Lonnie Cook

Lonnie Cook

    [an autobiographical account by Lonnie Cook]  

    Lonnie Thurman Cook, was born on November 26th, 1940, in Kansas City, Kansas, USA. His earliest musical ambition (6 years old) was to be an operatic vocalist but he still listened to the radio to satisfy his craving for music in general. His musical focus changed shortly thereafter (1948) when he heard what proved to be the genesis of R&B group harmony (later, in the 60's, to be dubbed Doo Wop). From 1948 on the  country was full of street corner aspirants that rehearsed and honed their vocal skills without the use of musical instruments or studios. That proved to be the best training ground, for all the music of his future years was enhanced as a result of the harmony that was learned.He helped form a group called The Fandangos in 1953 and his life course was set. That group consisted of:

       Jerry Reeves or Alvin Fant, Bass     

    Homer Glover, 2nd Tenor and lead 

    Harvey Shannon, 1st tenor    

    Eddie Wade, Baritone

    Lonnie Cook 2nd tenor and primary lead.

    They all lived within two blocks of each other and could call rehearsals at a moments notice. They only had about 15 original songs, all written by Lonnie.

    The group was managed by a local politician and was provided matching group suits in the Bellbottomed fashion of the day. Although they never recorded, their success is best summed up in the fact that they immortalized a song that no other group in the country sang or seemed to be  aware of. To this day that song is unknown to the doo wop aficionados that make up the hardcore collectors of note. The Fandangos used the song as their theme song and could not perform without singing it. The original was only sung as a B-side for a group that was recording a song that was already considered a smash, that group of origin never sang the B-side again. The Fandangos sang it in excess of 5,000 times. Lonnie has always considered the song to be the best R&B group song ever recorded. Just flip your original copy of "I'll Be Home" by the Flamingos, and you'll find "Need Your Love". Ironically, Lonnie later sang with a Kansas City group of the same name but spelled Flamingo(e)s. That group was the vocal representative of a Sumner High School club that was comprised of the best dressed students.

    The fact that the industry could overlook a song of that magnitude also accounts for the fact that he later became a DJ and focused on the great music that was being ignored by the charts. The Harptones are probably the best example of how great music was ignored because they are considered to be as good as any group of that era, but they never had a charted hit.

    After a brief stint with the Flamingoes and a move across the river to Kansas City, Missouri, his next vocal group was:             

     The Five Stars.

       Jerry Reeves or Herman Williams, Bass     

    Fred Harris, 2nd Tenor and lead 

    Ira terry (or) William Cook (brother), 1st tenor   

    Ronald Hargrove, Baritone

    Lonnie Cook 2nd tenor and primary lead.

    This group didn't last very long but did perform a couple of times, notably one weekend when William Cook was forced to wear a process for the first time in his life. About this time we met The Chandeliers and would frequently battle them.

    Fred Harris was the person that greatly improved Lonnie's harmonic skills because he introduced him to the group that all the best R&B groups tried to imitate The 4 Freshmen.

    One thing that we will never forget is the day that a guy showed up out of nowhere and told us he had heard about us. He told us he was a member of the Turbans and they were doing a gig in town. He taught us a song that they were due to record but all anyone can remember is that the background went 'Zip zee ooo'. He sang lead. The next and most active group was:

    The Del Rayes

      Jerry Reeves (now Gerald Melton), Bass     

    Diane McGhee, Soprano and lead 

    Wanda Tye, Alto

    Ronald Hargrove, Baritone

    Lonnie Cook 2nd tenor and primary lead.

    The Del Rayes proved to be the most professional of all the groups that he had been in. They performed many times and were in demand as a result of their manager's newly formed management firm. That group eventually recorded three songs which were only on an acetate. They also recorded (without Lonnie) on the Central label out of Pittsburg, Pa., the release was "I'll never smile again" b/w "Canadian Sunset". Only one copy has been found, in recent years.

    Lonnie went on to the Army and sang as a solo then moved to Berkeley, Calif. where he was enticed to sing solo again when the world famous Purple Onion held an open audition to fill a recently vacated spot. He recalls being the 99th performer (out of 400).  Since it was San Francisco (across the Bay) he sang two very familiar Johhny Mathis hits ("Wild is the Wind"and "Misty") and was awarded the job as he stepped offstage. Ironically he never was a headliner there because the owner / manager, Barry Drew, was found dead two days later.

    After that discouraging event he moved to Los Angeles and, by that Dec. 1962, was hired by Chuck Johnson (KPRS KC, Mo.) to be the very first Program Director at 103.9 FM. (later KACE-FM) He was responsible for reintroducing a song that had been banned back in 1961. The Isley Bros. record "Your Old Lady" was rereleased (1963), charted, and sold a million. He continued his singing, in support of the station, but was dormant as a writer. The staff at 103.9 included Floyd Ray. Floyd was the owner of Rayco Records and the first Black owned record distributor in Los Angeles, Lonnie worked as a promotion man for Mr. Ray. During this period he met Sonny Turner and often went to the rehearsals of the Platters. By 1965 he had opened his first record shop on 119th and Vermont with girlfriend and Rayco coworker Gloria Houston.

    In 1965, while broadcasting from a record store in Watts, the riot broke out and he decided to move back to Berkeley to accept a job at KSOL (Sly Stone was a DJ there) but the promised position did not exist. The move proved to be propitious because he met and became friends with Lonnie Hewitt (Cal Tjader pianist) and wrote a song that was recorded by Freddie Hughes. It was taken off his Wand album at the last minute. Hewitt introduced Cook to everyone he performed with or was friendly with on the San Francisco scene.

    He also wrote (1967) the song that he is most well known for "I Thought You Were Mine" by The Natural Four. The song is currently known to be on 15 different compilations. A lack of music business knowledge resulted in years of frustration while trying to collect monies owed. This episode served to alter his approach to and involvement in all subsequent musical endeavors.

    By 1968 he was moving back to Los Angeles and the music scene that beckoned. After learning Computer Programming via the Urban League, and working for the Lockheed Corp. for a short stint, he opened LoCo Records, the second of an eventual 17 record shop locations. By having these he met artists, et al, in the music field and began to rekindle his creative desire to compose.

    From the time he had first bought a record, in the 50's, he'd cultivated the habjt of listening to the same song over and over for days at a time (and being deemed looney). He thus, inevitably, learned how to dissect, rearrange, rewrite, and even write new songs with the same flavor. This also accounts for the fact that he can write in anyone's style and has a backlog of 6,500 songs to prove it. He was especially influenced by Burt Bacharach, Riley Hampton and Thom Bell as arrangers. The vocalists he was most impressed with were Billy Stewart, Neil Sedaka, and Phillippe Wynne.  

    Other Links:

    Doo Wop Hall of Fame

    Doo Wop Hall of Fame Facbook Page

    Makin' Music Network Profile

    SoulWalking page