EXCLUSIVE: THE LOST LEGENDARY VOICE OF SAM COOKE'S BROTHER
You may find the voice familiar. As smooth as honey, with just the right bit of grit. Here and there, you might think it sounds like Sam Cooke. And you wouldn't be wrong. It's his younger brother, L.C., whose first studio album was delayed fifty years. Today, Cooke, at 81, is finally releasing his debut The Complete SAR Records Recordings, done in 1964. Still, its passions are so strong, it may make this long hot summer even steamier. You say you like your soul straightforward and heartfelt? Without any of the hokey histrionics those mental patients exhibit onThe Voice? Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to your new favorite singer. One of the most patient men ever to put mouth to microphone.
The album gives you a complex, bittersweet feeling. Not because the music itself is sad. It's mostly uptempo stuff. From the hand-clapping opening track, "Take Me for What I Am," to the string-laden, supernally sexy "The Lover." But listening to it, you may find yourself having a couple of contrasting thoughts. One is This rocks! It's righteous one minute, salacious the next. The second thought, though, is infinitely more depressing: Had the album been released in 1964, the world would know this Cooke well, too. He'd be more than just the beloved brother of a legend. But this rockin' little record has its own moral: It's better to get to the party late, than not at all. Backed by legends like Billy Preston on keys and prolific session drummer Earl Palmer, Complete Recordings is here now, baby.
Listen to "Put Me Down Easy" from L.C. Cooke's new album:
Born Southerner that he is, L.C. has stories. To put it mildly.
"The first tour Aretha Franklin ever went on, was Sam's and mine," says the gentle, sweet-tempered Cooke. "One day in 1961, Aretha called me. She said, 'L.C., I need you to do me a favor. I asked my father if we could use his new car to go on Sam's tour.' Her father [the legendary Reverend C.L. Franklin] had a 1961 Continental, you know, with the suicide doors. Aretha told me she could use it on one condition: only if I drove. So I called Sam. And he said, 'No, man. I'm trying to make you a star. I don't want you driving nobody. Not even me! You're nobody's chauffeur.'"
After some finagling, Sam relented. L.C. went over to the Reverend's house. Young Cooke was expected to return the car exactly as it was. The only change allowed would be its mileage.
But the Reverend had something else in mind.
"Later on, I figured out what Reverend Franklin's motives were," says Cooke, chuckling. "He wanted me to get with Aretha. He figured Sam would break her heart. I didn't find that out 'til 1970! That's when Aretha's road manager came over to me and said, 'L.C., Aretha can do a lot of things. But she do not know how to pick a man.'"
L.C. ultimately said a polite no to Aretha's father. He was already seeing several women and did not need any help in this department.
Regardless, the tour went fine. And as far as this writer could ascertain, both the Continental and Aretha remained intact. In fact, everything seemed to be going beautifully for Sam's brother and protégée.
Then, three years later, Sam was shot by a female motel owner, in a murky misunderstanding over a woman. L.C.'s career, which was really set to rock, did not. But L.C. didn't care. He was too distraught over his brother's death to worry about such a small thing as being a star. But time, seemingly, has healed his spiritual wounds. Cooke seems to feel just fine that he's both a brand new artistand an octogenarian.
"There's nothing bad about the record coming out now," says Cooke. "It takes me back to Sam. Every song on the album, me and Sam wrote it. Back in '64, when he was killed, I didn't care about the album or singing or anything. I was just so wrapped up in Sam. We did everything together. When I talked to his wife, she said, in Sam's book, I was number one. That made me so happy."
Cooke also seems particularly proud of those sessions from half a century ago, because his brother complimented him on them.
"He told me, 'L.C., of all my artists [Bobby Womack, Johnny Taylor, and The Soul Stirrers], you're my favorite. You know why? You come in prepared, you know your stuff, and you're not in that studio spending all my money,'" L.C. says laughing.
After he began to recover from his brother's death, Cooke sang for five years with The Upsetters, a little band that, in the '50s, backed up that wonderful lunatic, Little Richard.
Ultimately, L.C. gave it all up. One infers he has gotten his share of the Cooke family money. So eventually he decided it was time to chill.
"What have I been doing recently? Just resting and dressing. Haven't been doing nothin'," says Cooke, the sweet sound of acceptance evident in his voice.
We talk a little more. About how Sam always called Dick Clark by his first name, a revolutionary act back in those early Civil Rights days. How the former Cassius Clay use to act like a little boy around Sam ("He loved him"). How L.C. was onAmerican Bandstand, January 1, 1960. And how he met James Brown, the very day Brown cut "Please, Please, Please."
Historical vignettes like that. There must be scores of them. Then he pauses. And Mr. L.C. Cooke, who has been everywhere, done everything, and met everyone worth meeting, lets me know he plans to just keep chillin'.
"I don't think I'll be doing anything to promote the album," he says evenly (aside, presumably, this interview). "I'm just glad it's coming out. I'm 81. I have no regrets. I can still remember everything and everyone. All things considered? I know one thing for certain: I'm a very lucky man."