As I mentioned, the Sam Cooke revival is underway, and I just finished Peter Guralnick’s long book on Sam, Dream Boogie. For those who don’t know, Sam Cooke started as a gospel singer with a group called the Soul Stirrers in the early fifties, then moved into pop songs starting with ‘You Send Me’ in 1957. He had a string of pop hits up to his sordid shooting death in late 1964.
My takeaways from the book:
1. The look at the r&b package tours that Sam was frequently a part of is fascinating. The scene was very competitive, each performer doing their best to ‘tear down the house’ and apparently succeeding pretty often. The crowd reaction to folks like Sam, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, etc sounds like it was often unrestrained to say the least. And the gospel tours of the early fifties did not sound like they were too much different.
2. Sam himself is rather an enigma. His pop songs are often so ‘lite’ as to almost blow away (‘Everybody Loves to Cha-Cha-Cha’, ‘Wonderful World’), and his performing style was very laid back – a lot of folks talk about how he just kind of stood there and sang. Yet he had a great voice, and apparently just had a way of connecting with people and making them ‘feel it.’
3. Sam was very popular with the ladies. Wow. (He fathered a number of children during his early gospel touring days, and had to pay off a few mothers. By the end he had apparently decided he’d prefer to pay upfront).
4. Sam had a very broken marriage, they lost a young son in a swimming pool accident (and apparently Sam had doubts of whether he was really the father), and Sam’s demise was in some ways not surprising given the way he had been living for years.
5. ‘Dream Boogie’ is a good title for this life story… on the surface a good dream of making hits, touring the country with friends, living large… yet underneath there is some dark aspect that keeps driving him to change labels, managers, to keep playing the field…
The NW Film Center is showing a Sam Cooke doc next weekend which I plan to see.