Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Tragic Sam Cooke Story

         Sam Cooke was born Samuel Cook on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Sam’s father was Charles Cook Sr a Baptist minister and his mother Annie May Cook. They had Sam and 7 other children. Charles was a travelling minister in the Church of God, a section of the Baptist faith which started around 1900.
     When Sam was 15 years old he became the front man of a teenage gospel group called the “Highway QC’s” where R.B. Robinson, baritone singer of the Soul Stirrers, trained him. With the QC’s he travelled on the gospel circuit and performed on radio shows.

    When the Soul Stirrers’ R.H. Harris left the group because he was sick of the business a very young Sam Cook was asked to replace him. He did an audition and was accepted as a member of the Soul Stirrers. This all happened in 1950 when he was only 19 years old. In 1957, as he himself said, financial situation, caused him to explore the possibility of crossing over to sing popular music.
      He became a successful solo artist from 1957 until his death in 1964, with hits like Wonderful World, Good Times ,Send Me Some Lovin,Cupid, Only Sixteen, Soothe Me and many others most written by Sam himself. Two hits that are always associated with the great Sam Cooke are You Send Me and A Change Is Gonna Come. 

The Sar Story
      Another part of his legacy which has'nt seen the light of day as yet is as a record company owner and record producer.Cooke and his long-time friend and singing associate J. W. Alexander started the Sar label in 1957. It was dissolved shortly after Cooke's death in 1964. The rights to the recordings and the publishing were bought up shortly thereafter by Allen Klein, who was Cooke's last manager. 

   Fifty-seven singles and Four LPs were issued on the Sar label and 11 45s and two LPs on Derby Records.
Many of the records have a strong Sam Cooke sound. All Sar and Derby records remain very collectible.
         Hopefully, someday someone will plot out sensible compilation LPs of most of the issued cuts and the best of what may remain unissued.
   The artists on the label are largely singers and musicians that Cooke and Alexander knew through their years on the "Gospel Highway" as quartet singers .

 I Gonna Forget About You

Sam's Death
   Just remembering Sam is not around to defend himself.
I am not saying that this is not how it happened.There is always two sides too a story, anyway its a long time ago now.History!

      Lisa Boyer was the name of the woman Sam met on the evening of December 10, 1964. She was a singer as well. She was dining with friends, and Sam was to sing the last song of his life, Good News. Apparently he offered to give Lisa a lift home, and ended up taking her to a club called PJ’s. Sam had some sort of altercation there, and they left. He offered to take her home, but he was fuming from the altercation, and drove very fast, all the way to the Hacienda Motel on South Figueroa.
  He registered under the name Sam Cooke, at 2:35am. The woman that signed him in was called Bertha Lee Franklin. She noticed that he was not alone, so she made him change the name to Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cooke. You must be morally correct to sleep in a 3 dollar a night room. They got to the room, and everything fell apart.
   According to her testimony, Sam began ripping her clothes off, and yet still proclaiming they were "just going to talk." Lisa was positive she was going to be raped. She asked if she could use the bathroom, but the door wouldn’t lock, and she couldn’t get the window open. When she returned, Sam was naked. He went into the bathroom after her, and she saw this as her cue to escape. She grabbed her clothes (and apparently some of Sam's), ran out the door, and started to pound on the manager’s door. No answer. (Bertha was on the phone to the motel owner, Mrs. Carr) She fled, to find a phone booth, where she made a call to the cops. By the time the manager opened the door, Lisa was gone.

Lisa’s call was logged in at 3:08 am. "Will you please come down to this number. I don’t know where I am. I’m kidnapped."

       Meanwhile, Sam blows a gasket. He goes to the manager’s office, positive she is in there. He pushed his way in, demanding, "You got my girl in there!" They got into a scuffle keep in mind Sam was wearing only a sport coat at this point nothing else. He tried to shove his way into her apartment, positive that Lisa was hiding in there. He searched it, couldn’t find her, then grabbed Bertha and demanded to know where the girl was.    

   Bertha grabbed her trusty .22 and shot Sam three times. One of the shots was made only an inch from him, blowing a hole in Sam’s chest, collapsing both lungs. "Lady, you shot me," were his last words.

 There was an event only a few months prior to his death which tragically had an effect on the family. Sam and his wife Barbara lost their 18-month child in a swimming pool drowning. They also had two other daughters, age 11 and 4 at the time.

     At Sam's funeral, about 200,000 fans showed up to pay their respects. Lou Rawls, Ray Charles, and Bobby "Blue" Bland all performed at the service. He was buried in Glendale, California at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

A change is Gonna Come 
Cooke wrote this as a protest song to support the civil rights movement, as black Americans fought for equality. Up to this point, most of his songs were either touching ballads ("You Send Me") or lighthearted uptemo tunes ("Twistin' The Night Away"). When Cooke heard Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind," he became determined to write something similar - he couldn't believe Dylan's song wasn't written by a black man.
Blowin in The Wind Sam Cooke

Good Times
        This was one of the last songs Cooke wrote and recorded before he was killed on December 11, 1964. One of Cooke's lighter songs, it's about enjoying oneself at a party. It's an example of one of Cooke's songs that was accessible to white audiences.

Good Times Rolling Stones 
Love this clip 
Mick looks so young 
and looked like he was enjoying himself


       Rolling Stone magazine's Top 100 songs, Sam Cooke's producers had the idea for him to do a song for a girl they had seen on a Perry Como TV show. "She didn't do anything but just look up at Perry Como in the most wistful-type manner," said J.W. Alexander, Cooke's business adviser. Cooke decided to drop in the sound of an arrow being fired "Straight to my lover's heart" whenever the song called for it.

 Johnny Nash Reggae Cupid

Bring It On Home to Me Live Harlem Club

Somebody Would Ease my Troublin Mind Eric Clapton and Sam Cooke


  1. Thanks for remembering Sam here. As you stated earlier, there is more than one side of the story regarding his demise. In my book, I shoot holes in the "official" version of events with conflicts in testimony and what was going on in his life behind the scenes. Brief comments on his death are also contained in an interview I did with TruTV--Celebrity Crimes:


    Erik Greene
    Author, "Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective"

  2. Thanks for that link.A big thrill to hear from a family member. Sam's story interests me a great deal.I am surprised hollywood has'nt done something with his story as there seems to be a great deal of mystery and tragedy connected to it.Sam was not that well known in Australia in the seventies. Most of his music was covered by others who scored major hits with his music.

  3. Thanks for posting this Sam Cooke story.I had forgotten how it supposedly actually happened.