, songwriter, producer. Born Sam Cook, in Mississippi
, but grew up in Chicago
. He was, perhaps, along with James Brown
, the first great soul
singer. Cook(e) was a "young" (he, like James, lied about his age
legend in ths Soul Stirrers, with such hits as "Touch the Hem of His Garment
", but when he wanted to try his hand as a pop
singer, his record company (Specialty, which was also the label of Little Richard
, et al) balked. He signed to start-up Keen Records, and his first hit was "You Send Me", in 1957
, one of many ballad
s for which he found secular
fame; he would eventually sign with RCA, the Big Time home of Elvis
, and start his own record label, SAR.
Many of his tunes became oft-recorded rock and roll classics: "Twistin' the Night Away" (Cooke's contribution to the Twist craze) was done later by Rod Stewart, among others; "Having a Party", played by every houserockin' band from Asbury Park to Pittsburgh; "Only Sixteen" (a hit for Dr. Hook), "Cupid" (for The Detroit Spinners), "Wonderful World" (a hit for the trio of Simon and Garfunkel and James Taylor); "Chain Gang"; "Shake", which Otis Redding took to another level (Sam would have approved, I think); "Another Saturday Night" would become a hit for Cat Stevens; "Nothing Can Change this Love" was done by Jonathan Richman, a balladeer with a different kind of soul, but a Cooke fan of long standing.
Cooke managed to combine pop idol status with rock credibility, with some songs an electronic Cyrano de
Bergerac, and others exquisitely-crafted party music - "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha", a cash-in on another dance craze, was both throwaway and infectious.
SAR Records (named for Sam, his friend J.W. "Alex" Alexander, and Leroy "Roy" Crume from the Soul Stirrers) - was the home of Cooke's gospel/R&B/blues side projects; the Soul Stirrers continued to record; Bobby and Cecil Womack got their pop careers going via SAR, which, in turn, gave the Rolling Stones (et al) some songs to do, for example, "It's All Over Now", originally by The Valentinos. Lou Rawls, "Little" Johnnie Taylor, and Billy Preston also recorded for SAR, before going on to their respective stardoms.
While his roots were in the church, his post-stardom life was not. He was shot in December 1964, by a motel manager who was providing refuge for a "female companion" of Cooke in the middle of a heated argument. The backlog of recordings allowed RCA to keep releasing Cooke records for well over a year. "A Change is Gonna Come", an uncharacteristic protest song, and "Shake" (party music!) were posthumous hits (released on the same 45), and would have been hits regardless of the marketplace feeding frenzy that must have followed his death. Other releases might better have stayed on the cutting-room floor - the better Cooke recordings were probably in SAR's vaults.
He was a singer of a thousand faces. Member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The song I have for my time capsule is "Bring it on Home", a gospelly duet with a young Lou Rawls; maybe I should splice Rod Stewart's "Twistin'" to the end of that.