L.C. Cooke, Sam Cooke’s brother, discusses his SAR Records sides
Listen to "Gonna Have a Good Time"
When it comes to SAR Records—Sam Cooke’s label—there is no such thing as too many Cookes in the kitchen. L.C. Cooke, Sam’s brother, had released a slew of singles on SAR Records between 1960 and 1964, and Sam and his business partners saw fit to give the tracks a release in long player format. The plans for a ten-track LP were coming together in 1964, but when tragedy struck that December with Sam’s death—three days before L.C.’s birthday, no less—the album got shelved. Not long after, SAR was sold.
Now ABKCO has compiled those original SAR tracks, along with previously unreleased SAR songs, a couple sides that L.C. Cooke recorded for Leonard Chess’s Checker Records in 1959, and a 1965 track from Destination Records. L.C. Cooke – The Complete SAR Records Recordings is a super-sized version of the album that should have seen the light of day fifty years ago.
On The Complete SAR Records Recordings, there’s a close-knit bond on display between the brothers. Of the ten tracks proposed, eight of them were written or cowritten by Sam Cooke. Longtime friend and business partner J. W. Alexander’s writing talents adorn “Magic Words” and “Teach Me.” L.C., no stranger to the pen, is credited on “Sufferin’” and “Tell Me.” Aside from there being a strong presence of Sam involved due to his writing a majority of the songs, there is also another connection. Many of the same musicians employed for Cooke’s recordings are also utilized on L.C.’s songs—Rene Hall, Clif White, Plas Johnson, Ray Johnson, Earl Palmer, and Harold Battiste, to name a few.
In an interview we conducted with L.C. Cooke, he’s adamant that he considered himself to be a pop singer. He recounts how guitarist/arranger Rene Hall used to tell him how he was the only one on SAR’s roster that didn’t want to sound like his brother. When initially offered the chance to record “Little Red Rooster,” he declined. “Sam, I’m not a blues singer,” he recalls telling his brother, continuing with, “If I get a hit, they will label me as a blues singer.” Sam recorded it a short time later and included it on his Night Beat album. RCA thought highly enough of it to give it a single release, pairing it with another album track, “You Gotta Move,” in October of 1963.
While a number of tracks he recorded for SAR did lean in the pop realm, he also dipped his toe in a bluesy sound thanks in part to those playing on the session in May 1964 (including Bobby Womack) for “Gonna Have a Good Time” and “Miss Sally,” both Sam-penned tracks. Neither track has previously been released, and “Gonna Have a Good Time (with Session Chatter)” is making its worldwide debut on Wax Poetics as one track.
In the studio chatter, we get a rare glimpse of Sam Cooke, record producer. His tip for L.C. is profound—“Remember our heritage”—when discussing how to pronounce “before” as “’fore.” As L.C. recalls, it’s the only time he ever had to be told how to perform a song by Sam. He fully admits that Sam “had that ear and good insight. He knew what the public liked.”
L.C. was also sure of his own talents as he called himself one of the best artists on the SAR roster and that Sam told him that L.C. only recorded A-sides. It was just a matter of what was officially chosen to be the single. Between the two songs recorded on two different sessions in May of 1964, we can only speculate which one that would have been. Venturing a guess, it probably would have been “Miss Sally” due to its more upbeat nature, although “Gonna Have a Good Time” is the stronger song performance-wise. As Sam once said to Dick Clark in an interview, he wished all the artists associated with him would have hits. “Gonna Have a Good Time” had that potential.
L.C. recalls his sessions for SAR with fond memories, or “simply wonderful,” in his words. When he would fly in to California for a session, there were three things that Sam would always have planned: 1. a suite for L.C. to stay in, 2. a picnic with other fellow entertainers like Bobby Byrd and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and, 3. a car.
It’s important to note that L.C. wasn’t just in the business because of his brother. He was a strong talent on his own as well. He was previously in the doo-wop group Johnny Keyes and the Magnificents, who had recorded the hit “Up On the Mountain” for Vee-Jay Records in 1956 (prior to L.C. joining the group). In 1958, L.C., backed up by the Magnificents, recorded a session with Chess/Checker, resulting in four songs (two 45s). While the Magnificents were supposed to be credited, Checker only headlined L.C. Cooke for the releases. Dick Clark invited Cooke to sing on American Bandstand in early 1960, where he was introduced as “very special guest, L.C. Cooke,” and performed “Do You Remember,” one of the 1958 Checker recordings. While Leonard Chess didn’t want L.C. to leave his label, there was no competing with Sam Cooke, a huge music star, and more importantly his brother. Also a major contributing factor was the fact that L.C. would get publishing recording with SAR.
Beyond the tracks you can hear that he wrote on this compilation, he also wrote this all-timer for the Queen of Soul, “Please Answer Me”, recorded in late 1963 for Columbia. As we were conversing on the phone about his career, I mentioned I had enjoyed this track since I first heard it back in 2011. When I mentioned what a great song it was, his response was a confident and joyful, “I KNOW IT IS!” While in Atlanta, Aretha had stopped by to pay a visit. L.C., while getting ready to leave for California, was wrapped in a towel and was singing this song. Aretha asked, “What are you singing?” He replied that it was a song he was in the middle of writing, and she begged him for it. He didn’t want to give it up, but as often happens between men and women, she got her way. While he surely would have recorded a beautiful version of it as well, there is something to be said for having written a song that Aretha lent her golden voice to.
L.C. says that his initials don’t stand for anything, although “loads of charm,” as he sings in “The Lover,” could certainly be applicable. He’s as easygoing of a conversationalist as you’ll meet, which isn’t always an easy bridge to cross when a stranger is interviewing you for the first (or any) time. He has stories for days about his life in the music business and beyond, and he seems content with his life as it’s turned out. There was never one bitter word about how his album never had the opportunity to be pressed, which is impressive considering the circumstances under which led to that outcome. Instead, he was just curious to hear my opinion on the recordings and to swap stories about Sam, the latter of which I was more than ecstatic to oblige.
We broached one more topic before the interview ended: Bobby Womack. Beyond the business relationship shared between the Womacks and the Cookes (SAR released a number of their recordings as the Womack Brothers and the Valentinos), there was a personal relationship as well. Bobby ended up marrying Sam’s widow, Barbara, not long after his death. So given their connection, I wanted to hear his thoughts on Bobby and his recent passing. Says L.C., “I loved Bobby. He was alright with me.”
He had one more thing he recalled. A couple of weeks before Bobby passed, L.C. had called him and left a message. On the Thursday night before Bobby Womack passed, Bobby’s brother called Bobby and, during their conversation, asked if he had spoken to L.C. lately, which reminded Bobby he need to return the call. Bobby said that he would call him the next day as he was tired that night. Of course, the next day, Bobby passed away. However, there seemed to be a comfort on L.C.’s mind that he was one of the last people Bobby thought of before he walked the last mile of the way. Until the end, Womack was forever grateful to the Cooke family and everything they meant to him, as ever much personally as professionally.
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