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Photo ByDavd Modica
Tommy Cosmo Cosdon

Local Music Community Pays Tribute to Tommy 'Cosmo' Cosdon

Kevin Gibson

On Oct. 6, local musicians planned to come together to raise money for Tommy "Cosmo" Cosdon, who'd been suffering with an ongoing illness. The plan was to help Cosdon with his medical bills.

But when Cosdon died on September 6, there was some thought that the show may be canceled; Cosmo's friends, however, knew that's not how Cosdon would want it. Therefore, the show will go on.

Cosmo & the Counts

Photo By David Modica

Cosmo & the Counts Cosmo & the Counts

Cosmo & the Counts

Photo By David Modica

Cosmo & the Counts Cosmo & the Counts

Cosmo & the Counts

Photo By David Modica

Cosmo & the Counts Cosmo & the Counts

Cosmo & the Counts

Photo By David Modica

Cosmo & the Counts Cosmo & the Counts

Cosmo & the Counts

Photo By David Modica

Cosmo & the Counts Cosmo & the Counts

"The money is going to go to MERF now," Marvin Maxwell, a long-time friend and sometime bandmate of Cosdon, said. "Cosmo was a big believer in MERF."

While Cosdon's friends admitted he could be gruff at times, they also describe him as someone hell-bent on doing the right thing and as carrying a giant heart in his barrel of a chest.

"He was a kind person," Maxwell said. "He would come on strong, but really, he had a heart as big as an elephant, man. He would do anything for anybody. A lot of times he didn't show it because he didn't think it deserved to be shown. I loved him."

"He was known as real gruff guy," Wayne Young, longtime friend and off-and-on member of Cosdon's band the Counts, said. "He had one of those personalities. As I got to know him, though, he was a sweetheart. He loved to give that impression he was a hard-ass; it was all just a cover."

"I do know he was just salt of the earth and had the biggest heart in world," Sherry Edwards-Canaday, who performed with Cosdon late in his career, said. "He was just a great guy."

Canaday said that in 2011, Wayne Glore, who was the original rhythm guitar player in the Epics and later played guitar in the Counts, experienced some health issues. Similar to what is planned on October 6, the local music community did a benefit for Glore at Jim Porter's.

"Cosmo was the first one to rally the troops," Canaday said. "Cosmo arranged all of that. That's the kind of guy he was."

But when it all comes down to it, Cosdon will probably be remembered best by the music community for his voice and stage presence.

Local writer and music enthusiast C. D. Kaplan knew Cosdon well in high school and was a regular presence in the early 1960s when his friend would perform.

"I ate lunch with him every day our junior year of high school," Kaplan said. "He was a compelling stage presence; I think a lot of it was just because his voice was so compelling."

"He was a very talented singer," said Hardy Martin, who worked with Cosdon during the era of the Sultans as a booking agent with SAMBO, and later helped start Hardy-Martin Productions. "He had a unique sound to his voice. Most star entertainers have something different about their voices, and he had that."

ICON OF AN ERA

Cosdon's story has been told and re-told, but we'd be remiss not to take a quick look back.

He debuted in 1959, the same year WAKY debuted in Louisville playing "Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley non-stop for 24 hours and marking the beginnings of something that was akin to what was going on in Liverpool, England, at the time.

Cosdon's band the Sultans released the single "It'll Be Easy," which became the local release to top the Louisville radio stations' charts on.

Maxwell said, "In my opinion one of best tunes to come out of Louisville in the 1960s is 'It'll Be Easy,' when Cosmo was lead singer of the Sultans."

Cosmo broke away to start a solo career in 1961. In 1963, the Sultans had a local No. 3 hit with "I'm A Little Mixed Up."

Whereas "It'll Be Easy" reflected the doo-wop sound of the time, the second single played to the strengths of Cosdon's R&B stylings. This may have been all he needed to distinguish himself in a time when groups like the Monarchs, the Epics, the Carnations and the Tren-Dells were all making splashes in Louisville's segmented music community, where bands played gigs at East end VFW posts, American Legion posts and country clubs.

But Cosmo, with his crooner-meets-Little Richard delivery, became a bona fide local rock star.

"Tommy had this true teenage rock 'n' roll voice," Kaplan said.

"He was a white guy who sounded black," wrote Billy Reed in a recent tribute in LEO Weekly.

Young echoes Reed's sentiment.

"The thing that impressed me," Young said, "is that he always sounded black. His voice got stronger and bigger as he got older. I was really impressed with how his voice developed, and it just seemed to be nature taking its course. In the beginning, it was a real strong vibrato and it was real thin, but as he got older, it got more controlled and his voice filled up. He was a great singer."

He would go on to form the Counts after the Sultans, putting him front-and-center as the main attraction of a band that would perform all over the world for decades, release countless records and chart nationally.

"Wayne Young and I had worked together in the '60s," Maxwell said, "and that's how I got together with Cosmo. He would flat-ass get the crowds moving. The joint we played down there [in Florida], for some reason, was where astronauts would come. It was in Cocoa Beach. By the time Cosmo would get done with them, those guys would be standing on the tables, giving it hell."

COSMO STORIES

Speaking of which, talking to Cosmo's friends means hearing some pretty good stories. Young said when he was 18, he got kicked out of his house and moved in with Cosdon and Cosdon's dad.

"I moved in with him and his dad and a German shepherd and a chimpanzee," Young said. "It was amazing to drive down the street and see this chimpanzee hanging out the window."

Jeff Carpenter, who owns Al Fresco's Recording Studio in the Highlands, worked for and did recording work with Cosdon over the years.

"One of the most memorable sessions I did with him at Crescent [Recording] was with the band Pure Prairie League," Carpenter said. "They came in and had singers from Blood, Sweat and Tears, and the horn section from Loggins and Messina. When he first announced that they were coming in and spending time in the studio, I said 'Yeah, right, sure, and the Rolling Stones will be in next week, right?' He kept telling me that it wasn't a joke, and that they really were coming in to record. I didn't really believe him until it actually happened."

"We got the opportunity to go to Germany to play years ago, and took some home video tapes," Maxwell said. "It was pretty groovy; it was an outside concert, and there was a hill, and people sitting on it watching the bands play. It's funny to watch the video; Cosmo went on, and by the end of the first tune you could see people getting up from sitting positions to standing positions, and by the end of the first set you could see them packed up against stage."

The band did five encores that night. "Before the fifth encore, I heard the stage manager say, 'We'd better let them play another en core, or they [the audience] will tear the stage apart," Maxwell said.

"It was another place when he came on and he just controlled the audience," Young recalled. "It was our show from there."

Canaday has an early story that illustrates Cosdon's celebrity, at least locally. She was a young, up-and-coming singer, and, when she was about 15, she was invited by Hardy-Martin Studios to sing with Cosmo on his version of "Turn on Your Love Light."

"I don't think I even knew him then, but my girlfriends and I used to sneak into those old VFW shows," she said. "Somebody [from the studio]came to pick me up. I was just star-struck that I got to sing with Cosmo."

"Tommy was quite a character," Carpenter recalled, "and I got a big kick out of him. One of my favorite phrases from him, which he would use at the end of the day, was when he would come in from his office, and say, 'I'm done for the day. I'm going down to Butchertown Pub to get a toddy for my body. You're in charge.'

"He could be a handful sometimes, and folks who knew him probably remember that he produced an album with Winston Hardy, who was an even bigger character. Together, they were like a skit from Saturday Night Live."

HORSES AND TAVERNS

Perhaps the fact his family had unusual pets early in his life fueled his love for horses and horse racing. Whatever it was, Cosdon was passionate about the so-called Sport of Kings, and worked for years as a thoroughbred trainer as well as a jockey agent.

"He started out walking horses," Young said, "then he moved into training."

Ultimately, Cosdon would train a horse that ran in the Kentucky Derby, possibly the bucket list item of all bucket list items for someone so passionate about horse racing. He trained horse named Rae Jet, which ran in the 1969 Derby. The horse was a descendent of the legendary War Admiral.

According to a KentuckyDerby.com article on the race, "Rae Jet was squeezed back when caught in a speed jam entering the first turn and soon lost contact with the field."

Watching a replay of the race, it's clear Rae Jet was running a strong third until getting pinched about a half mile into the race. From there, the horse never seemed to regain its composure. Majestic Prince would hold on to win that Derby.

"He had a horse in the Derby," Young said. "It came in last, but that's OK, because he had horse in the Derby. It was quite an accomplishment for him, especially considering all the things he'd done."

Cosdon was also a business owner, opening the Headrest Tavern as a place for his musician friends and anyone else who was hungry or thirsty to unwind and enjoy some free time. He also would go on to own several other restaurants and taverns, as well as a wig shop called Cosmo's Wiggery. But it's the Headrest for which he is probably most remembered.

"I've still got one of the fixtures from that place," Maxwell said. "It's a concrete statue of Mickey Mouse. That son of a bitch must weigh 500 pounds, but I've still got it."

Maxwell said he's pretty sure the giant mouse was stolen from a miniature golf course. When told that in today's litigious society, Disney would probably sue for having the mouse in the tavern, Maxwell said, "Cosmo would tell them to go to hell. That's the way he was."

Interestingly, Maxwell would ultimately end up buying the Head Rush from Cosdon, and it would become the original location of Mom's Music.

SAYING GOODBYE

When musicians gather on Oct. 6 to say another, perhaps final, goodbye to their old friend Cosmo, they won't be doing so with heavy hearts. Expect a lot of smiles and laughter as people share memories and enjoy the sounds of bands such as the Wulfe Brothers, Caribou, the Monarchs, Soul Inc. and the Crashers.

"The music community will have to do without a dynamic showman," Maxwell said. "He had more soul than a white boy should have. He could sing his ass off and could have a crowd in the palm of his hand. I can still remember back in the old days when Tommy would come on, the rest of us would have on bright colored shirts, but Cosmo would have on a suit and tie. He made it a point to be a sharp dresser on stage. He was a first-class dude."

Young, who first met Cosdon when he backed up on the single "I'm a Little Mixed Up," went on to play in a revived version of Cosmo and the Counts, as well as the Shuffling Granddads. The history between them can't really be calculated.

"I couldn't guess how many shows we did together," he said.

Canaday who likened herself and Cosdon to "peanut butter and jelly on stage" said the memorial that was held for Cosdon in September was nothing like a wake: "I told Marvin, 'That's exactly what I want to do a bunch of people bellying up to bar with beautiful pictures all over and my voice blasting over sound system.'"

Perhaps Cosdon's friends will get the feeling of doing one more show with their old friend. The sense among them seems to be that he hasn't really gone anywhere.