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Forty years ago on the 11th of December 1964 Sam Cooke was murdered in a Watts motel, victim of a senseless shooting. His unceremonial departure shocked his millions of fans across the world for we had lost one of the phenomenal music talents of the 20th century.
After his huge success with the Soul Stirrers, Sam’s move into secular music caused an uproar in the gospel community, who saw it not only as a desertion but worse - a sin! Due to perceived adversity, Specialty label boss Art Rupe issued his first solo single ‘Lovable’ /’Forever’ as by Dale Cook. But this move just insulted his gospel fans and their reaction was to embargo the record. Arranger ‘Bumps’ Blackwell bought Cooke’s contract from Art Rupe and moved with him over to the Keen label to cut ‘You Send Me’. When Keen released this single it was a huge hit, topping both the US R&B and Pop charts. Specialty immediately released the previously recorded ‘I’ll Come Running Back To You’ and that too topped the R&B charts and sold well into the Hot 100 at #18.
With two #1 singles Sam Cooke was a hot property and he was booked onto the popular Ed Sullivan Show TV show. His success on the charts and white TV shows put him right at the top and created huge interest that had celebrities like Dick Clark and many others queuing to have Sam appear on their shows. Cooke was determined to protect himself from the manipulative business practices that had afflicted black artists over the years and exact just rewards from all his earnings so he bought 30% of Kags music. This was one of the first times that a black singer had been able to publish his own songs himself and it gave him direct access to his royalties. Cooke and Alexander became partners in other business activities and they set up their own record labels SAR in ’58 and Derby in ’63. By the end of the decade Cooke had notched up a dozen US R&B hit singles that had consistently sold well on the Hot 100 pop charts as well. His next international hit was ‘Only Sixteen’ which sold pretty well in the UK despite cover versions. By now Cooke’s hit potential was obvious to everyone and his future looked very promising.
Sam Cooke was ready for his next step up. He signed a contract with the recording giant RCA Victor. But before he had his first hit with them, Keen issued ‘Wonderful World’ that shot to #2 R&B/12 pop in July 1960. RCA hurriedly issued ‘Chain Gang’ which topped both charts two months later. Both of these two singles also became international best sellers. Then came his next global smash ‘Cupid’ which achieved better pop than R&B sales in America for the first time and did even better in the UK when it went to #7 in July ’61. Due to his significant success in Europe and the UK Sam joined a package tour that would bring him here in ’62 on the back of his huge international hit ‘Twisting The Night Away’.
The tour was an unqualified success.
Sam engaged the services of lawyer Allen Klien to look into the RCA’s books and discover what was happening with his royalties. Klien discovered a short fall of $150,000 in back royalties and it transpired that Sam had become the most successful RCA artist after Elvis. Klien and Cooke set up a production company ‘Tracey Ltd’ so that now he now could write, record and produce his own records and take full advantage of RCA’s great distribution and publicity facilities to market them effectively. With this move he realised a lifelong dream and that of many artists before him in taking total creative control of his career. He cut such classics as ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, ‘Nothing Can Change This Love’ and the two greatest albums of his career Mr Soul and Night Beat. Sam Cooke At The Copa an exquisite live album was his next project and after this triumph Sam announced that he was scaling down the touring to concentrate on executive and promotional work through his SAR and Derby record labels.
Coming up fast on Christmas ’64, Sam spent the day of 11th December, according to biographer Daniel Wolff, tending to a number of things that included a visit to the bank (where he withdrew $5000), shopping for presents and lunch with his agent. In the late afternoon he worked with arranger Rene Hall at his studio. That evening, while waiting for a table at Martoni’s Italian Restaurant, Sam got talking to Lisa Boyer, an attractive ‘dancer’ at the bar. Press reports carried different stories as to what happened next but Sam and Lisa left together in a cab and went directly to the Hacienda motel in Watts. They registered and while Cooke was taking a shower, Boyer stole most of his clothes (including his wallet) and did a runner. On emerging from the bathroom Sam realising he’d been suckered, put on his top coat (–all that was left) and ran to the Managers office. He rapped on the door demanding to see the girl (who he thought was hiding in the office) yelling the odds about being set up. The manageress refused to open her door and told him she was calling the cops. He forced the door with his shoulder and searched the small apartment but didn’t find Boyer and as he began to question the manageress, 55 year-old Bertha Franklin fired her .22 pistol at him. The fatal bullet went through Sam’s heart and as he struggled with her she clubbed him to the floor with a walking stick. Sam’s murder was later ruled as justifiable homicide by a Los Angeles court.
Sam Cooke’s legacy not only resides in the superb music that he left behind but in the immense influence that he had not only on gospel music but soul, pop and the many performers that he inspired. Shortly after his death RCA issued ‘Change Is Gonna Come’ a song that has in the years that followed become his epitaph.

Peter Burns October ’04

Other SoulMusicHQ references
Lou Rawls

More research available by email
from SoulMusicHQ.com
Sam Cooke biography by Peter Burns
Discography
Sessionography
Photo & graphic scans

Recommended reading
‘You Send Me’ The Life & Times Of Sam Cooke by Daniel Wolff
published by Virgin Books /96

Recommended listening
The Man & His Music (28) PD87127 /86
Live At The Harlem Square Club (9), SPCD 1035 /85
Night Beat (12) REM 528567-2 /95
Sam Cooke/Soul Stirrers Complete Specialty (84) 3SPCD 4437-2 /02
Ain’t That Good News (12) REM /03
Keep Movin’ On (22) REM /03
Tribute To A Lady (21) REM /03
Portrait Of A Legend (30) REM /03
Sam Cooke At The Copa (12) REM ???? /03

Recommended viewing
Sam Cooke–Legend DVD ABKCO 1004-9 /03

 


 
   
   
             
               
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