Exclusive Interview with L.C. Cooke, brother of Sam Cooke

Q&A: L.C. Cooke- It’s Been A Long Time Coming

Turn back the hands of time, to a time when Sam Cooke ruled the airwaves and the gospel world was finally getting over the shock that he managed to cross over successfully into the secular world. Cooke was in the process of trying to launch his younger brother L.C.’s career into the pop genre and the two were putting the finishing touches on L.C. Cooke’s debut album on the SAR Records label. A slew of singles from the album were released in the early 60‘s, but the completed 10 track album never saw the light of day until now.

Q&A: L.C. Cooke- It’s Been A Long Time Coming

Turn back the hands of time, to a time when Sam Cooke ruled the airwaves and the gospel world was finally getting over the shock that he managed to cross over successfully into the secular world. Cooke was in the process of trying to launch his younger brother L.C.’s career into the pop genre and the two were putting the finishing touches on L.C. Cooke’s debut album on the SAR Records label. A slew of singles from the album were released in the early 60‘s, but the completed 10 track album never saw the light of day until now.

December 1964, Sam Cooke was killed and eventually his SAR label folded, pushing L.C.’s album and career to the side. 50 years later, L.C. has blown the dust off the album, and released it along with additional tracks and each song has the Cooke touch on it. Whether it’s a song written by Sam or L.C. you are sure to feel the soulfulness of each lyric and melody. L.C. and his brother may sound alike in tone, but L.C. has an album full of personality and charm. He also managed to etch out his own sound to stand apart from his older brother.  Backed by legends like his brother Sam, a young Billy Preston, Bobby and Cecil Womack, and Earl Palmer, L.C. Cooke: The Complete SAR Recordings is a bridge that connects the present to the past, reminding us about the very foundation that soul music was built from. 81 year old L.C. Cooke agrees it’s been a long time coming for this album which is why he’s releasing it now, “It’s about time, there was no better time than now to do it.”

Guest writer Shameika Rene’ (SR) spoke with L.C. Cooke to talk about his album that was recorded 50 years ago, how his brother Sam’s music is timeless, and his memories of talents like James Brown, Bobby Womack, and Aretha Franklin.

SR: Mr. Cooke , 50 years later, your debut album has finally been released. Why now?

L.C. Cooke: Why release it now?  It‘s about time don‘t you think? (laughs) It was just time, that’s why. It was just time for it to come out. What better time than now?

SR:  We are glad that you finally decided to release it. The music that your brother Sam wrote was modern, meaning the music he wrote over 50 years ago is still current in today’s times, including the music on your album.

L.C. Cooke:  That’s right, we wrote those songs and did that album 50 years ago. The music is right on time today. One thing about Sam is all of his music is up to date and never dated. You play every one of his records and you’ll see what I mean.  All of his music is current.

SR: How was Sam able to write music that was timeless?

L.C. Cooke: It was timeless. Sam read something every day. He would read and Sam would say as long as you read, you can stay current and you can always write. He would write about what’s going on today because yesterday was already gone. What made him such a good writer is the fact that he read a lot. Sam would read every day. You could talk about anything you could come up with, and Sam would know something about it. I don’t care what it was, Sam knew something about it, and he would talk to you in an intelligent way about it. He knew what he was talking about. For example, he said to the Soul Stirrers, one day they will be playing gospel on rhythm and blues and pop stations. Of course, everybody said that will never happen. Sam said “watch, it will happen, and when y’all hear it, you will think of me.”

SR:  Sounds like Sam was a bit of a prophet because he knew exactly where the industry was headed and what was going to happen, and it did.

L.C. Cooke: Exactly. Let me tell you this. I was in Indianapolis with Sam for his show. We were sitting down talking, and imagine this is before anybody that I’m about to tell you about ever made it. First name he called, he said, “L.C., Aretha Franklin is going to surprise you.” I said “Sam go on ahead with that.” He said, “Watch, and the next one is going to be Lou Rawls, and Bobby Womack.” Each one he told me was going to be a star, and they made it. Sam could just see into the future. He had a gift.

SR: Let’s talk about some of the music on the album. Talk about the single “If I Only Could Hear.” It is a very beautiful song about a long lost love.

L.C. Cooke: That’s me! I wrote that song. Let me tell you about that one. I think that is the best song I ever cut. You know how sometimes you may cut a record and think you could have done better? Well, that song, I couldn’t have sung it no better than I did at the time. It is one of my favorite songs that I ever cut. I’m glad you like it. I love them lyrics. I was just sitting down and started writing. It’s one of my favorites.

SR: How about the single, “Sufferin’?”

L.C. Cooke: I wrote that one also.

SR: You have some serious pen game Mr. Cooke 

L.C. Cooke: (laughs) Thank you! Now let me tell you about how I came up with this song.  I wanted Sam to record it. Now I think I told you I’m about dollars. So, I know if Sam had recorded it, then I would have made a bucket of money. Sam refused to sing it, and said he wanted me to sing it. I begged him, and I know that if he had recorded that song I’d have been rich. 

SR: Sam missed out, because you did that song justice.

L.C. Cooke: Thank you very much.

SR: What about the song, “Put Me Down Easy?”

L.C. Cooke: That’s all Sam. I’ll tell you how that song came about. We were in Sam’s limousine in Florida. We were on our way to record “Take Me For What I Am,” and it’s about 5 in the morning. I’m sitting in the front, our brother Charles who worked for Sam was driving, and Sam was in the back by himself. Sam woke me up singing this song. I said, “Sam, what is that?” He said, “It’s something I’m writing, L.C. It‘s not done yet.” I said, “That’s my song!” He said “What do you mean? I ain’t even finished the song, man.” I said, “Well, when it’s done it’s mine.” He said, “You just gonna take the song?” So eventually he said okay, and you know when he finished the song? He finished it when we were on our way to the studio in Sam’s car. Sam told me he finally finished it, so I asked him to sing it to me. He sang the verses I said, “I got it.” Sam said, “What you mean you got it?” I said “I got it Sam.” Then Sam said, “L.C., I only sang that song to you one time and you tell me you got it with your smart bleep bleep!” Well, you can imagine what he said (laughs). Then he said, “Okay, since you say you got it, it’s the first thing we gonna cut when we get into this studio.” We get into the studio, Sam says, “‘Put Me Down Easy,’ track one.” I went in there and sang it. He looked at me and laughed and said, “I didn’t think you had the song, man.” I said, “Sam, I told you I had it, I be listening.” I think I did a good job, especially since I just heard that song right before I recorded it.

SR: That single is easily one of my favorites on the album, and you did an amazing job, especially just learning the song before you recorded it! That is a gift.

L.C. Cooke: Sam once told me, “L.C., out of all my artists, you are more prepared than all of them, and I’m not saying that because you are my brother. I’m saying it because it’s true. When you come in the studio, you know your songs, I don’t have to tell you your songs. You come in there and you’re very professional and you get in there, do your work, and then get on out of there. I appreciate that.” That was the best compliment to me.

SR: How about the single, “I’m Falling?

L.C. Cooke: I wrote that one also. You are calling out all the ones that I wrote! (laughs) I wrote that song in a telephone booth. You know how a telephone rings? I said ding dong because of the ring. I’m falling in a very big way, and every time you walk by, baby you catch my eye, I’m falling in a very big way. Those lyrics grab you, the melody was right too. I got the idea when I was in the telephone booth.

SR: Talk about recording your album. Sam seemed to be very involved in the production process, hearing him in the snippet of the session chatter on your album was amazing, what was it like?

L.C. Cooke: It was a wonderful time. Believe it or not, that bit of session chatter is the only time in my whole time recording that Sam ever had to stop and tell me something. He said, “L.C. don’t say ‘before’” now see ‘before’ is the proper way to say it, but Sam said, “Say ‘fore,’ remember our heritage.” In other words, he was telling me that I was saying it correct but he wanted me to say the way black folks would say it. That’s why he said remember your heritage and he laughed because he knew I would get it if nobody else did. That was the only thing he ever told me during the time I recorded for him. Everybody else he would stop and tell them what and how to sing it. Rene’ Hall who was our arranger said to me, “L.C., everybody else on SAR wants to sound like Sam, but you have more right than any of em, because y’all talk just alike, ya’ll got the same songs, but yet you don’t sing like Sam.”  I told Rene’ there is one thing that I know and that is that I cannot beat Sam being Sam. I can only beat L.C. being L.C. I had that much sense, I knew I couldn’t be Sam, so why would I try? First thing people would think I sound like him, but I didn’t want to sound like Sam. I mean I sound like him because we’re brothers, but I didn’t want to sing like him. I wanted to have my own style, so when people hear me they know that’s L.C. not Sam. I didn’t want them to hear me and say it’s Sam. I just wanted to sing like myself.

SR:  Another distinction between you and your brother is that you classify yourself as a pop singer instead of soul or R&B.

L.C. Cooke: You did your homework! You are exactly right! Let me explain to you why I said I was a pop singer. I designed it that way, because I know whites buy more records than blacks. So, I wanted to be able to make the most money that I could. Pop is for both whites and blacks, but if I just stuck to rhythm and blues, it’s mostly for blacks. I didn’t want to do that. So like I said, I wanted to get the most out of it that I could, so I thought that pop was the way to go.

SR: It’s interesting to see how your line of thinking, over 50 years ago, is the same way a lot of artists think now, because they try to make the crossover into pop because the R&B albums aren’t selling for the exact reasons you just stated.

L.C. Cooke: That’s right! Let me tell you how I know what I did was working. I went to Cleveland, Ohio, and you know who I played for? All whites. Black folks there had crossed over, but when I played that show, the only black people there was me, the Womack family (because Mr. Womack brought out all five boys), and the promoter, that was the only blacks in the house. Everybody else was white. There was so many people in there that the fire marshal had to stop letting people in. I always knew what side the bread was buttered on. That’s why I wanted to sing pop instead of the blues. So that’s what I kept trying to tell Sam because he wanted me to cut the song “Red Rooster” and I refused. Sam said it would be a hit, but I had to tell him that if I record “Red Rooster” then I’ll be labeled as a blues singer and I don’t want to be labeled that. So I told Sam to go ahead and record it because he was already established as a pop singer. They would just say Sam got a hit on the blues chart, but they won’t label him a blues singer, but if it was me they would have.

SR: Since Sam was a pop singer, what do you think about the title that has been bestowed onto your brother as the King of Soul?

L.C. Cooke: That’s what he was. He was the King of Soul. Sam was so unique. Like James Brown once said, “Sam Cooke is the only man I know that stand flat footed and kill you with one song. If I had half the voice that Sam had, I wouldn’t dance.” He was telling that to Dick Clark when Dick asked James what made Sam so special. I think that’s a pretty big compliment coming from James Brown.

SR: That certainly is a huge compliment. A lot of artists cite Sam Cooke as being a major influence on them in one way or another, what do you think about that? Actually, everybody affiliated with SAR Records label have been cited as influences for artists today.

L.C. Cooke: Whether they were affected or not, everybody out here was influenced by Sam in some kind of way. I met a disc jockey once that told me that everybody out here is influenced by Sam, including him, and how Sam was his favorite singer. He said , “every singer today has a little bit of Sam in their songs and that shows you how great your brother was.”  I tell you, I felt so good hearing that. It really makes me feel good that many people were affected by Sam and people really care. Sam was really something else.

SR: You performed for a few years after Sam’s death, then you stopped and kind of disappeared from the music scene, what happened?

L.C. Cooke: Every person at a record company didn’t want to be bothered with me because I was too smart. They knew if I recorded, they were going to have to pay me. They knew I wasn’t going to be the artist that would just go in and record. I wanted to know about my royalties. So, nobody would mess me, when they could get Joe Blow over here who has never recorded in his life and take all his money from him. None of them would allow me to record.

SR: You didn’t want to start your own label?

L.C. Cooke: No, I never thought about that. I really should have done that and started recording myself for myself.

SR: Do you think that you’ll perform again now that your album has been released?

L.C. Cooke: I don’t know. A lot of people have asked me that. I really don’t know.

SR: Let’s talk about some names from the past. Talk about Billy Preston.

L.C. Cooke: He’s out of sight, phenomenal. He’s on my records. He played on “Put Me Down Easy,” when he was nothing but about 13 or 14 years old. He’s on “Take Me for What I Am.” When we first started using Billy he was 13 years old.

SR : You  wrote Aretha Franklin’s “Once in Awhile (Please Answer Me).” How did that come about?

L.C. Cooke: I was on my way to record in Atlanta, Georgia. So I had just gotten out the shower, and had a towel wrapped around me. Aretha Franklin had stopped by, so I came out singing that song, she asked me what it was and I told her it was something I wrote. Aretha sat on my bed and cried until I gave her that song. That girl sat there and literally cried until I said I’ll let you record it. She said, “You can write another song. I just love that song.” So I said okay, you can have it.

SR: How about Gorgeous George, the infamous emcee of the 60‘s and 70‘s?.

L.C. Cooke: He’s a good friend! I tell you what I just talked to him a couple weeks ago. George calls me all the time. He is one of my dear friends.  We were in Atlanta and George came by to see me, and Ike and Tina Turner were staying at the same hotel. Ike Turner had a girl singing backup for him named Eloise from Houston, Texas. Eloise and George had a little thing going and Ike found out about it and he confronted George about it. George whooped Ike so bad, from the first floor down to the matinee downstairs. When he knocked him down he picked up a iron rod, and hit him, but I stopped him. I saved Ike’s life because George would have killed him. Gorgeous George whooped that boy so bad I felt sorry for Ike.

SR: Wow! The next name is Jackie Wilson.

L.C. Cooke: Jackie Wilson was one of my good friends. I started going with my wife at one of Jackie’s parties. I’ve been married to her for 45 years. We dated for 7 years, then got married, so we’ve been together a total of 52 years. That’s the one that Sam told me to marry and I married her.

SR: Talk about Bobby Womack.

L.C. Cooke: Let me tell you about Bobby. He died on a Friday morning. That Thursday he was talking to his brother Friendly and Bobby asked him when the last time he had talked to me was. Friendly said he had called me a few weeks prior, but I was in the hospital so he didn’t know that. But he said, “L.C. didn’t call back.” Bobby told him, “Call L.C. Friday and see if he’s alright, and call me back and let me know.” So see I was one of the last people that Bobby was even thinking about before he died. So the next morning his son called Bobby’s brother and said he had died. I had to be one of the last people he had been thinking about. I was on his mind. Sam had predicted he would have a great career.  Sam said he’d be a star, and he was. Sam was something else.

SR: Talk about James Brown. There was a point in his career that you played an important part.

L.C. Cooke:  I met James Brown the same day he cut the song “Please, Please, Please.” I was touring with the Magnificents, and we were playing in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ruth Brown was the headliner, Bo Diddly was on the show also, and several others. We had just left the Apollo Theater in New York. We get to Cincinnati and here comes James Brown. He comes up to me and says, “Can I sing a song in your show? I just cut a record today, called Please, Please, Please.” I said, “It’s not my show, James, but I’ll take you back to Ruth Brown’s dressing room and ask her if you can sing.” I took him back there, and to make a long story short, she told me to tell the band to let him sing. James never forgot that. Every time we were around each other he’d bring it up. Years later, we’re in Atlanta, Georgia. Sam comes up and introduces James to me. James laughs. “Sam, I’ve been knowing L.C. longer than I’ve known you, since when he was with the Magnificents. I’d never forget it, because L.C. went back to ask Ruth Brown if I could sing a song in their show, so you know I could never forget L.C.”

SR: Let’s talk about Cassius Clay. He and Sam recorded a song together.

L.C. Cooke: You know he loved Sam to death. They did record “The Gang is All Here.” He would say he loved Sam because Sam was pretty like him. He’s a very good friend.

SR: How about Little Richard?

L.C. Cooke: He’s another good friend. Sam and Little Richard were playing in England together one time. They were standing on the corner watching the cars go by, and all of a sudden a girl pulls over and runs over and she grabs Sam’s coat. Sam said the girl didn’t even say hello to either of them but asked, “Sam, where’s L.C.?” Sam said he looked at her and said, “He’s in Chicago baby,” and she said, “Well how’s he doing?” He told her I was fine and she told him she met me in Durham, North Carolina. Sam said that when the girl said that Little Richard said, “dang that boy popular ain’t he? Does L.C. know he’s that popular?” Sam told him no and they laughed. But you know what Sam once told me,  he said, “Everybody that met you and loved you would buy your records, you’d be bigger than me, because people actually love you. In over the course of 24 hours, someone will bring up your name wanting to know how you are doing. People love you.” Wasn’t that a compliment to make?

SR: That definitely was an amazing compliment, and it‘s easy to see just talking to you how people could love you right off the bat! . Did people assume that you were jealous of Sam and his success?

L.C. Cooke: I loved Sam, so what would I need to be jealous for? I was so happy for Sam. I would always say as long as Sam is making it, he ain’t going to let me starve. If Sam got it, then I got it too, so I’m always happy for Sam.  Someone once asked me how does it feel to be the great Sam Cooke’s brother, and I just smiled and said great. He said, “That’s all I wanted to hear and I can look at your face and see it.” Let me tell you how generous Sam was to me. He called me one day and asked me what kind of car that I wanted. I said well I’m walking, and don’t have anything so any kind of car. He asked me again, what kind of car do you want? I said Sam I’m walking, anything will do. He said what kind of car do you really want? I said okay, I really want a Cadillac, a convertible with a continental kit and matter of fact I want the car to be so long I need a turn table. He used to always tell me that I was never at a loss for words. Sam used to always say that (laughs). He used to say “If I try to ask you something, you’ll tell me the answer before I even finish the question.” He said he had never heard me stutter or anything when anyone asks a question. So let me get back to the car, Sam called my mother’s house and I was at my girlfriend’s house. So my brother came to tell me that Sam had called and said he had a present for me. He said I had to come and get it, and that Sam bought me a car. He sent money for me to fly out there to get the car. Long story short, Sam bought me a yellow convertible Cadillac just like I wanted. That’s the way Sam was. You know the funny thing about it, Sam had a Cadillac, a white one with red upholstery and a black top, but my car was more fancier than his. I stayed out in L.A. with him for six months, I got tired of it out there. I just didn’t like it. Sam would come to me and ask to use my car for dates and I’d say hell we’re brothers. See, my car was fancier than Sam’s.

SR: You played on American Bandstand. Talk about that experience.

L.C. Cooke: I sure did play on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. I played it January 1, 1960. I’ll tell you how they introduced me, Dick Clark said, “Today ladies and gentlemen, we have a very special guest, Mr. L.C. Cooke,” that’s exactly how he introduced me.

SR: Why hasn’t there been a biopic done on Sam Cooke’s life yet? There’s plenty of documentaries and books, but no film.

L.C. Cooke: Well, they are working on it. The people working on it say they are having a hard time trying to find someone to play Sam and me. They said we were such outstanding people that it’s hard to match us up. The writers said they just don’t make em like me and Sam no more. They already have decided who they want to play my sisters. I was the first one they interviewed and the writers told me they thought it was going to be hard to find someone to match Sam, and they said, “Now that we have met you, with your charisma, and personality, you are going to be harder to match than Sam.” 

SR: This year marks 50 years that Sam Cooke was killed. Are you pleased with the way he has been remembered and the way his legacy continues on?

L.C. Cooke: Yes I am very happy. Me and my wife were on our way to Las Vegas for vacation, and a white disc jockey came up to me and said, “Do you realize that Sam Cooke gets more airplay than anybody else dead? Sam gets airplay like he’s still living, and that must make you feel good?” I said it sure does and smiled. He said if Sam was his brother he’d be feeling good too. Sam got that longevity. Once you hear his voice, you just can’t help but love it. I love Sam.

SR: With the racial tensions heating up in Ferguson, Missouri, the first song that immediately came to mind was Sam’s “A Change is Gonna Come”- that particular song is still powerful even today.

L.C. Cooke: I know that will make you think of that right away. It’s a song of encouragement. Do you know over 160 people have recorded that song? It’s the most recorded song in history. Sam still has the best version.

SR: How do you want people to remember you? What is L.C.’s legacy?

L.C. Cooke: I just want to be remembered for treating everybody right. Just remember me like that. I treated everybody right, I don’t care if they were rich or poor, I treated them the same. As long as people remember that, I’m happy.

You can purchase L.C. Cooke’s album, L.C. Cooke: The Complete SAR Recordings, on Amazon.com and iTunes.

 

Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Creative Loafing, Carolina Style Magazine,  SoulTrain.com, Uptown Magazine, WEtv.com, or her own websites, www.themofochronicles.com and www.conversationswithmeik.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @mofochronicles.

 

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