By: Cindy Annis – March, 2018
I hope you enjoyed Buddy Holly last month. Now that he is done I can start thinking about “The Day the Music Died!” This month, however, we shall all learn together about the incomparable Sam Cooke.
Sam was born back in January of 1931, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His dad was a minister, and his mom was Annie Mae Cook. He had seven brothers and sisters, and some of them had talent, too. His younger brother, for instance, was in the Doo-Wop group called Johnny Keys and the Magnificents. When Sam was 2 years old they all moved to Chicago, Illinois. Sam went to the same high school that Nat King Cole went to, just a few years before Sam.
Sam and his brothers and sisters sang together when they were kids and they were known as the “Singing Children.” He was about six years old then. He got into a real group when he was about 14 years old. He was the lead singer for “The QC’s. This was about the same time he became friends with Lou Rawls. Sam sang in a gospel group and Lou was singing in a revival gospel group.
R. H. Harris had a gospel group called the “Soul Stirrers. In 1950, Sam took over the lead singer’s spot and R. H. Harris got them signed to Specialty Records. Sam had his first recording as lead singer of the group in 1951, with the song, “Jesus Gave Me Water.” They recorded a bunch of gospel songs with the label. Many that Sam himself wrote. It was because of Sam that the young crowd was getting into gospel, also. It seemed that the more that Sam sang gospel, the more the crowds grew. Mainly because the young girls wanted to get a good look at the lead singer. So, Sam was on his way!
Sam hung around the gospel kind of music and groups for a few years, but in 1956, things started changing up a little bit for him. Sam wanted to start crossing over into some Pop music. His first attempt at this was “Loveable.” Now, this was a remake from one of the gospel songs he liked singing. But, because sing pop and rock music was a real no, no back then, Sam released this under the name of Dale Cook. He hoped he could pull a fast one on his fans. They weren’t fooled for an instant.
Art Rupe let Sam know it was alright for him to record this kind of music under his real name, but Sam and his producer, Bumps Blackwell didn’t want to do stuff like that of Little Richard. They were working on softer stuff. Rupe interrupted one such recording session and lost his cool, and Blackwell and Sam left Specialty Records.
Sam was invited to appear on “The Guy Mitchell Show”. He also signed onto Keen Records. Sam felt like this was kind of like a new beginning. So, in 1957, Sam added the “E” to his name and from then on it was Sam Cooke. “You Send Me” was Cooke’s first hit. It stayed at #1 for six weeks on the Billboard’s R&B Charts, and three weeks on their Pop Charts, and this was the B-side of “Summertime.”
From 1957 till 1961, Cooke had a bunch of hits from crossover to pure rock. Songs like “I’ll Come Running Back To You,” and “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons),” in 1957, “You Were Made For Me,” and “Blue Moon,” in 1958, and “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha,” and “Only Sixteen,” in 1959, “Chain Gang”, and “Sad Mood,” in 1960, and “Cupid,” in 1961 were his bread and butter. He was one of many artists of the times that concentrated on singles. The 45rpm was what the kids wanted to buy. Even though he did mostly singles, he did have a few albums.
In 1963 he released, “Night Beat.” This was eaten up by blues lovers, and it ran up the charts. In 1964, he released his most popular album called, “Ain’t That Good News,” which had 5 singles on it, as well. He did well on the charts and drew great crowds at concerts. In 1961, he also got his own record label up and running. SAR Records was that label, and there was a line of artists waiting for their turn to sign with him. Groups like The Simms Twins, and The Valentinos.
The Valentinos were Bobby Womack and his brothers. Bobby Womack also recorded with Johnnie Taylor on SAR Records.
NEXT MONTH COOKE STARTS THE KAGS!
Catch Sam’s music on Cindy’s Vinyl Vault. We play the best music ever recorded on vinyl. We’re at 980 WCAP Radio every Sunday night at 10pm, Monday night, 11pm Wednesday night at 10pm, and remember folks, it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds!
Cooke also started “Kags.” This was his own publishing company and management firm. Allen Klein was contracted for five years to manage Kags, and SAR Records. There were contracts with RCA Records and a holding company named Tracey, Ltd. Tracey was one of Cooke’s daughters. There was a lot of money involved, over a half million. By today’s standards, we are talking about 225 million dollars. And this large amount of money takes us to our next subject.
The death, murder, self-defense shooting of Samuel Cooke is something to be talked about a little bit. First, it happened on December 11, 1964 in Los Angeles at a place called the Hacienda Motel. The police went to the motel because of two different calls thinking these were two different incidents. Little did they know it was a very tangled mess involving Cooke, a, ahem, former prostitute, and the evening manager.
The manager supposedly did the shooting, and the prostitute said she was the kidnapping victim. Needless to say, the stories didn’t add up and were full of inconsistencies and too many variations, every time they told their stories.
The case was closed and it was finally written up as justifiable homicide. The Cooke family didn’t buy any of it. They thought there was a conspiracy including Klein, RCA Records and the Tracey, Ltd. Holding Company, that was also owned by Klein. Even blues singer Etta James said she saw Cooke’s body before it was cleaned up for the funeral. She said he was beaten so bad that his head was practically ripped from his body. His hands were smashed and crushed and his face was destroyed.
The Cooke family weren’t the only ones to think Allen Klein had something to do with this messy death, but nothing has ever been brought to light enough to change anything. Allen Klein ended up owning everything,ncluding all the rights to Cooke’s music.
Sam Cooke had a lot of fans. They had a viewing in Chicago and over 200,000 people stood in very long lines to say goodbye. A second service was planned for the Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Los Angeles for the next day. Bessie Griffin was supposed to sing, but she broke down and couldn’t, so Ray Charles did the singing. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Even after death, Cooke’s music was being released and running up the charts. His family saw no part of the money for any of this. Sam Cooke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Charter Member in 1986, also in 1987, the Song Writer’s Hall of Fame. In 1994, they put a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his music contributions. Rolling Stones Magazine ranked him #16 on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” I could go on and on, with Sam Cooke’s awards and achievements, but space stops me.
You can catch Sam’s music on Cindy’s Vinyl Vault, so… Remember to listen to Cindy’s Vinyl Vault. We play the best music ever recorded on vinyl. We’re at 980 WCAP Radio every Sunday night at 10:00, Monday night at 11:00 and Wednesday night at 10:00, and remember folks, it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds!