Sam Cooke: Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964
The new double album on Abkco Records called Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 is a reminder of just how influential the sixties soul singer was, and arguably the greatest of all time. The disc chronicles his entire recording career from 1951-64 starting from his early hit of “Touch the hem of his garment” right up to “Shake” which was cut a couple of weeks before his untimely demise.
The recent death of his protégé Bobby Womack might just have turned a new generation of fans on to Cooke. Womack was so entwined with Cooke that he actually married Sam’s widow shortly after he was murdered in a seedy motel room in Los Angeles in dubious circumstances in December 1964 after a tryst with an alleged prostitute. The reports make fascinating reading.
It turn out that Sam Cooke was constantly writing lyrics wherever he was, and of the thirty songs included on the album, Cooke wrote or co-wrote twenty-four of them. Cooke was originally a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers out of St.Petersburg, Florida, in the early fifties when the group was signed to Specialty Records. When Cooke left the group to go solo in 1957 his first session produced “You send me,” which sold 2 million copies and went to number 1 even though the background was an all white choir. The liner notes on the record are extremely detailed and paint a clear picture of a singer at the top of his game for an all too short seven year period.
For example, just read the notes about his 1960 hit “Chain Gang” which was written after he came across a real chain gang presumably in the south, and stopped to give the convicts cigarettes. He then proceeded to buy five cartons at a local store and drove back to give them to the men.
After that the hits followed regularly and Cooke was on his way. He started spending more time in Los Angeles after signing with RCA Records, which ultimately led to his death. Even to this day family members dispute the circumstances of that night, claiming that “Sam never had to chase a woman in his life, they were always chasing him.” Based on his talent, fame and looks that is certainly a strong argument.