Written by Chad Jones//Photography by Angela Karen
Last week I was able to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years.
One Friday afternoon in 2010, I was sitting at my computer looking at cars on Craigslist. I came across a classic 1963 Cadillac for sale in Lexington, Ken. The ad had just been posted. I told my wife, Amanda, that I wanted that car. So we jumped in the truck and headed to Lexington. When we got there and saw the car it was just as described. It was a one-owner, all-original DeVille from California. The wife of the gentleman who had it had grown up with this car, and she inherited it when her parents passed away. The car still had the first and only 1963 black California license plates on the front and rear. So, of course, I bought the car and brought it home.
I was happy with just knowing this story that came with the car. But there’s more. A few days later I was working on the radio and happened to be looking under the dash. There was a piece of paper folded up and stuck between the radio and the dash. I carefully pulled it out and unfolded it. It was a brittle receipt from a Buick dealer in Chicago, Ill. dated March 9, 1963. The name on it was Roscoe Robinson. At this point I was intrigued. The last name of the original owners was Dean, and the car was from California. Why was there a receipt with Roscoe’s name on it in the dash? It didn’t take much research to find out that Roscoe Robinson was a famous musician in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s and lived in Chicago. The address on the receipt placed Roscoe’s home address within just a few miles of three major record labels from the ‘50s and ‘60s. One of them was Chess Records. Lots more searching turned up information that Roscoe had several hits and sang with Sam Cooke, among other artists. What I could not find was how to get in touch with Roscoe.
So I kind of forgot about the mysterious paper for several years, but then one day I was in the garage admiring the Cadillac when I got the urge again to locate Roscoe. Six years had passed since the last time I looked online for him. With the vast amount of information now on the Internet, I was able to find several Roscoe Robinsons living in the U.S. I knew at this point that he lives in Birmingham. The White Pages online actually had phone number for an 88-year-old Roscoe Robinson living right here.
I called the number, and voicemail picked up. I didn’t leave a message. An hour later, my phone rang, and it was the number I had called. After I said hello, an older voice on the phone said, “I missed a call from this number.”
“Is this Roscoe Robinson the musician?” I asked.
“Yes, it is,” he said, happily.
I told him this was going to be a strange question, but I wondered if he had lived at 1269 Cabrini Street in Chicago in 1963. Hesitantly, he said yes. I then asked if he owned a red 1963 Cadillac. I was excited to hear him say “yes” again. When I told him it was sitting in my garage, I thought he was going to jump through the phone. He was so excited and asked many questions about the car. We talked for a while and decided that we had to meet at some point.
After a couple months and several phone calls with Roscoe, I was able to take the car to Birmingham and meet him. The first night I met Roscoe, he took me to dinner. He told me many stories about the car. It was his first car, and Leonard Chess of Chess Records bought it for him. Not only was this Roscoe’s car, but many great musicians had ridden in it—including Sam Cooke, Etta James, and Muddy Waters.
The next day we met Angela of Angela Karen Photography (who was there to photograph it), and Roscoe got to see his first car from 54 years ago. He was so happy. There might have been a tear or two shed between the two of us, but we’ll never admit it. Angela photographed Roscoe and the car and I even got in a couple of pictures too. I got to ride in my 1963 Cadillac with the original owner driving while we listened to one of his hit songs, “That’s Enough.”
photo and interview by: Angela Karen
Name: Chad Barrett Jones
Fun facts about the vintage Cadillac shown in photo?
1963 Cadillac Coupe Deville
Who currently owns this car?
I own the car
The car is different from other cars because of the unique story that goes with it
How did you discover the first owner of this car?
Two months after I bought it I was working on the radio and found a receipt in the dash from March 9. 1963 with Roscoe Robinson’s name and signature on it
When you found out whom that person was, what happened next?
When I found out whom Roscoe was I tried to find him. It was six years later when I found a phone number for him and called him.
One item I found under the backseat of the Cadillac was a guitar pick. Roscoe said it belonged to his guitar player.
What is your favorite memory of the car?
I would say my favorite memory of the car is getting to reunite Roscoe (the first owner) with the car.
The car’s youth was wild it seems…what does this stage of the car’s life seem like?
Right now the car has a pretty calm life. It sits in the garage with the other cars.
What are your plans for the car at this stage of its life?
I’m not sure what my plans are for the car. I had first thought of restoring it. Knowing the story of the car I may leave it as it is.
I like to restore old Range Rovers. I currently have 15-year-old Range Rovers. Some will get a new life and some will donate parts to those.
Why is restoration so important to you?
Restoration is important to keep a car alive. Cars of today are disposable. We have them for five or six years and get new ones. Restoring a classic will keep it going for many more years.
Words you live by…
“You only pass through this way once, you might as well make the most of it” –Roscoe Robinson
People who know you best say you are…
Outgoing, hardworking, an entrepreneur, caring, helpful
Building shipping Container Homes and restoring Land Rovers