The Man Who Invented Soul (4 CD Box)
Label: RCA 67911 (2000), ARIS 8636791128 (Germany)
Songs: 1. You Send Me / 2. Summertime / 3. For Sentimental Reasons / 4. Desire Me / 5. Lonely Island / 6. You Were Made For Me / 7. Win Your Love For Me / 8. Love You Most Of All / 9. Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha / 10. No One Can Take Your Place / 11. Only Sixteen / 12. With You / 13. Crazy She Calls Me / 14. I Got A Right To Sing The Blues / 15. Comes Love / 16. Ain't Nobody's Business / 17. Little Things You Do / 18. There, I've Said It Again / 19. When I Fall In Love / 20. Let's Go Steady Again / 21. Wonderful World, (What A) /
DISC 2: 1. Chain Gang / 2. I Belong To Your Heart / 3. Teenage Sonata / 4. Love Me / 5. Sad Mood - (previously unreleased version) / 6. If I Had You (I'd Be Happy) / 7. You Belong To Me / 8. Sad Mood / 9. Tenderness / 10. That's It-I Quit-I'm Movin' On / 11. Hold On / 12. Cupid / 13. Tenderness - (previously unreleased version) / 14. Don't Get Around Much Anymore / 15. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out / 16. Baby Won't You Please Come Home / 17. Trouble In Mind / 18. Out In The Cold Again / 19. Exactly Like You / 20. Since I Met You Baby / 21. I'm Just A Lucky So And So / 22. But Not For Me / 23. You're Always On My Mind / 24. Feel It, (Don't Fight It) / 25. It's All Right / 26. Twistin' The Night Away / 27. One More Time / 28. Don't Cry On My Shoulder /
DISC 3: 1. Somebody's Gonna Miss Me / 2. Somebody Have Mercy / 3. Sugar Dumpling - (original version) / 4. Nothin' Can Change This Love - (unreleased version) / 5. Talkin' Trash / 6. Movin' And Groovin' / 7. Soothe Me / 8. Having A Party / 9. Bring It On Home To Me / 10. Whole Lotta Woman, A / 11. I'm Gonna Forget About You / 12. Nothing Can Change This Love / 13. Baby, Baby, Baby / 14. Send Me Some Lovin' / 15. All The Way / 16. Smoke Rings / 17. I Wish You Love / 18. Driftin' Blues / 19. Little Girl / 20. Cry Me A River / 21. These Foolish Things / 22. Frankie And Johnny / 23. I Ain't Gonna Cheat On You No More / 24. Another Saturday Night - (previously unreleased, alternate take)) / 25. Love Will Find A Way / 26. Cool Train - (stereo, previously unreleased) /
DISC 4: 1. Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen / 2. Lost And Lookin' / 3. Mean Old World / 4. Please Don't Drive Me Away / 5. I Lost Everything / 6. Get Yourself Another Fool / 7. Little Red Rooster / 8. Laughin' And Clownin' / 9. Trouble Blues / 10. You Gotta Move / 11. Fool's Paradise / 12. Shake, Rattle & Roll / 13. Intro / Feel It, (Don't Fight It) / 14. Chain Gang / 15. Cupid / 16. It's All Right / For Sentimental Reasons / 17. Twistin' The Night Away / 18. Bring It On Home To Me / 19. Somebody Have Mercy / 20. Nothing Can Change This Love / 21. Having A Party
Compilation producer: Paul Williams.
CD info: This compilation has an excellent long essay by Michael Hill and about 15 pictures. The text can be read here.
Sale: Amazon.com (cd and MP3), Gemm
The Liner Notes
"Sam Cooke is the world's greatest rock and roll singer-the greatest singer in the world."
-Muhammed Ali, 1964
The story of Sam Cooke is about music, religion, romance, race, politics and history. But most of all it is a story about longing - Sam's longing for the most stirring sound, the perfect song, the most impassioned response, as well as his longing for wealth, fame and a better life. It is a story about one half of a divided nation longing for freedom, equality, opportunity and respect, and how Sam used his celebrity to help ensure that a change was indeed gonna come. From elementary schools to any military university, Sam Cooke helped the civil rights movement during his era in the spotlight. It is a story about churches full of people longing for the Lord and hearing their prayers mirrored, if not answered, in the voice of Sam Cooke. It is a story about sweaty joints and swank supper clubs, where audiences closed their eyes and swayed to the simple but compelling melody of "You Send Me," longing for love and maybe dreaming of sex. Finally, it is a story about our longing too - to go back almost hall a century and try to get to know this remarkable man named Sam Cooke in the only way we can: through the testimony in his voice, in these songs he left behind.
The story of Sam Cooke is about a longing for a voice that was silenced far too soon.
The early life of Sam Cooke followed the path of so many other African-Americans of his generation. Born on January 22, 1931, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he was the son of Annie May and the Reverend Charles Cook. Sam's father was a gifted, itinerant preacher on a circuit of small Pentecostal congregations-the Church of God in Christ-that had developed around the turn of the century as offshoots of the more staid and traditional Baptist faith. Preachers like Charles Cook did not simply sermonize, they galvanized-and they were helped along in their exhortations by the uplifting, and swinging, rhythms of gospel music, a sound that had scandalized adherents to a more "proper" style of hymn.
Gospel had an al most dangerous kinship with the blues and the Pentecostal-style preachers had the physical charisma of popular entertainers. But there was nothing glib about these ministers they may have been working the crowd, but they meant what they said, what they shouted, and what they sang. And the physical expressions of faith-the call and response, the fainting, the speaking in tongues- were just as honest and spontaneous. The rapturous feelings of a Sunday service were as real as the pain and the indignities of everyday life the rest of the week.
During the Great Depression, not long after Sam was born, the Cooks migrated northward, as did so many of their friends, relatives and neighbors from Mississippi, looking for the work that had vanished from the South. Reverend Cook had church connections in Illinois, and the chance to build a following among the midwestern faithful as he had in the area around Clarksdale. Like Cook, many of them had started out as rural folk. Cook brought his family to the South Side of Chicago, to the teeming African-American neighborhood known as Bronzeville. It was a far cry from the Mississippi Delta, but the waves of migrants from the South had brought their music and their faith, and on Sundays at least they could carry on with familiar routines.
This intermingling of long-established rural customs and emerging urban attitudes had a transforming effect on the music coming out of the South Side, and it altered forever the direction of blues, gospel, jazz and what would come to be known as R&B. What was acoustic; solitary and soulful down in the Delta became amplified, angry, and band-based up North. The sounds incubating in the hothouse environment of the ghetto would soon be heard around the world, the solid foundation, built with blood, sweat and tears, for rock and roll and the big-business, mostly white-owned and operated music industry that would develop around it. The inhabitants of Bronzeville, and neighborhoods like it in the urban centers of the North, remained confined to their cramped and crowded streets, but their music, their emotions, the sound of their souls reached everywhere.
Veteran Chicago soul singer Jerry Butler, who is now a Cook County commissioner as well as an active performing artist, remembers the neighborhood well. A little younger than Sam, he started out with the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers before forming the Impressions with gospel partner Curtis Mayfield, then striking out on his own. Butler: "Chicago is kind of divided north and south by Madison Street, and Madison is in the center of the downtown area. Everything east and west is divided by State Street. Sam grew up around 43rd Streel between the lake and State Street. Curtis and I grew up on the near north side, which is maybe 1200 blocks north of Madison and six or seven blocks west of State Street. Because the greatest portion ol the population was either on the south or the west side of the the city, you found yoursefl migrating to those areas if you were involved in music in the city ol Chicago, Most ol the singing that we did as the Northern Jubilee was either on the west side or the south side of the city. We rarely even performed in churches on the north side."
Sam's father became as well known and as well respected in the religious community up North as he had been in Mississippi; he was famous for his ability to turn around faltering fIocks. Reverend Cook started out small, pastoring to a Chicago congregation and working in the stockyards and then the steelyards during the week. He was eventually called up to take his talents on the road as a traveling evangelist and he logged in many miles going from church to church in the Midwest and beyond. Like a performer touring a circuit of clubs, Reverend Cook made one-off appearances before congregations that could use a boost, spiritually and/or flinancially, from a minister with his preaching skills. Sam, who would one day work the road in a similarly dedicated fashion, often accompanied his father and his siblings, and from an early age he loved to sing. In fact, the Cook kids had formed their own group, the Singing Children, who served as an opening act, as it were, for their father.
Sam did not confine his crooning to the Singing Children. He would sometimes set up on a street corner in Bronzeville and sing the pop hits of the day for spare change. His heroes were not only from the gospel pantheon.
Singer Lou Rawls, who was a neighbor and lifelong Iriend ol Sam (Lou trades gospel-style vocal lines with Sam on "Bring It On Home To Me") recalls, "We would go to the Regal Theatre and see the live stage show. That's where we would see the Moonglows, the Five Satins, the Ink Spots, Billy Ward and the Dominoes. Of course, after we would see the shows, we would go back and stand on the corner if the weather permitted and we would doo-wop like they were doing. We would try to imitate them. And Sam would naturally try to imitate Bill Kenny, who was the lead singer ol the Ink Spots because he had the high tenor voice. It was those things that kids do. You had no idea that it would be your profession, you just got out there and did it because it was the thing to do."
As author Daniel Wolff notes in his excellent and exhaustively researched Cooke biography,You Send Me, no one among Sam's family, classmates or fellow travelers in the church world singled Sam out for future stardom. Interviews with family members did not yield that one revelatory moment in Sam's childhood or teenage years when everyone knew unequivocally what was in store. He was apparently quiet in school, and his calling to the gospel stage simply seemed a natural inclination for a preacher's son. As he matured, however, it became clear he had a voice and an approach that set him apart from his peers. But even before everyone realized what a force they had in their midst, Sam was singularly devoting himself to a career in sacred music. (Pursuing girls came in a close second. Like his father, who was always willing to drive to another parish and climb a pulpit, Sam was ever eager to hone his own skills. That required the same doggedness, passion failh and self-confidence a preacher needed, and it helped that young Sam was as charming in person and riveling on stage as the elder Charles.
When Sam had outgrown The Singing Children, he joined a quartet called The Teenage Highway Q.C.'s, named in part for the Highway Baptist Church to which they belonged, in part because it simply sounded cool. (Singing gospel and being cool were not mutually exclusive.) Sam and his cohorts looked up the older gospel singers who could turn out a congregation. The best of them, like The Soul Stirrers, had become local and, in some cases, national stars. R.H. Harris of The Soul Stirrers, president of The National Quartets Union, an organization, housed at 3838 South State Street that brough together gospel groups to share their professional concerns, trade tips, socialize and, most importantly, sing. Quartets were not necessarily foursomes; they were named for the style of four-part harmony singing the groups performed, not for the number of group members. When the quartets got togelher at 3838, they did not gather merely to talk, they also came to perform in friendly but fierce competitions, or battles. Sam started hanging out at the Union Hall too, listening to the more experienced local singers and the occasional nationally recognized talent. He came to sing, too, and, though he was young and unschooled as a vocalist, his particular gifts did not go unnoticed.
"We had our idols," says Rawls, "like The Soul Stirrers and the Pilgrim Travelers," with whom Rawls would sing. "We were trying to emulate them. Sam took his style from Rebert Harris, who had the same kind of delivery, the high, tenor voice. Sam didn't actually impersonate him, but that was his style-the yodels, the runs and all that. And Sam, being a handsome young man all the girls were, 'Ooh, Sam!'"
"All the groups around Chicago would meet up at the Quartet headquarters, 3838 State Streel, and you know how you would have battles of the bands? We would have the battle of the groups. Whatever chance we'd get, we'd go and do what they called an A and a B selection. And on Sunday mornings they had this radio station, and if you wanted to sing you would gather up enough money so you could pay, and they would let you sing a song or two and announce where you were going to perform that Sunday. Of course, Sam would always be the highlight of the Sunday morning."
As Sam's reputation on the local circuit grew, R.B. Robinson of the Soul Stirrers agreed to train, or coach, Sam and the Q.C.'s. A friend of Robinson's, Louis Tate, later offered to manage the clean-cut, sharply dressed Q.C.'s and put them on the road. Sam was a mere eighteen when he first went on tour, spreading his music to churches, auditoriums and small radio stations the way his father had preached the word. The Q.C.'s and Tate had it rough: their car trips were long and arduous; they made very little money, they had to depend on the kindness of the faithful who came to hear them sing for lood and lodgings as well as contributions; and they had to be alert to all the dangers of being young, black, poor and on the road in hostile white America. Despite the hardships, they found a particularly warm welcome in Memphis, landing a regular spot on the small but influential radio station WDIA, which featured the gospel sound.
Being trained by a member of the Soul Stirrers, perhaps it was inevitable that
The Q.C.'s would sound like them. That helped them attract an audience, but it
ultimately was a drawback for the young group, who would never surpass their
role models. But when R.H. Harris suddenly announced that he would retire,
citing throat problems, Robinson and the other Soul Stirrers decided they would
audition the promising young Sam Cooke, whose sound so naturally echoed Harris.
Though Sam was not the only candidate, by all accounts he was the obvious
Taking on the 20-year-old Sam was a bold, risky move for the Soul Stirrers: it was not just his age that made him stand out, but his relative inexperience, and he had to step into the shoes of a beloved singer. On the other hand, he was ambitious, handsome, and he sang beautifully, and the younger members of the congregations flocked to the stage when Sam was up there, offering the sort of adulation reserved for pop stars.
Butler recalls, "I once heard Sam described as the person who could sing as sweet or as raunchy as he wanted to. Which is unusual. Normally, if a person has a real sweet voice, he can't squall and scream and get that guttural sound. But Sam could do that and then just go back to being sweet and mellow as you please. It was an uncanny kind ol talent. In addition to that his pitch was always great."
Sam earned the respect of his fellow
Soul Stirrers with his hard work and unfailing enthusiasm for the performing
life. He never quite erased the memory of Harris among the Soul Stirrers'
devoted following, but he won them over with his natural gifts. Throughout his
career, Sam found his own unique way to move around a melody, stretching out a
line, hesitating behind the beat, breaking up a single syllable word info
several new parts, bridging lyrics with wordless vocalizing. There was jazz in
the way he sang; there was blues. And, of course, he could rock. Author Daniel
Wolff calls his special style a yodel, and Lou Rawls used the same word in
trying to describe Sam's phrasing,
although Rawls ultimately found it easier to simply imitate a few lines over the phone. Vamping, improvising, scatting, yodeling -words can deline but not quite capture the feeling of a certain sound. Sam may not have been the most powerful gospel singer, but he became one of the most magnetic and vocally inventive. Still, when the Soul Stirrers went to a Los Angeles studio on March 1,1951 to record for the independent Specialty Records, which was in the vanguard of putting out gospel, legendary label head Art Rupe was skeptical.
You could not exactly blame Rupe. Sam was not familiar with the recording studio and the particular pressures of getting something spontaneous and inspired on tape in the space of a few short hours while a cost-conscious engineer watched the clock. But Rupe's opinion changed a few months later when the Soul Stirrers' version of "Jesus Gave Me Water," a track that Sam himself kept insisting they cut at the session, became a major gospel record, with sales that grew well beyond the group's previous base. Sam's success hadn't come overnight, but when he hit, he hit big-and he took the Soul Stirrers with him. At first.
Labelmate Lloyd Price, who would help nudge rock and roll into being with his hit "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," remembers, "At a church in Virginia one time, he turned it out. I mean, since I had never witnessed anything like that-I had never seen a Tom Jones, all that was yet to come. Sam Cooke had them throwing hats and pocketbooks onto the stage, onto the pulpit."
Rawls echoes Price's recollection: "Before Sam made the transition, we would be on tour with Aretha's father, C.L Franklin. He had the Gospel Caravan. He would have the Pilgrim Travelers, the Five Blind Boys, the Swan Silvertones.The groups would sing first, then Reverend Franklin would preach the sermon. No one wanted to follow the Blind Boys because when they got through with benediction, it was over. That was it. And the only one who would follow the Blind Boys would be Sam. 'Cause Sam was the prince, I guess you could say, of gospel at that time. He could do no wrong. He had that sweet voice, his delivery was impeccable. All he had to do was open his mouth and ladies would start shouting and throwing pocketbooks.
"He was a handsome young man and in those days the groups all had uniforms-they were suits, but we called them uniforms. Everybody dressed alike and everybody was sharp. They had all those attributes going. There was a tailor shop in Chicago called Skeet's; they used to make the clothes. We would stand outside and look in the window when they'd be getting their new outfits. Sam, he was sharp."
And Sam could cause the same sort of hysteria when he was hanging around Chicago. Butler says, "Sam was a star when he started singing. When our little group, the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, started, we were trying to emulate the Soul Stirrers...the A group in the country as far as gospel music. When we went to the Union hall here on South State Street, Sam and the Soul Stirrers were in town and came in, everyone stood at attention because they were the cats. This may be a bad analogy, but it would be like Snoop Doggy Dog going to a rappers' convention. Everyone in the joint would go, 'Whoa, here's the cat.' It was that kind of thing.
"Sam brought that same expertise and talent to secular music. There was Sam Cooke and there were the other rhythm and blues singers. The Blind Boys were dynamic in their style and they could get you up and emotional and all that, but Sam would bring you into the song and then lift you up out of the song into another whole kind of experience. He really was a extraordinary talent. As great as he was in secular music, I don't think he ever achieved the glory and the power he had when he was singing the sacred music."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
When Sam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, singer Bobby Womack, who had cut same sides with Sam early in his own career, recalled in Rolling Stone, "I saw him perform in church the lirst time he replaced R.H. Harris in the Soul Stirrers. He went out there and started singing, and they would not believe his voice. And in the midst of the show, he would comb his hair and look in the mirror at himself, which was in very bad taste for a church. But thats the kind of guy he was.Matter of fact, when he came to sing pop, he became a little more conservative than when he was singing gospel. Bul I could not believe it. Here's a guy, he had a song called 'Wonderful'-how my God is wonderful. And he was combing his hair and singing, and chicks were screaming and trying to show their legs and stuff. It was like a rock 'n' roll show."
Crossing over is a central image in Christian faith of the Pentecostal variety. You crossed over with baptism: accepting the Lord into your life and being born again, rejecting those aspects of the secular world that go against the teachings of Jesus Christ. (Sam was reborn in the faith at his falher's church when he was eleven.) You crossed over when you died, from the earthly struggle into heavenly reward. Jesus himself crossed over, from the realm of the divine to the humble world of the human and, of course, he crossed back again-taking with him, if you believe, the sins of mankind. Crossing over in the arena of gospel music meant leaving the world of the spirit for the world of the flesh, rejecting the joys of sacred music for the alure of the secular sound, the potential profits of pop.
To the modern listener, the similarities
between gospel and R&B stand out more than the differences. Their roots were
intertwined, their rhythms were often the same, and, in same cases, an R&B hit
was simply a gospel hymn transformed. The passion often sounded the same,
whether it was stirring your soul or your body. But there were lines that few in
the gospel world dared to cross, at least in the mid-'50s, unless they were
willing to risk losing their most devoted supporters and turning their backs on
the only world in which they had been welcomed and nurtured.
Those lines between the sacred and the secular have long since blurred for us. Soul singer Al Green found God, but the Rev. Al's gospel shows were still sensual affairs, with women screaming in the aisles; Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" was like a bedroom prayer uttered during same long, dark night of the soul; and Prince has made a career out of deliriously mixing the reverent and the randy. But for Sam, who managed to bring the Soul Stirrers to such an exalted place in the gospel world, the chance to cross over was a choice both agonizing and tantalizing. No matter how natural the fit may have seemed, he had to proceed with caution. By all accounts, his doubts ran as deep as his desire for greater success and new challenges.
"There was probably no young person who didn't know Sam Cooke," explains Butler on the subject of crossing over. "That's how big he was as a gospel singer. When Curtis and I made the transition from gospel to blues, nobody cared because we were a bunch of nobodies. The Soul Stirrers were the Number One gospel recording group in the country. People had a relationship to them that was similar to a church and a minisier. It's like, if
Billy Graham were to come and say one day that he was going to start doing rap music. That's the way people who were into Sam Cooke felt about it-the audacity of him to take that talent God has given him and to sing anything other than gospel music was sacrilegious in their minds. It took him a while to get over that."
The man who finally helped Sam take that
crucial first step in crossing over was named Robert "Bumps" Blackwell. An
itinerant A&R man and entrepreneur, Bumps had talked his way into Specialty
Records and Rupe had put him to work. When Bumps went to check out the Soul
Stirrers at a gospel program, he was not hearing the same thing as Rupe, the
gospel maven; Blackwell heard and saw before him the blueprint for a pop star.
Bumps had been working with smooth pop balladeer Jesse Belvin at Specialty and
felt he could take Sam in a similar direction. Sam was skeptical at first, even
though it was a possibility he had al ready been mulling over on his own. He had
initiated discussions with other artists, gospel colleagues like longtime
adviser J.W. Alexander of the Pilgrim Travelers, and
even his family. (The pragmatic Rev. Cook was not about to stand in his son's way.) In addition to being a dedicated singer, Sam was both practical and ambitious; unlike so many other artists of the time, he had a serious interest in the business side of music. That would lead him in a later years to taking an unprecedented amount of control over his own affairs; for the moment, though, he was noting how much money his pop-singing brethren were making. And many of them were doing mighty fine.
Perhaps if Sam were not such a young
icon, charismatically leading the most beloved ensemble in gospel, then his
crossover would not have been that difficult to make. But he knew the scrutiny of the entire gospel world would be upon him, and many would interpret any move toward pop a betrayal. So when Art Rupe finally gave the okay for Bumps and Sam to cut a few pop sides, they did not even list Sam in the studio paperwork. The session notes for December 12, 1956 at Cosimo Matassa's fabled New Orleans studio, where Bumps had previously worked on the Little Richard recording date for Specialty that had yielded "Lucille" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly," listed the artist as Dale Cook. The A-side of the "Dale Cook" single that Specialty released the following January was called "Lovable," a secularizing of gospel tune, "Wonderful," to which Womack had referred.
Rawls laughs when he considers the stage name: "That was so the religious people didn't frown on him, but come on-they knew the sound. How were you going to get around that?" Sam and Bumps had fooled no one. "Lovable" was politely received, but it was far from a decisive hit. Which made it even more difficult to go back to Rupe and ask if they could try again. This time they stayed in Los Angeles and nooked a session for June 1, 1957 at a place called Radio Recorders. As a guitarist, Bumps had brought in a Texan named Cliff White, who would collaborate with Sam on the road and in the studio for the rest of Sam's career. New Orleans hotshot Earl Palmer, who had led the session at Cosimo's six months earlier, was back on drums. And arranger René Hall, who would become another studio stalwart for Sam, played rhythm guitar.
Among the songs they planned to cut that day were an arrangement Sam had dreamed up for George Gershwin's 'Summertime" and an original of his called 'You Send Me." This time Rupe himselg showed up at the studio. And though the results of this fatelul session would become the stuff of pop lore, surely no one knew it at the time - they were all watching the argument that erupted between Bumps and Rupe over the direction in which the material was headed. For Rupe's taste, the songs were going too pop; for Bumps, the session was taking him and Sam exactly where they wanted to go. Depending on who recounts the story, either Rupe fired Bumps or Bumps told Rupe he quit. Whatever really happened, the result was that Bumps was out of a job, Sam's latest sides were temporarily shelved, and an aspiring young songwriter named Sonny Bono, who was definitely in the right place at the right time, was picked by Rupe to take Bumps' place.
Bumps did not waste any time hustling a
new deal for the material he had cut with Sam. He brought it to a new indie
called Keen, run by a former studio musician named Bob Keene, and a businessman in the aeronautics industry named John Siamas. Rupe, who had been in the vanguard with Lloyd Price and Little Richard, knew he had missed a big one with 'You Send Me" when the single finally hit the streets on September 7, 1957. In fairness to Rupe, even Bumps did not know what they had in the can-he wanted Keen to push 'Summertime." But radio deejays, and their avid listeners, instantly told Bumps otherwise. And Sam (who had added an "e" to his last name out of superstititon, giving his full name an even number of letters) had a smash. "You Send Me" went to the top of both the pop and R&B charts and, according to reports of the day, sold approximately 1.7 million copies.
Sam Cooke had crossed over: he was a pop star now.
And that is where this collection
beging, with the two sides that launched Sam's pop career, "You Send Me" and
'Summertime." Simple would be the wrong word to describe "You Send Me"; pure would be more like it. It's a marvel of economy: a few repeated declarations of love -"You send me," "You thrill me"-linked by a delicate little bridge that fills out this very to-the-point love story. It is hard not to get hooked by the melody, and equally difficult not to smile when Sam says "Honest you do," a sell-effacing postscript from an otherwise very confident-sounding guy. Sam elegantly glides over the melody, linking verse to verse, with the wordless, off-the-cuff vocalizing that would become his trademark. Many might try to sing this deceptively plain tune, but few could lift it heavenward
as Sam could with a falsetto "Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh..." at the end of a line, or bring it right to the bedroom door by interpolating a sexy little "ooh" in front of the words "but it's lasted so long" as if he has just remembered a particularly sweet carnal moment. The song was memorable, but the voice was unforgettable.
The flip of the original single, "Summertime," illustrates, quite literally, the other side of Sam Gooke, the Nat King Cole-style crooner tackling a well-known standard and trying to give it his inimitable feel. Throughout his career-and you hear a fair sampling in this coliection-Sam cut supper club fare, much of which made it to RCA LPs pitched to adult album buyers, The arrangement of "Summertime," which Sam worked out on his own with guitarist Cliff White, is starker and more haunting than some of the more lushly orchestrated work that would come later, but it reflects an aspect of his repertoire that always remained important to him. ("Comnes Love," later on in Disc 1, is another, very appealing example of this side of Sam.)
Among the follow-ups to "You Send Me" are a few early gems, like the more overtly R&B-styled "Lonely Island," the b-side to the soulful slow dance of "You Were Made For Me," and the calypso-flavored "Win Your Love," which is all about percolating percussion and that ingratiating voice floating above it, in a romantic reverie: "To me you are so beautiful/Beautiful as a song /And whenever I look at you/My heart beats like a tom-tom " And then there is "Love You Most Of All," about a very attractive gal who Sam just happens to have on his arm, which contains a hilarious send-up of street-corner flirting: "When we walk down the street! All the fellas go, 'Ooh, whee!'"
Sam savored each word he sang, as if he were weighing the emotional import of every one he uttered. You could clearly understand what he was saying and what he was feeling.
"We were still fumbling, trying to get
our words together," says Price, chuckling. "Sam was understandable and he told
a story. We just wanted to make sure we had nice little rhymes, like the rappers
today. We were not storytellers, we were just putting some beats together and
whatever rhymes sounded good to us was it. Not interested in bridges and all
that stuff, going to the bridge. It took James Brown almost forly years to go to
bridge. Whenever you got a groove, that was it, because people wanted to do nothing but dance. Sam Cooke and Brooke Benson started going to the bridge on us. It was al most a betrayal!"
Although the tremendous success of "You
Send Me" brought a certain pressure to maintain that artistic and sales level in
the fast-moving and fickle world of pop, it also brought Sam the freedom to
explore his ideas in the recording studio-and he had a lot of them. Sam was
never merely a voice for hire: he wrote, arranged, produced and performed.
Although the business today is full of multi-hyphenates who control every aspect
of their recording situations and stars like the prodigious D'Angelo who spend
years perfecting their sound, Sam was unique among his peers. He may not have
played an instrument beyond rudimenlary guitar, which he used to sketch out
but he could tell each musician how they should sound.
"He didn't go to the studio to start putting it together," says Rawls. "He would put it together before he got there. Sam would already have his delivery, how he was going to do it. He wouldn't do like most of them, when you would go to the studio, you would go to the arrangement. He would go with the arrangement in mind and he would already have worked on it with René or somebody like that. So when he got into the studio, it wasn't, 'Lets try this, lets try that.' It was, 'okay, here it is,' which made it come out much better because it was him, it was his delivery, the way he felt.
'Of course, then you didn't have any 32- or 48-track machines. You couldn't keep going over and over. Back in the day then, the engineer was the man. They didn't have the computer or the digital stuff like they have now. They can just push a button and repeat or erase. Back then, that was it, buddy."
Crossing over may have been emotionally
and spiritually difficult for Sam, but he discovered that his old friends had
not turned their backs on him. He in turn tried to keep up his relationships with his gospel buddies. As his career became more demanding, he called one of his fellow Soul Stirrers, Senior Roy (SR.) Crain, and offered him the job of road manager. Although even that sort of crossover was difficult to make, Crain, who would later collaborate on the You Send Me biography with author Wolf, could not quite turn down the opportunity to secure a steady income. He had mouths to feed. He would continue to nurture the friendships with his gospel fellow travelers, offering them
material, production advice, touring slots, and, once he established his own SAR label, recording contracts.
According to Rawls, who was still part of the Pilgrim Traveiers when they "hit the touring trail with Sam, 'everyone was watching Sam to see what would happen. Naturally, they felt that the gospel world would turn their backs on him because he had switched over. But they didn't. I guess the reason for that was the kind of music he did. He didn't do that, you know, funky built, get down, boogie woogie mama', that kind of stuff. It was sweet, it was smooth. With that happening, then other people started looking at this. Aretha [Franklin] was only playing piano for her father's church choir in Detroit, she was playing for Little Sammy Bryant. She wasn't even singing then. But when Sam made that transition and was accepted, there was a rush of gospel singers singing popular music-Aretha, Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, who was with the Bluebelles. There were quite a few others who made the transition. They all had their roots in gospel."
But Sam's acceptance on the other side
was not universal. He did make a terrific debut on The Ed Sullivan Showafter his
first scheduled appearance was scuttled due to time constraints, causing
Sullivan's switch board to light up with complaints and convincing the
influential TV host that he had better get young Sam back on the program as soon
as possible. Sam and Bumps were certain they should take his act on the supper
club circuit, and decided to capitalize on Sam's celebrity with an engagement at
the prestigious Copacabana in New York City. The big-city
night club world was radically different From the more rough-and-tumble circuit they traveled you could call it sophisticated or you could call it staid. You were supposed to keep the well-heeled crowd happy while they sat in their high-priced seats; you were not supposed to try to lift them out of their chairs. This was not about communion, secular or sacred; this was about after-dinner entertainment on expense-account budgets. Armed with his natural charm and preacher's instinct, Sam tried to reach a disinterested audience that had come not to see him, but the headliner, an inert Jewish comedian and Ed Sullivan favorite named Myron Cohen. Sam failed to reach the apparently bewildered crowd, and he stumbled in a subsequent Chicago nightclub appearance as well. It would not be until six years later, in 1964, near the end of his short life, that he would return to the scene of the Copa debacle a well-seasoned star, face a much hipper crowd and knock 'em dead.
meantime, he was devastating R&B audiences, especially in the South-behind "the
cotton curtain," as Rawls put it- on the segregated "chitlin circuit." The late
writer, musician and student of the blues Robert Palmer wrote of a show he
caught in Little Rock, Arkansas during 1960, co-headlined by Sam Cooke and
Jackie Wilson. The show was black-only; the white Palmer claims to have snuck
in. "This was no supper club," Palmer writes in Rock & Roll: An Unruly History.
It was a dingy auditorium basement set up with flimsy restaurant tables and
folding chairs-but Sam Cooke knew exactly where he was. Halfway through the
opening number he shed his tuxedo jacket. Next came the tie. Loosening his
collar, singing like God's favorite angel, Cooke slowly, teasingly, peeled off
his formal white gloves. Around me, women were tensing, same rising halfway out
of their chairs. Cooke pretended to hesitate, then nonchalantly tossed the
gloves into the audience. one landed on my table, and half a dozen women, each
the size of a football linebacker, landed on top of me. Down I went, followed by
the table, the chairs, and the women, who fought for the glove tooth and nail
while I squirmed on the bottom of the pileup. The eventual victor went
running through the crowd hooting, crowing, waving the glove high above her head like the battle trophy it was. Cooke, who had somehow remained dapper through it all, made a graceful exit, leaving the hall in pandemonium.
"He had an innate sense of audience response;' says Rawls. "He knew how to work an audience. That was from his gospel training:'
To stay on the charts, you also had to stay on the road to keep promoting your latest hit. Sam often participated in the R&B, and occasionally rock and roll, package tours that made a string of one-night-stands across a region. Looking back on those bills today, they seem breathtakingly rich with soon-to-be-legendary talent. Back then, though, you were, as the saying goes, only as good as your latest hit: your status in the lineup depended on, as Rawls put it, "whoever had the hottest record"
Sam was, more often than not, pretty darn hot; he was rarely without even a
middling hit on the R&B and/or pop charts. "There was a man named Henry Wynn,"
recalls Butler, 'an African American promoter who had a company called
Supersonic Attractions and he promoted all over the South and in the Midwest and
other places. He took packages all over the country. Normally the packages would
consist of-1 remember this very vividly-Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Chuck Jackson,
the Drifters, yours truly and several other acts, all on the same bill.
Traveling by bus, most of us. Of course, Sam and Jackie often times would travel
either in their own car or would fly to engagements, depending on how far it
was, because they were making the kind of dollars that would allow you to do
that. And, because they weren't with a group, they didn't have as many people to
fly. Invariably, because those two mega-talents were on the same bill, there
would always be the question of who would close, Sam or Jackie. Oftentimes, it
got down to, all right, Sam would close one night, Jackie would close the next
night. And that was to keep the peace in the camp because along with the talent,
they had superegos. Depending on who got there first, it would make it very
difficult for the other person to go on. Sam was never the dancer, the
sensationalized kind of singer that Jackie was. But he was so good as a singer
that he could just mesmerize an audience with the ease of movement and the
simplicity of his ability to tell a story-and to move from that sweetness to
that squall without missing a beat.'
his earliest package tours, Sam had chafed at the racial restrictions, the Jim
Crow laws, that made traveling across Amerlca, and especially behind "the cotton
curtain" in the South, a humiliating and often dangerous undertaking. An
African-American artist did not have a choice of hotels, restaurants or leven
bathrooms, and groups like the Ku Klux Klan could issue enough threats, veiled
or otherwise, to make any show an uneasy experience. Sam, with his church
training, took the dignified route: he would not display his anger, but he would
not back down. The show would go on, no matter what the circumstance. Sam was a
quietly courageous artist who would grow increasingly agitated about the status
of black Americans. His feelings were not overt in most of his work, but they
were there between the lines. Certainly, 'Chain Gang' for all the playfulness in
its arrangement, has an undercurrent of
melancholy to it; alter all, it is the sound of black men bound in shackles. 'Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen:' cut three years later for the NIGHTBEAT album, is even more affecting. The instrumentation is spare and the vocalless filigreed; in a way, it recalls 'Win Your Love," in which Sam's plain vocal conveys so much yearning in such a simple way. "Nobody know the trouble I've seen," he sings, 'Nobody knows my sorrow ' Again, it could just be about romance, but the words convey so much emotion, that sweet voice is lined with such sadness, that it is hard not to think of the bigger picture, the turbulent and often hostile world that Sam and his fellow performers had to
face every day.
"I recall one year we played Memphis, Tennessee," says Butler, "where the stage separated the two audiences. If you can imagine this, on one side was all the black people, on the other side all the white people, and the performers had to perform on the stage that was located in the middle. So no matter what you did, you always had your back to part of the audience. About the time we got to 1961 or 2, most of the African-American performers would perform with their backs to the white audience to make a statement, and Sam was one of the leaders of that movement. The attitude was, if they want to see us they can come over here and sit.
"It was a very uncomfortable feeling
because, really, people both sides of the curtain had paid to see the show and I
courteaus thing would have been to sing one song to one side and one song to the ofher side. But then we raised the question, who caused this problem? Who caused this situation? They paid to see the same show, they're all sitting in the same building, they're all breathing the same air. Where is this distinction coming from? And the distinction came from the law. So in our own way we were trying to change the law. Because we knew all it took was somebody to say, lets take down the law. Wll, it didn't happen right away, but we started the process, I believe."
And the law did not jusl keep an eye on the show. As Rawls remembers it, the police in places like Arkansas stayed very close to the stars. He remembers another show in Little Rock at the National Guard Armory where "The white faction just went berserk, they went crazy, man, when Sam came out." As for the police, "they followed us-me, Sam and a couple of other guys-when we went to the restroom 'cause the girls were trying to get to Sam. I'm telling you boy, it was something else."
The dangers of the rpad did not come solely from the specter of Jim Crow. The
late hours and the long drives, the need to get to the next gig or escape the
latest threat created constant hazards for these travel-weary performers. Many,
from Buddy Holly to Otis Redding, eventually sacrificed their lives for these
schedules and, in St. Louis on the night of November 10, 1958, Sam came close to
losing his. Rawls was traveling with Sam then; the Pilgrim Travelers, with whom
Rawls sang, were opening for Sam in a show that had a crossover theme: "From
secular and how the two were supposed to relate," explains Rawls. The Pilgrim Travelers were now recording for Keen too, and experimenting with pop material.
As Rawls remembers, the night had an unsettling feel from the start: "It was weird..some guy was trying to get smart with Sam. And George McKern, who was the bass singer with our group, stepped between. George always kept a rolled-up newspaper, like a baton-type thing, but it was a lethal weapon. You could get hit in the solar plexus with that thing, that will take you out.Not kill you, but stop you. Anyway, this guy was trying to cut him, he cut George on the hand.
"We left there that night, on our way to Greenville, Mississippi and I got in the back seat with Clill White, the guitar player, and Eddie [Cunningham] and Sam were in the front. Eddie was the driver. I went to sleep, thank God, and we run up into the back end of an eighteen-wheeler. I was in a coma for five days, with a brain concussion. They pronounced me dead on the spot. But I lived, thank God. He kept me here for something."
Cunningham, Sam's driver, was not so lucky: he died in the crash. Rawls briefly teetered on the brink of death; White suffered some broken bones. Sam was the only one to escape more or less unscathed.
Prefiguring what would happen six years later, word spread quickly that Sam had been killed and fans, friends, family and colleagues all swiftly reacted with shock and alarm. The tragic accident did not deter Sam from his work; in fact, he insisted that the recovering Rawls get right back in his routine: "Sam said, don't take him home, take him back in the environment." It did put off the Pilgrim Travelers, however; the group disbanded not long after that tour ended.
Shortly alter the late-'58 crash, Sam agreed to become a partner in a publishing
company, called KAGS Music, set up by Pilgrim Traveler, songwriter and longtime
confidante J.W. Alexander. Though the publishing venture was Alexander's idea,
it represented Cooke's first move towards assuming greater control over his
career, his songs and his finances. Sam was a pragmatic guy, and he knew the
value of a dollar-plus he seemed to enjoy doing business. Above all, Sam was
like a great A&R man. He not only had terrific instincts about what material to
choose for himself and how to approach it in the studio, but he knew what worked
for other artists, especially for his gospel brethren and those fellow singers
in the process of crossing over. In 1959, again with the help of Alexander, he
formed his own independent label, SAR Records, named for himself, Alexander and road manager S.R. Crain, it was a platform from which Sam could showcase artists he admired and the sounds he cherished. Sam launched SAR with a single from the Soul Stirrers, "Stand By Me Father." It was not just a label debut but a conciliatory message to the world he never quite left behind, acknowledging his ongoing commitment to his sacred roots, despite his steady pop success.
Among the artists who recorded tor SAR were Kylo Turner (formerly of the Pilgrim Traveiers), Johnnie Morrisette (a gospel singer from Alabama), The Sims Twins (who had an R&B hit with Sam's "Soothe Me"), Johnnie Taylor (a one-time Soul Stirrer) and the Womack Brothers (Bobby, Cecil, Curtis, Friendly Jr. and Harry). And, in 1962, he started cutting sides with his original role model, R,H. Harris, who had a new group, the Gospel Paraders.
In 1963, Sam would expand his business to include a subsidiary label, Derby, to put out nightclub-oriented fare similar to the kind he often recorded, Johnnie Taylor and organist Billy Presion cut singles tor Derby. The name was meant to have a British ring to it and he was not alone in trying to be continental. Lloyd Price called his own publishing company Lloyd and, Logan. "I wanted them to think it was foreign," he admitted. 'It was rough back in those times-we weren't even allowed to put our pictures on our own albums, they had to draw cartoons of some white people and stuff."
Around the same time Sam was putting
together SAR in 1959, his own record deal was falling apart. The tiny Keen label
basically did not exist before "You Send Me"; it was, arguably, ill-equipped to
handle the enormity of Sam's success, and Sam's relationship with owner Siamas
faltered as they argued over money and recording advances, RCA was not the only
major label that eventually bid tor Sam's services-R&B powerhouse Atlanlic was
in the mix, along with Capitol, home of Nat King Cole (and later Lou Rawls). RCA
already had Elvis Presley, the man who popularized rock and roll; in 1960, they
signed Sam Cooke, the man, as they later put it, "who invented soul." Though Sam
preferred to run things himself in the studio, RCA nonetheless assigned to Sam a
pair of in-house producers, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, who, like Sam, had
risen out of the fast-and-loose indie world and also happened to be cousins.
They billed themselves professionally as Hugo and Luigi.
This unlikely duo got off to a rocky start with Sam; their first i single, "Teenage Sonata," was a relative flop, though it has benefited from the patina of age. As Luigi explained to Rolling ! Stone in 1985, "We made one record with him and nothing happened. Then we said, 'Listen, Sammy, you write some things and bring them in the next time we do asession.' So he did. He came by and played several things. Not everything he wrote was good. We just said, 'That's nice, what else have you got?' He said, 'Well, I'm working on a thing, and it goes like, 'Uh, ah, uh, ah, I hear the sound of the men working on.the chain gang.' So we postponed the session, he finished that, and of course
"Chain Gang" was a smash for him."
"Chain Gang," with its sound of clinking
metal and rhythmic grunts, Sam's sunny-on-the-surface delivery and hints of
sadness, was almost as big a success as "You Send Me." It reached No.2 on both the R&B and pop charts, and it became Sam's biggest hit afler "You Send Me" and the wistful pledge of love, "Wonderlul World," one of Sam's last Keen sides. And it was one of a remarkable string of singles that often matched "Chain Gang" in ingenuity and soulfulness, if not always in chart numbers. "Sad Mood" was another one of those deceptively simple numbers, the sparseness of the arrangement keeping the focus on Sam's carefully enunciated, reined-in delivery, which only seems to accentuate the sorrow. In contrast, "That's It - I Quit - I'm Movin' On," despite the title, is one of those best-part-of-breaking-up-is-making-up songs, with a downright goofy pop arrangement and a nimble vocal delivery. Sam seems to skip blithely over the words, keeping everything light-hearted, even in those moments that might call for some gospel belting. 'Cupido' has another clever aural gimmick like the clink and clank of 'Chain Gang," a vocal whoosh under the line 'let your arrow go. ..' Like any of the devices Sam employed to make his arrangement novel, it adds some sparkle, but the real magic remains in Sam's voice, in the way it rises on the word 'Cupid' in his prayerful plea at the fade-out. He brings a soulfulness to a song that could turn insufferably cute in the hands of a
straight-ahead pop singer.
Then there is his informal trilogy of
party songs: "Twistin' the Night Away,' 'Having A Party" and 'Another Saturday
Night." With 'Twistin',' Sam pays tribute to a craze, just like his
contemporaries were, but he wasn't merely cashing in. The song swings, for sure,
but it is Sam's lyrics that are so remarkable, the wonderfully vivid description
of a place 'somewhere up in New York way" where young and old are "twistin' the
night away." He does exhort everyone to dance-to do the Watusi, the Fly; the
Twist-in the bridge, but he somehow manages to look deeper
at the scene he has created, making it seem more like a refuge than a party: 'they have a lot of fun putting trouble on the run." Similarly, 'Having A Party," a song that Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes revived in the seventies as a bar-band anthem, has a melancholy edge, with Sam entreating the deejay, the higher power at this particular party, to 'keep those records playin'! 'Cause I'm having such a good time! Dancin' with my baby.' 'Another Saturday Night" is about missing the party entirely- 'Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody" -and that seems like a bit of a joke, because no one would ever imagine Sam in a situation where he 'ain't got nobody." He puts a lot of humor in his vocal-how could he not with a lyric that talks about somebody's sister who is supposed to 'look just fine" but actually 'has astrange resemblance to a cat named Frankenstein?' But he still manages to give the words a rueful quality. English folk-rocker Cat Stevens, in an uncharacteristically playful mood, had a hit with 'Another Saturday Night': several years later; he made it all sound fun but frantic, more anxious than yearning.
On Sam's 1962 TWISTIN' THE NIGHT AWAY
LP, which also included a timely number called "Twistin' In The Kitchen With
Dinah," Sam got down in an uncharacteristically overt way with the seriously
steamy "Movin' And Groovin,'" co-written with Lou Rawls. It is a bit startling
coming from a guy who lets so much simmer under the surface. Sam had
inadvertentiy been down that road before with the 1961 single, "(Don' Fight It)
Feel it," one
of the few sides he cut that some programmers lound too risqué. The pop arrangement was fairly innocuous; it is a backhanded acknowledgement to Sam's considerable sex appeal that the sell-proclaimed moral authorities could read so much into the tune. It's obviously a favorite of Sam's-he opens the Harlem Square Club show documented here with it. RCA re-released the song posthumously, but it never charted.
The A-side of "Having A Party" was
"Bring II On Home To Me"- the tunes charted separalely in 1962 and both landed
high on the pop and R&B charts. "Bring It On Home To Me" recalled Sam's gospel
years more closely than perhaps any of his songs from thai period. Rawls served
as Sam's vocal foil in the studio, singing behind him in the verses and egging
him on with a call and response in the chorus. It was like one of those gospel
battles from the Quartet Union Hall; Rawls helps draw out the grit in Sam's
voice, resulting in a raw and impassioned lead vocal
performance. This was an unguarded moment, like singing with family. As Rawls explains, "Every time he came to town...we would get together and hang out. I would go to his house or he would come to my place, and he would sit down on the floor with his guitar and write songs. That's why I was on a lot of his recordings, because I knew the songs. We knew each other vocally, we knew each other musically, we used to harmonize all the time."
Sam had also cut some blues sides with
big band arrangements that were used on his 1961 MY KIND OF BLUES LP; many of
those album tracks, like a smoldering "Since I Met You Baby" and an uptempo.take
on "Trouble In Mind" are included here. But he explored the blues in a more
uninhibited way on his 1963 NIGHTBEAT album, which is contained in its entirety
on Disc 4. NIGHTBEAT has the feel of an after-hours studio session: and it
features a small combo including Billy Preston on organ, Ray Johnson on piano
and session great Hal Blaine on drums.
It starts off on a spiritual note with the subtly stirring "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've geen" before turning much more worldly, with the smoldering "Lost And Lookin'." Preston, a veteran of Little Richard's band and a Derby artist himself, is a particular standout on "Little Red Rooster," which swings in an almost lascivious way. Sam's brilliant diction accentuates every double entendre and, just in case you missed the point, Preston underscores every barnyard boast with positively leering organ fills. Pianist Johnston also gets to stretch out, with Sam's vocal prompting, on "Laughin' and Clownin'." The mood is often brooding, especially on "Trouble Blues," but Sam does manage to climax the session in an upbeat way, with a rousing version' of "Shake, Rattle And Roll." Again, Sam's pristine enunciation makes every line sizzle-this stuff is downright dirty- testifying frankly to the temptations of the flesh: "I believe to my soul you a devil in nylon hose/Aw, you won't do right to save your nat'ral soul." The Rolling Stones later added a couple of these tunes, "Little Red Rooster" and "You Gotta Move," to their own blues repertoire, and they even hired Billy Preston to go on the road with them, but the seasoned Mick could not bring out
the sex, sweat and soul with the effortlessness of Sam.
LIVE AT THE HARLEM SQUARE CLUB was
actually recorded earlier in 1963 than NIGHTBEAT, but RCA waited some twenty
years before releasing it. The rawness of those tapes did not appeal to the
prevailing ears of the company, and they felt the audience wanted the more
polished side of Sam. Now the tapes have been restored and remastered to convey
the live concert in an even more immediate way. This is as up close and personal
to the man as you can get-you can practically feel the heat and the perspiration
in the North Miami, Florida nightspot as Sam bounds on stage and exhorts the
crowd, "Don't fight it, feel it." He coaches the audience with a preacher's
skill through a sing-along of "For Senlimental Reasons": "I dream of you every
cotton pickin' evening"-and keeps them pumped with a revved-up version of
"Twistin' The Night Away," King Curtis blowing some nasty sax during the
instrumental break. "One more time!" Sam shouts "Everybody twist!" and Curtis
takes centerslage again. By the end, Sam is demanding everybody get their
handkerchiefs out and wave them in the air-"Everybody get them handkerchiefs
out!"-and you can imagine a sea of arms in the air, waving those hankies like
they just don't care.
(You may find yourself scurrying around the house looking for one too, so you can comply with Sam's irresistible demand.) And Sam does not let up, His buildup to "Bring It On Home To Me," which climaxes in.a call-and-response with the audience, is full of tongue-in-cheek testifying, the sort of preaching style thai Ihe older Bruce Springsleen has adopled to tease and cajole his audiences.
This eleclrifying showends with "Having A Party." I want you to remember this," Sam says by way of introduction. "You gotta remember this song for me " And it is one more sing-along and everybody is truly swinging, just like the song says. "I don't wànl to quit," he confesses as the band vamps to the end, "but it looks like I gotta go. ...I gotta go, but keep on havin' that party. ..."
And that is where our collection ends, with Sam urging his fans to keep the spirit of the party alive when they are at home, when they are humming along to a song, when they are listening to the car radio. Sam was right; the music is eternal, the party can go on forever. But at the end of the following year, Sam himself would be gone, shot to death at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, in a still-murky incident in Los Angeles.
Right up to the abrupt end of his extraordinary life, the ever-ambitious Sam kept looking for new ways to improve his career and gain greater control over his circumstances. During his engagement at the State Theatre in Philadelphia in March, 1963, Sam met and hired Allen Klein as his Business Manager for his music publishing company (KAGS) and his independent recording company. Klein had negotiated impressively highpriced deals for other singers and would later become one of the most influential players in the record business. In May of 1963, Sam hired Klein to renegotiate Sam's RCA contract so that he would have his own imprint; called Tracey after Sam's youngest daughter. Tracey Records Ltd. would give Sam more of the autonomy he craved and, as an African-American artist in a white executives world, the prestige he knew he deserved.
Sam was always alert to shifts in the popular culture, and he was keenly aware of the folkbased protest music that had been inspired by the civil rights struggle. Sam wrote "A Change Is Gonna Come" as a sort of answer to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind." The stirring, prophetic song suggested a new direction in Sams career; perhaps he planned to speak out more aggressively about the state of his people. He had befriended such key figures in the African-American struggle as Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali, so, as an observer at least, he was on the Front lines of race politics. Sam granted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference a free license to include "A Change Is Gonna Come" on a benefit record called "The Stars Salute Dr. Martin Luther King." (Unfortunately, "A Change Is Gonna Come," along with other songs Sam cut after September 1963, continues to be owned by Tracey Records Ltd and could not be included in this collection.)
The last year and a hall of Sam's life included triumph and tragedy. With Klein's and RCA's help, he returned in mid-'64 to New York City's Copacabana, the site of the earlier failure that Sam could not forget. Klein hyped the appearance with an expensive, 100-foot-high sign in Times Square, proclaiming "Sam's The Biggest Cooke in Town." Sam more than lived up to the publicity this time around. While RCA had balked at releasing a live album of the Harlem Square show, the label was eager to put out a live recording of this historic nightclub set. Sam Cooke at the Copa spent 55 weeks on the charts, both before and after his death. Tragedy, on the other hand, had struck the previous June, when Sam's eighteen-month aid son Vincent has accidentally drowned in the swimming pool of his Los Angeles home. (He had to endure the deaths of many close to him, a number after car crashes, including Eddie Cunningham, Jesse Belvin and his first wile, Delores.) Though Sam, as always, maintained a dignified front, the loss of one of his children had, according to many observers, left a lasting mark. Still, he carried on the only way he knew how: writing songs and cutting records.
Recalling Sam's personality over the years, Lloyd Price says, "He was happy, jolly. He had a lot of energy and he talked last. He was a good storyteller, he told a lot of jokes. A lot of fun He was, overall, a fine man. And his demeanor, if there was no joy, you could never tell it. When I hear 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' when he wrote that song, I was wondering what he was talking about, that's how much I believed that song. If you just talked to Sam, there was no indication of problems. There was nothing wrong with his life. I knew he was having family problems, of course. When he lost his son, he was really broken up about that. But he was kind of getting over it. He was taking all that bad stuff and putting it into his music.
'He was a very, very good person, a very good human being, and from that day till now, I don't understand how he left us so early. God has his ways of doing his business and it's not questionable. There has been nothing like Sam and I don' guess there will be in this lifetime. You don' get people as pure as that. Sam was the man."
'If you know anything about Duke Ellington," says Lou Rawls, byway of comparison, "he was an outgoing personality. The minute he walked into a room you knew he was there, and the same thing happened with Sam. People were just drawn to him like a magnet. He was a real nice, down-to-earth guy and I don' think he ever fed off his popularity to the point that it became a negative thing. Everyone loved him and loved his music. He was a guy who had it all."
On the day he died, Sam
visited Lou Rawls, checking in on Rawls' infant son and asking his cohort if he
wanted to meet up later at a club called P.J.'s in Hollywood. Rawls' baby
crying when Sam Came to his crib and he would not let up. Rawls was concerned that his child was ill and told Sam he would probably stay home that evening. "I didn't go," Rawls
says sadly now, "and I'm sorry I didn'. Perhaps it I had gone, things may not have turned out the way they did."
Not even the closest of Sam's family or friends will ever know for sure what happened, especially since the Los Angeles Police Department treated it as a simple open-and-shut case. One can safely speculate that if a white entertainer of Sam's stature had been killed in even a remotely suspicious manner, a more thorough investigation would have taken place. But that was 1964 and black men, the unknown as well as the prominent, were dying everywhere Medger Evars, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. ... Jerry Butler recalls, "The death of Martin Luther King would be the only other tragedy in the black community that surpassed that of losing Sam. Because the church felt the loss, the children felt the loss, everybody who was into Sam's music felt the loss and I believe everybody was into his music. You're talking about a guy who had gone from the Apollo to the Copacabana. I was riding in a car in Texas when we heard that some woman who thought he was trying to break in had shot Sam. It was ridiculous. And I don' believe that the truth of it has ever been or ever will be told. Like the Kennedy assassination or the Martin Luther King assassination. Who did it and why? Nobody can ever satisfy those questions for me."
Had he lived, decides Rawls, "I think he would have gone to the Nat Cole level and beyond. Nal Cole was the premier singer of that day, But he wasn't considered blues or jazz, he was just a singer. And I think the same thing would have applied to Sam."
"There's no telling," says Price. "Sam Cooke was a good-looking boy. Sam Cooke would have probably wound up in Hollywood. He certainly would have gone far past anything we had ever recognized because he was loved all across the board."
"I think Sam would have
been one of the firsl world superstars," declares Butler. "Bob Marley was a
world superstar, but he was bigger outside the United Slates than he ever was
United Stales. Sam Cooke, had he lived, was going to be big all over the world and in the United Slates. He would have had all of what Marley had, plus the U.S. Marley was influenced by Sam," he concludes, "as was Otis Redding, as were most of the people from that period-the Al Greens, you name it. Sam influenced them all."
Listen to these discs, then make your own list of who Sam influenced; it might include Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Teddy Pendergrass, Prince, D'Angelo. But, really, it includes all of us. He may not have exactly invented soul, but he was full of it, he embodied it, and gave it to the world. The crossover he made was not just from the church hall to the concert arena, he traversed the boundaries of race, class, and musical genre.
"We lost a lot in that era," says Price, "but music was the thing that united and brought everybody together in spite of all the turmoil we were going through in this country at that time. Sam Cooke's music and rock and roll, and rhythm and blues was the only place where the people found peace."
So, as the man used to say, don't fight it feel it. Listen to the story of Sam Cooke. -Michael Hill