a teenager just like the rest of us, but he knew very early that you’ve got to jump on whatever talent you have and live as large as you possibly can. He showed us what it was like to seize every available moment. He wasn’t a rebel or much of a political person, and he had as much humility and graciousness as he had talent and then some. But, he was filled with an overpowering lust for life, which made him one of the greatest teachers Louisville has ever known. He didn’t know much about history or geography, but he showed us what a wonderful world this could be.

    So, now you’re gone, Tommy, and it is your memory and your vibration that will live on through your many fans and fans-to-be. Keeping you alive in the hearts of Louisvillians everywhere won’t be hard. It’ll be easy.

  9. 9 Larry Johnson said at 7:35 pm on September 10th, 2013:

    My first memory of Tommy goes back to 1953, living on Pope Street as a 9 year old kid. Tommy went to Barrett Junior High School with my two older brothers, Don & Glen. They all “bummed” around together and spent many an hour at Jerry’s Pool Hall, my uncles and cousin’s pool hall at Frankfort & Pope Street. Cos was not in any band as yet, but that was soon to come. The next memory I have of him was when he and Lenny Watley came to our house, then in Lyndon, and picked up Glen to take him to wherever they were playing that night. Glen was always the first one on the floor, he “boped” as in a one man dance and alwways won any contest he was in. Personally, I started to dance in 1959 as a sophmore at Eastern High School. I can’t remember how many Sultan dances I went too. My first wife & I went to many a Sultan and Cosmo and The Counts dances as well as any other band we could get to see & hear.

    What times they were, we’ll never see those times again, how sad! I saw Tommy earlier this year when he was in Oak Lawn and he says to me”Johnson, he is a good kid, but don’t tell nobody”….Humor at his best. I will miss him like all the others that have gone before Tommy died.

    RIP, Tommy Cosdon and thank you for all the great memories you have left behind. He was truly “ours” to enjoy….!!!! “You’re So Fine” by The Falcons” was one of Tommy’s best songs….man could he sing that or what………”Just Words” was my favorite slow song by him.

  10. 10 Pris Chandler said at 8:06 am on September 12th, 2013:

    Chuck, only you could have captured Tommy’s soul. Thank you for glorious trip down that memory lane. I just ended up at an illustrious
    “Breakfast” dancing till dawn.

  11. 11 Barret said at 8:37 pm on September 12th, 2013:

    Chuck, I have read your homage to Cosmo 4 times. Can’t get enough of it. Bravo on a superb piece. Damn I wish I could write like you. It’s a shame that the kids today don’t have a local character like Cosmo. to enjoy. I enjoyed his entertaining talents from age 16 to “senior” status. A true Louisville icon.

  12. 12 bill haswell said at 3:55 pm on September 14th, 2013:

    Well done, cd. Your piece is the first one I’ve read that captures the Cos. Even though I was playing with another group in those days, I had the greatest admiration for Tommy and his talents, and always enjoyed listening!
    Yes, he truly was “one of ours!”

  13. 13 » Blog Archive » Culture Maven on Culture: Last Thoughts on Cosmo (Including Two Songs) said at 11:22 am on September 16th, 2013:

    […] If you haven’t read my first piece on the great Louisville rock & roll singer of my generation, you can do so here. […]

  14. 14 Joe R. said at 6:51 pm on September 16th, 2013:

    As a young boy I used to listen the Sultans practice in the basement at “Rush Inn.” Owned by Frankie dad, Frank “Rush.” Fond memories.

  15. 15 Carl Lutes said at 10:50 pm on September 16th, 2013:

    As I’ve said on other tributes, Tommy was a friend from the neighborhood for a lot of years…probably 60 or more, when he was just Tommy Cosdon…I believe the nickname came from a cartoon character in the 50s..

    @Larry Johnson, I remember those times well as well as Don and Glen (and you of course).

    @Joe R I also remember being in that basement as a young teenager listening to the Sultans rehearsals.

    Nothing but good memories about Tommy including some about a monkey that he and his dad owned for a while…lots of monkey stories. Whenever I saw him we pretty much talked about the neighborhood, the other friends we had there, horses…especially that sad old horse that her ran in the Derby — THAT couldn’t happen now with the new rules. The following year I saw him at Oxmoor Steeplechase running Rae Jet in one of the flat races (which if it had a purse was no more than a couple of hundred dollars)!

    Of course the music was what made him famous but he was an all around good guy who always remembered who you were and where you both came from.

    @Michael Sales
    Georgie was George Fawbush who also passed away quite a few years ago.

  16. 16 Bill Black said at 6:01 am on September 26th, 2013:

    What a great guy. I remember him from his Tuesday night at Kentucky Tavern. That was his night to practice. Standing there listening to the soulful sound was a great deal of enjoyment. Cos you are missed but I’m sure he is in a better place.

  17. 17 BOBBY FISCHER said at 12:44 am on October 17th, 2013:


  18. 18 Kathy (Rush) Chandler said at 9:04 pm on August 21st, 2014:

    I would like to say thank you for all the posts. My father is Frank Rush. And the mentioning of my Grandfather Frank Rush and Rush Inn. I have many fond memories of Rush Inn myself. But was very young or just born when The sultans stopped playing. I wish I could have heard my dad play. I guess when the band stopped so did my dad. When I was young he still had his drum set but never sat down to play.

  19. 19 Bud Hughes said at 4:50 pm on September 6th, 2016:

    Today is the 3rd Anniversary of Cosmo’s
    death. 😇

  20. 20 Bill Garrett said at 2:41 am on April 9th, 2017:

    Looking for the cd of Cosmo & Friends, Yesterday & Today. Produced in 2005. , I grew up wit Tommy on Story Ave. I was in a couple of bands and always admired Tom’s talent, he was ahead of the times with his style. If anyone has a copy they want to sell, I would love one. RIP Tommy.

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