If 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.”
After Tommy left The Sultan’s for solo gigs with The Counts, there was the cute and clever, “Small Town Gossip.”
“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.”
And my personal favorite, his splendid version of Frank Bugbee’s haunting “I Belong To Nobody.”
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.