The past few days have been a sad one for music lovers as we mourn the loss of two important figures in musical history. Bobby Taylor and L.C. Cooke passed away within a day of each other, leaving behind a musical legacy that will always be treasured.
Legendary singer and producer Bobby Taylor died July 22 at a hospital in Hong Kong where he was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia and tumors on his spine according to Rolling Stone Magazine. The 83 year old was known for mentoring and bringing the infamous Jackson 5 to Motown in the late 60s. Taylor spotted the group at Chicago’s Regal Theatre in 1968 as they opened for Taylor’s group Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. The Vancouvers were a Motown band known for hits like “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” “I Am Your Man,” and “Malinda.”
Taylor later ended up producing the Jackson 5’s earliest recordings for Motown, including their debut album Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5. Bobby Taylor eventually launched a solo career where he recorded songs like the classic “Oh, I’ve Been Bless’d.”
On July 21, L.C. Cooke, younger brother of the legendary Sam Cooke, passed away. The Cooke family helped to transform the landscape of gospel music with their use of secular lyrics and that Cooke finesse. Eventually Sam Cooke ruled the Pop and R&B airwaves and the gospel world finally got over the shock that he managed to successfully cross over into the secular world. Cooke was in the process of trying to launch his younger brother L.C.’s career into the stratosphere into the pop genre and the two were putting the finishing touches on L.C. Cooke’s debut album on the SAR Records label when tragedy struck. In December 1964, Sam Cooke was killed and eventually his SAR label folded, pushing L.C.’s album and career to the side. The completed 10 track album never saw the light of day until 2014.
I had the opportunity to have a lengthy interview in 2014 with L.C. Cooke about releasing the album that sat on the shelf for 50 years for Soul Tracks. Each song on L.C. Cooke: The Complete SAR Records Recordings has that special Cooke touch. 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., which could easily stand for loving and charismatic, 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 Records Recordings is a bridge that connects the present to the past, reminding us about the very foundation that soul music was built from.
Here’s an excerpt of our 2014 interview:
Shameika: Mr. Cooke, I am so glad that you finally decided to release your album. 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.
Shameika: 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.”
Shameika : 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.
Shameika: How about the single, “Sufferin’?”
L.C. Cooke: I wrote that one also.
Shameika: 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.
Shameika: 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 are 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.
Shameika: That single is easily one of the 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.
Shameika: 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.
Shameika: 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.
Shameika: How do you want people to remember you? What is L.C. Cooke’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.
Rest in peace Bobby Taylor and L.C. Cooke. Your music will live on forever.