« Confessions of Ben Rhodes, Speechwriter & Deputy National Security Advisor | Main | Reeva Steenkamp »

L.C. Cooke: Truth & Time

By Peter Guralnick

You can hear L.C. Cooke get into a familial groove on recordings his brother Sam produced for him back in the 60s. Those recordings were archived after Sam died, but they were finally released this summer. Decades down the line, L.C.'s collaboration with his brother still sounds like Friday night. My favorite cut is "Put Me Down Easy," which Peter Guralnick notes is "unquestionably one of Sam's great songs." Guralnick tells the story behind it in his liner notes for L.C. Cooke: The Complete SAR Records Recordings.

["Put Me Down Easy"] is yet another of Sam's perfectly constructed masterpieces, but in this case L.C. took it from his brother, rather than just having it given to him.

"Now the way I got it, I was going to record, and Sam was on tour—he would always call me just before he finished his tour to teach me the songs he wanted me to do. This particular morning he was singing, 'Let Me Down Easy.' I said, 'Man what is that?' He said, 'Oh, L.C., it's just a little song I'm messing with. I haven't it finished yet.' I said. 'That's my song Sam.' So he laughed and said, 'Oh you're going to take it just like that, huh?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm taking it.'

'But you know he never finished it. I kept on bugging him. 'When are you going to finish my song?' He said, 'Oh, man, we'll get to it.' The day we recorded, that's the day he finished the song. On the way to the studio he gave me the verses. After he sung it for me, I told him, 'I got it.' He said, 'You got it?' 'Yeah, I got it.' He said, 'Okay, I'm going to see if you got it.' That ain't what he really said. He said, 'I'm going to see if you got it, fucker.' That's what he told me. 'You so smart with your smart ass. I'm going to see if you got it.' Because he didn't think I knew it that quick. I said, 'Sam, I got it. You don't need to tell me no more. That's my song, and I got it.' I started singing, and I looked up at the booth, and Sam was smiling his ass off. Sam was in there just smiling. I said, "Didn't I tell you?' He said, 'You got it. You satisfied me.'"

Guralnick checked in with L.C. this summer and wrote up this addendum to his liner notes.

It’s not often you get to congratulate someone on the release of an album that’s been held up for fifty years.

But that is the case with 81-year-old L.C. Cooke’s Complete SAR Recordings (plus three). Originally scheduled to come out in 1964, it was initially postponed—and then, with Sam’s death, shelved—until its release just a week or two ago.

Even for me, for all my familiarity with both L.C.’s recordings and L.C. himself, it came as a real revelation.

You sang higher, I said to L.C. You sang harder. “I know it,” L.C. said. “Because if I sung in my natural voice I’d sound too much like Sam. Sam said, ‘I hear you, man, and I swear to God, if I didn’t know different, I’d think it was me.’ So that’s when I started singing in a higher pitch.”

He does sound like Sam—a lot like Sam. No one who gave L.C.’s recordings even a cursory listen could deny it. But that’s because they both shared the Cooke sound, L.C. says—that’s what their father sounded like when he was preaching, that’s what their brother Charles, who sang lead with their brother-and-sister family group, the Singing Children, and retired from singing forever the day he turned twenty-one, sounded like, too.

I don’t doubt it. If L.C. tells you something, you can believe him. “I’ll tell you something, Pete,” he told me, not long after we met, over twenty years ago, “some people tell you different things different times, but my stories never change. Because I’m gonna tell you the truth, no matter where it fall.”

Early on, he told me matter-of-factly about the time he met Elvis. He was singing with the Magnificent Montague’s group, the Magnificents, performing their hit, “Up on the Mountain,” at the WDIA Goodwill Revue. This was the famous occasion in 1956 when Elvis unexpectedly showed up and the all-black audience went crazy. “I’ve got all of your hits—‘Up On the Mountain’ and the other side,” Elvis told the group with disarming good humor, but once he heard L.C.’s last name, the Soul Stirrers were all he could talk about, as he offered up titles and verses from their gospel songs. Like all of L.C.’s stories, it is a tale not of glorification but of recognition.

Sometimes L.C. can get in trouble with his penchant for the truth. “What you tell that man all those things for?” his sister Agnes demanded of him after my biography of Sam came out. Both Agnes and L.C. told me the story—Agnes simply thought he had gone too far in his frankness, not just with regard to Sam but with respect to himself. But L.C. had no second thoughts—just as he does not entertain any regrets. “I just told the truth.”

I was reminded of this when I went out to Chicago with Teri Landi and Jody Klein to talk with L.C. last year. I was writing the liner notes for his album, and we were talking about his memories of the various sessions (“Sometimes he remembers things he shouldn’t remember,” said his wife, Marjorie, an ordained minister, laughingly), and L.C. was talking about one of the ten songs on the album that Sam wrote, the previously unreleased “Gonna Have a Good Time,” a carefully crafted number made to sound, L.C. said, “like it’s from long ago” and yet at the same time remain resolutely contemporary. It was one of the few times, L.C. said, that his brother offered him advice in the studio. “He never told me how to sing,” L.C. said unprompted as we listened to the tracks on the album, just before “Gonna Have a Good Time” came up. “The one thing he ever said—when I said ‘before’ he said, ‘Don’t say before, say ‘fore. Remember our heritage!’ In other words, I was singing too correct.” And then sure enough, there it was on the tape, which L.C. had not previously heard, just as he remembered it from fifty years before.

There are some wonderful songs on the album—“Put Me Down Easy” could take its place in any collection of soul or r&b—but not just the songs Sam wrote. L.C.’s favorite is one he wrote himself. “’If I Could Only Hear’ was probably the best song I ever did in my life. To me. You know, sometimes you cut a song and you listen. You say, ‘I could have done that better.’ But ‘If I Could Only Hear'—if I had sung that song for 100 years, I couldn’t have done that song no better than what I did. That’s always been my favorite song. And I think you all will agree.”

Well, you be the judge. But I think this eminently listenable album offers something for everyone. And how great is it to have L.C.’s debut SAR album come out after 50 years sounding as fresh and new as if it were recorded yesterday.

Thanks to Peter Guralnick for letting First reprint this piece which was originally posted at www.peterguralnick.com.

From October, 2014

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference L.C. Cooke: Truth & Time:

» barbour mens jacket from barbour mens jacket
Print your main purpose boarding pass at home.If you aren't checking designer bags, you may help to many hours for in your hand (and others) by making your roller skating pass storage room.Most airways will email you 24 explanation for before flight ti... [Read More]

Tracked on December 21, 2014 07:31 AM

» cheap celine bags from cheap celine bags
Genuine bags constantly growth in price gradually by.In the ultimate phase there is traces put together by grapefruit through a dominating floral note.Phone there really are sporadic suggestions of musk and black green tea supplement, and also an outli... [Read More]

Tracked on December 23, 2014 04:09 AM

» barbour jackets sale from barbour jackets sale
Use places enjoy Facebook groups who will be based off topics, books, and celebrities the niche market is interested in.timberland boots,, Find out and spend internet time in blogging, and get - go networking along with conversation in it.There actuall... [Read More]

Tracked on December 23, 2014 04:09 AM

» bolso longchamp from bolso longchamp
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 6, 2015 12:22 AM

» bolso longchamp from bolso longchamp
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 6, 2015 12:25 AM

» Air Jordan Oreo from Air Jordan Oreo
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 12, 2015 12:20 PM

» swimming pool service New Concord KY from swimming pool service New Concord KY
Hello there, I found your web site by means of Google at the same time as searching for a related subject, your web site got here up, it appears great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks. [Read More]

Tracked on January 18, 2015 04:08 AM

» housekeeping services Sealy TX from housekeeping services Sealy TX
I needed to draft you that little bit of remark to finally thank you very much as before for these stunning tricks you've shared on this website. It has been simply surprisingly open-handed of you to deliver extensively what exactly numerous people wou... [Read More]

Tracked on January 18, 2015 08:41 PM