By Davis Coen
These days not enough Oxford musicians are mindful of the City’s rich lineage of live performers, but certainly an exception is much-revered local band Rocket 88, which has been described to play “juke joint gospel.” Also, old time country, Americana, hill country blues, and straight ahead rock & roll.
Started by couple Jamie and Rosamond Posey, Rocket 88 spawned from musical outfit, Honey Blonde, which featured the vocal pairing of Rosamond (Rosie) and fellow Vicksburg, Mississippian Gin Gin Abraham (now Carlton).
Jamie recalled the first time he was invited to accompany Honey Blonde for a big show, opening for New Orleans roots rock band Dash Rip Rock, when their regular guitarist backed out of a gig on short notice.
“They asked me to play, and I thought I was a big shot,” Jamie said, heartily laughing. “I was butchering their beautiful harmonies, playing all over it, with no gaps! But they kept me, and we added drums, bass, and percussion. We would sometimes play four nights a week.”
The group played so many shows locally, and toured the Southeast so ardently, during the late-90s/early-2000s they were heralded as “The Hardest Working Band in Oxford.”
After about a year hiatus they regrouped, with local bassist Nathan Robbins, and a drummer that didn’t fit with the band and was eventually replaced by Bradley Gordon. “The first practice was rip roaring,” he said. “Everybody was so happy and were like – ‘there it is!’ It sounded good from the start.”
Other Rocket 88 band personnel include drummer Ryan Rogers, and keyboardists Eric Carlton, and Robert Chaffe (also of the band, Kudzu Kings). Regarding the rotation in the group’s lineup, depending on the circumstances of their live bookings, Jamie said: “We’re kind of fluid in that way.”
Rocket 88 has maintained an every-other-Sunday afternoon residency at Rafter’s in Oxford since October 2020 where they’ve used the opportunity to showcase their adoration of spiritual and gospel music, and legendary Oxford live music performers of the past.
Up Above My Head and Let the Church Roll On are among gospel standards currently in the repertoire.
Often musical tributes are to Memphis-born, Mississippi Delta-raised Jerry Lee “Duff” Dorrough, member of the very locally popular group The Tangents – who performed frequently at The Gin in Oxford (an adored venue that closed in 1999) and have been called the ‘greatest Delta rock band ever.’ Dorrough was also a prominent member of The Yalobushwackers, the house band for Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.
“I take it as a responsibility, he is such a patriarch,” said Jamie, of Dorrough’s legacy. “I give it my all every time I play one of those songs that Duff covered or did, and I make it a point to play them in the town, so that the young listeners can be exposed to real Oxford sounds.”
Roots of Rocket 88
Jamie had been in a rock band called Wild Child during high school in Meridian, MS, and fondly remembers his first gig at a rec center in Collinsville, MS when he was 16. “We played it and packed it out,” he said of his band that played mostly classic hard rock. “That was my first experience, with lights and everything. Our buddies constructed a makeshift light show, with a board and everything, and it would shock the hell out of ‘em every time we would hook it all up! But they would endure it, and still run the light show with the band.”
He moved to Oxford in ‘94 and began playing acoustic sets around town. His first local band was Fungus Amongus and played the fraternity circuit and all of the big bars at the time.
Rosey was trained in classical piano, and came to Ole Miss on a music scholarship for piano. Then she went to business school, and this was around the time Honey Blonde was playing at The Gin.
“I got this guitar and used to teach myself,” said Rosey. “We liked the Indigo Girl songs because they were in G, C and D,” she said with a laugh, “and drank Tequila Sunrises every Tuesday night! That’s how we started.”
Like Jamie, Rosie points out the time Honey Blonde’s guitarist forgot to tell her that he couldn’t make the Dash Rip Rock show opener as the inception.
“And Gin said, ‘I know this guy who plays guitar, and it was Jamie! He played with us after that, and that’s when we started Rocket 88.”
The couple took a break from performing for a while when Rosey was in law school, and Jamie was working on his PhD, mostly to figure their next move, but continued writing on the side.
She recalled a time before their son was born, when they spent two nights out at a “creepy” cabin in Sardis for artistic inspiration. “We wrote a ton of songs out there that we still do now,” said Rosey. Among Rocket 88 songs written at the Sardis cabin, were Tombstone, which appears on their 2008 Full Circle album, and Home Cookin’, a Smokey and the Bandit/Jerry Reed-channeling trucker song, included on a live release recorded at The Lyric Theater during the 2012 Oxford Music Festival.
“It didn’t have TV or anything, we rented it just to write songs.”
Ready to rock
Although the band lately has been mostly stripped down to a four-piece; including the Poseys, Robbins and Carlton (and at times Gin Gin), for many of the Rafter’s engagements, due to it being a Sunday Gospel Brunch (along with the past two years being a restricting time altogether for live music performing), Rocket 88’s personnel has blown up as large as a ten-piece with a horn section, which happened at a Mardi Gras celebration at local venue Proud Larry’s.
The group is slated for a return performance to the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, taking place again this year in nearby Waterford, off MS-7, during the last weekend of June.
“We’ll be a full rock band there,” said Jamie. He also mentioned, there may be a possibility Rosie picks up an electric guitar for the special occasion, as she has been known to do in the past. “We’ll just have to see,” he said.
Visit rocket88music.com for more information.