SAM COOKE / “You Send Me”
Sam Cooke was the prototype for the soul singer: velvet of voice, the embodiment of virility. Sam’s music exuded a boyish charm that was a mixture of sweet innocence and rakish sensuality. Coming out of the church, Sam sang “touch the hem of his garment,” referring to Jesus, but it was Sam the man that the female legion of women fans reached out to caress. Whether singing about being frustrated and alone or drawing pitch-perfect visions of young love, Sam Cooke could sing it all and you eagerly embraced his music.
Sam was not the first and certainly far from the last singer to reverse Saul the Apostle’s journey by moving from an acclaimed career as a gospel singer to chase the holy grail of popular music.
His choir-boy appearance not withstanding, Sam Cooke could and did delve deeply into the blues. His “Little Red Rooster,” with Billy Preston on organ, is a particularly striking example of Cooke’s ability to deliver a mean blues song. Another example is the raunchy “Bring It On Home To Me” featuring Lou Rawls dueting with Sam. These were the kinds of songs that absolutely repulsed Sam’s gospel followers.
But on the other hand, Sam was also a master of idyllic songs focusing on young love. “Wonderful World” is one of the best examples of the wholesome side of Sam Cooke.
Sam Cooke was never content to be solely an entertainer. He started a record company and a production company to develop emerging artists. Cooke openly embraced the then-controversial Muhammad Ali. Sam also supported the Civil Rights movement and in his personal swan song, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” created an anthem of the Sixties.
There was a shadow side to Sam Cooke. Sam’s mysterious shooting death under tawdry circumstances perfectly illuminates Sam’s contradictory inner life.
Sam Cooke was a complex individual who pioneered the way forward for countless singers, such as Otis Redding, who followed and adored Sam Cooke.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Walking that fine line
The first thing I thought of when I heard these Sam Cooke tracks was Kalamu's Jackie Wilson posting a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if Sam and Jackie knew each other either personally or professionally, but the similarities in their music (in the music Kalamu selected, at least) is immediately apparent. Both have that 'smooth roughness' about them. That vibe that says they're slick, cool customers, but if you push 'em.... Well, you know. It's a sound that has one foot in the world of button-down suits and matinee idols and the other in crocodile-skin loafers and all-night house parties. It's the sound of cats who made a living walking that fine line.
Oh, one other thing. If you have more than a passing interest in Sam Cooke, check out this interview we did with producer and musician Harold Battiste on the subject of "A Change Is Gonna Come." (Harold had a hand in the early stages of Sam's career.)
—Mtume ya Salaam
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