Sam Cooke

Although he was only on this earth for a relatively short time, Sam Cooke’s music was to influence artists for decades after his passing. Rod Stewart was once quoted as saying that for a period of two years he listened to no other recordings than those of Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke, in some quarters is looked upon as the founder of soul, while in others one of its pioneers. As with other African-American artists of his era he began by singing gospel. His father, a Baptist minister, had taken the family from the state of Mississippi to the city of Chicago, Illinois, when Sam was a child.

A writer of his own material, Sam surely could not have envisaged a more impressive beginning than when his first hit, “You Send Me”, went all of the way to No.1, in 1957. A long succession of successful releases followed, with him even charting posthumously with hits such as “Shake” and the highly emotive “A Change Is Gonna Come”, in the midst of Civil Rights’ Movement.

Controversy still surrounds his death in a hotel, in Los Angeles, in December of 1964. I saw actual footage in a recent documentary, on Sam’s life, in which the manageress is seen to claim that she had fired up to thirty bullets into him, in an act of self-defence. Uncertainty even exists as to his actual age at the time of his obit, with me having seen it listed as twenty-nine and on another occasion, thirty-three.

Briton Craig Douglas did such a superb job of covering Sam’s “Only Sixteen” that, in 1959, it went all of the way to the top of the British charts. Dr. Hook revived this song in 1976. The British group, Herman’s Hermits, successfully revived “Wonderful World”; Rod Stewart, “Twisting The Night Away”; the Australian band, The Groove, “Soothe Me”; The Spinners, “Cupid”; and country star, Mickey Gilley, my favourite track of Sam’s, “Bring It On Home To Me”. Perhaps the greatest homage to Sam Cooke was paid by the incredibly talented Cat Stevens, when he departed from his own material to record “Another Saturday Night”.

The names of more recordings by Sam Cooke can be found in the selected playlists. Whilst there, why not peruse the list of my favourite recordings? I shall be updating this list from time to time.

Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett’s voice epitomised soul. A voice honed in travelling gospel groups; a voice that would cultivate what became known as the Scream.

Wilson was born in rural Alabama, in March of 1941. He was the fourth of eleven children whose future was totally dependant upon the crop, cotton.

In 1955, Wilson Pickett moved to Detroit where he lived with his father. It was there that he met the group, The Falcons, which contained Eddie Floyd among its members. Eddie was to write and record “Knock On Wood”, in 1966, the same song that Amii Stewart was to take to the top of the charts, in 1979, at the height of the disco era.

The Falcons modelled itself upon Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. Hank Ballard was to pen and record “The Twist”, in 1959, which, in 1960, Chubby Checker covered, and, in doing so, launched an international dance sensation.

“You’re So Fine” and “I Found A Love” were hits for The Falcons but Wilson was already aiming to become a solo artist. This aim, he thought, would come to fruition when he was signed to Atlantic Records, however, things did not work out, and it was not until 1965 when he moved to Memphis, to record in the Stax studio, that his goal began to take shape. “In The Midnight Hour” and “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)” were among the tracks recorded there.

That following year, Wilson began recording in the famed Muscle Shoals studios, in Alabama. “Land Of 1000 Dances” topped the soul charts and rose to No.6 on the pop charts.

Wilson Pickett became an inductee into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, in 1991. His career received another boost from the film, ‘The Commitments’, in which he was viewed as the personification of soul. The film and its subsequent soundtrack introduced a new generation to songs such as “Mustang Sally”.

Wilson died from cardiac arrest in January of 2006, at the age of sixty-four.

The names of more recordings by Wilson Pickett can be found in the suggested playlists. While there, you may like to peruse the list of my favourite recordings. I shall be adding to it from time to time.

Brook Benton

Benjamin Franklin Peay was born in Camden, South Carolina, in September of 1931. Vocally, he was coached by his father, who also engendered in him the patience he would need to display if he were to succeed as a singer in a professional capacity.

Brook Benton moved to New York, in 1948, at the age of seventeen, where he sang as a member of one gospel group before, three years later, joining another. He briefly sang on recordings, in 1955, that were directed by, the now legendary, Quincy Jones, who was twenty-two at the time.

Nonetheless, fame proved to be elusive, forcing Brook to try his hand at songwriting. He also sang on demonstrations of other writers’ tunes, which was really helpful because it provided him with instant cash. However, it was  to be his songwriting that was to grab the attention of those in the industry.

Firstly, there was “The Stroll”, recorded by the Canadian group, The Diamonds, then, the catchy “A Lover’s Question” by Clyde McPhatter. Buoyed by their success, Brook decided that he, himself, should record another of his own compositions, “It’s Just A Matter Of Time”. It was destined to spend nine weeks at No.1 on the rhythm and blues charts in the first half of 1959 and proved to be the launching pad to Brook’s substantial career as a solo artist.

Brook’s last hit of substance was “Rainy Night In Georgia”, written by Tony Joe White, in 1970. It sold more than a million copies for the soulful baritone.

Brook Benton died in April of 1988, at the relatively young age of fifty-six, from the complications which arose from the contraction of spinal meningitis.

The names of tracks by Brook Benton can be located in the suggested playlist.

The Rascals

I once heard it said that the years from 1964 to 1969 mark the most varied and innovative period in the history of popular music. For those of us who remember that period with clarity, it is difficult not to concur. These years were so musically unique and the quality of the songs being written, and subsequently recorded, so high, that the six were littered with what were termed ‘One Hit Wonders’: artists who failed to write or find another song of a sufficient standard as to enter or impact upon charts that were so brimful of talent.

The soul group, known as The Rascals, was no such ‘one hit wonder’. Formed by singer and organist, Felix Cavaliere, the band’s remaining members were singer, Eddie Brigati, Canadian guitarist, Gene Cornish, and drummer, Dino Danelli; it became the first all-white group to be signed to Atlantic Records.

The quartet jammed and wrote songs in 1964 and 1965, and by 1966 those who attended some of the more notable clubs in and around New York City were marvelling at the group’s showmanship and sensational sound. The band had been forced to change its name to The Young Rascals, in order to avoid the prospect of litigation being launched by a similarly named preexisting group. Nevertheless, eventually, the four were permitted to drop the word ‘Young’ from their title.

The Rascals’ first hit of significance was “Good Lovin'”, in 1966, which had originally been released, one year earlier, by The Olympics. Five other such hits followed, the most prominent of which were “Groovin'”, “A Beautiful Morning” and “People Got To Be Free”.

Please, refer to the suggested playlists for the names of other tracks by The Young Rascals/The Rascals.

Clarence Clemons

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in January of 1942, Clarence Clemons appeared destined for a career in sport, as opposed to one in rock and roll. This changed, however, when he received severe concussion in a car accident, which was to sideline him for two years, away from his beloved professional football.

Clarence had been playing the saxophone since the age of nine. He firstly became a member of Norman Seldin and The Joyful Noise, and it was while playing in Norman’s group that he met Bruce Springsteen. From there it was only a matter of time before Clarence joined Bruce’s E Street Band.

In 1983, Clarence found himself with some spare time and decided to embark upon his first recording as a solo artist. The result was the release of the album, ‘Rescue’, credited to Clarence Clemons and The Red Bank Rockers. From this LP came the single, “A Woman’s Got The Power”. The opening track, “Jump Start My Heart”, instantly reminds me of “Nutbush City Limits”. The last two tracks are the pick, “Savin’ Up”, written by Bruce Springsteen, and a cover of “Resurrection Shuffle”, which had originally been a hit for the British outfit Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, in 1971.

Two years later came Clarence’s second album, ‘Hero’, known best for his duet with Jackson Browne, “You’re A Friend Of Mine”. In my opinion it is a superior album to ‘Rescue’. The only track I wouldn’t care to listen to again is “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”, a cover of The Walker Brothers’ original from 1966. Some recordings are so good they just shouldn’t be revived!

Clarence passed away in June of 2011, at the age of sixty-nine. He had suffered a stroke a week before his death.

Joe Tex

Joseph Arrington Jr. was born in Texas, in August of 1933. He sang in gospel groups in his formative years, before the winning of a local talent quest led to him being signed to a recording contract, in 1955. Nevertheless, the by now Joe Tex had to deal with a succession of recording companies, over the period of a decade, before he was to experience his first hit of any significance.

“Hold What You’ve Got” was recorded by the soulful Tex, in the famed studios of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in November, 1964. It was to be the title track for Joe’s first album.

Incongruously, most of Joe’s recordings were made in the ‘capital’ of country music, Nashville, Tennessee, although he also recorded in nearby Memphis, and, on one occasion, in New York.

In 1965, Joe Tex achieved his first No.1 on the rhythm and blues charts with “I Want To (Do Everything For You)” and followed it, almost immediately, with another, “A Sweet Woman Like You”. Joe’s biggest hit came in 1972, when “I Gotcha” sold in excess of a million copies.

Joe’s talents extended into that period of music known as disco, when, in 1977, “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” was also sell more than a million records. A convert to the religion of Islam, Joe Tex had changed his name to Joseph Hazziez, in July of 1972. He died of a heart attack in August, 1982 at the age of forty-nine.

The names of more tracks by Joe Tex can be located in the suggested playlists.

Sam and Dave

Sam Moore and Dave Prater first met in Miami, in 1961, at the King of Hearts nightclub. Each had come from a background of singing in church. This was the manner in which many performers from poor families honed the skills others, who could afford it, obtained from musical lessons and trainers, who would coach their voices.

The duo was influenced by such stellar performers as Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Sam and Dave’s music encouraged the pair to be animated on stage, and, as for their prowess as recording artists, they were second only to Otis Redding, at the famed Stax Studios, in Memphis.

There, the majority of their songs were written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and their recordings were backed by the likes of the instrumental soul group, Booker T. and The M.G.’s. Although Sam and Dave recorded their first tracks at Stax, in 1965, and followed these with such numbers as “Hold On! I’m Comin'” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”, the duo could not make meaningful inroads on the lucrative pop charts.

However, this trend was to end, in late 1967, when “Soul Man” not only spent seven weeks at No.1 on the rhythm and blues chart but peaked at No.2 on the pop chart. This was to mark the zenith of the duo’s career.

The names of more tracks by Sam and Dave are listed in the suggested playlists.