By TOM SHAKER The recent passing of my friend Winston Cogswell should interest all Rhode Islanders. Who's Winston Cogswell you might ask? Well, on one hand he was a dear sweet man who lived with his wife Claire and his dog Rebel in a modest
The recent passing of my friend Winston Cogswell should interest all Rhode Islanders.
Who’s Winston Cogswell you might ask?
Well, on one hand he was a dear sweet man who lived with his wife Claire and his dog Rebel in a modest neighborhood, in a modest house in Warwick. His life reflected who he was. Just a humble, likeable guy who loved being around family and friends and loved his music.
His music? Oh, I haven’t mentioned that yet. On the other hand, Winston Cogswell, aka Wayne Powers (aka Wayne Cogswell), was also part of the birth of rock and roll. Winston was there in Memphis, TN where it all began at Sun Records.
It must have been meant to be.
While selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door in Memphis, Winston met Sun Records owner Sam Phillips wife, and the rest, as they say, is history. He was soon hired by Sam as a session player, arranger, songwriter and performer. His prowess on the guitar and piano was an important part of that early rockabilly sound. His song Come On Little Mama is a cult favorite among Sun Record collectors. How many artists can say that Jerry Lee Lewis played piano on their song? And, how many can say they had a decades long friendship with Elvis?
His songwriting equals any of the Sun Records stars, as the legendary guitarist Chet Atkins found with his big selling cover of Winston’s Teensville.
And, while it was not in the cards for him to be a major star, Memphis loss was Rhode Island’s gain. Winston moved back to little Rhody and, while working in Cranston, met his soon to be new musical partner, pianist Ray Peterson. Along with Ken Dutton they started Wye Records. Winston & Ray, performing as The Mark II, had an international hit with their song Night Train. It was covered by the likes of trumpeter Al Hirt, the Chantays, Lawrence Welk and many others worldwide.
His induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2014 was a source of never ending pride for him.
And, there’s so much more to Winston’s story.
But, for me, Winston Cogswell will always be a reminder of how important music is in life. How music helps us get through tough times and how it makes those good times even more memorable. And how you never know, especially in Rhode Island, who’s living right next door to you.
His kindness, enthusiastic spirit and rockabilly rebel attitude was infectious! The parties at his house in Warwick were always musical affairs, with everyone joining in on the singing and playing. And there, in his modest house in his modest neighborhood in Warwick lived a musical giant.
We all know the folks my friend Winston played with; Elvis, Jerry Lee, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, the list goes on and on. Winston would tell you he was one of the supporting cast, but in my book hell always be a headliner! Rhode Island is blessed with so much musical talent. Its musical history is as big as any state in the country.
Be sure to check out Winston’s story (and so many others) at The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame website
And watch his induction into the Hall of Fame here
Tom Shaker is a college professor, co-author of A Treasury of Rhode Island Jazz & Swing Musicians, co-producer of the award-winning documentary Do It Man! The Story of The Celebrity Club and hosts The Soul Serenade on WICN (www.WICN.org) on Monday nights.