Thursday, 3 January 2013

1963 Sam Cooke - Live At The Harlem Square Club

Bring It On Home To Me, 1962

Info: If Booker T. & The M.G.'s were unique in the fact that they had an even mix of black and white musicians, Sam Cooke could be viewed as the artist to take this transcendence to the next level, appealing to a vast audience from white teenagers and their parents while also managing to maintain his hardcore support in black communities. Born into a large family in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, his father, the Reverend Charles Cook (surname changed in later-life with added -e by Sam), moved the family to Chicago in the mid-thirties and it was here that Sam would develop his talent as a gospel singer from a very young age, eventually crossing paths with his first group, the Soul Stirrers. 

Throughout his career spanning the early 1950's to 1964 Cooke would amass an impressive 29 singles in the Top 40, and while many of his hits had great pop appeal, on Live At The Harlem Square Club, his title as the 'Father of Soul' is confirmed, a passionate and heart-wrenching performance of arguably eight of his best songs. Described by Jaime Gonzalez, of Spanish rock monthly Ruta 66 as 'an exorcism drawing a definitive line between the sacred and the profane', I think this totally sums up Cooke's intentions with this album, moving his pop, gospel originated catalogue into a smokey, sexy environment that was this live performance. Rather surprisingly, this album, while recorded in 1963 at the working-class Harlem Club in the Miami ghetto, and considered to date to be the best live album ever, wasn't released until 1985. For me the albums best song by far is 'Bring It On Home For Me', from an astounding intro with a slow build-up, to the swinging chorus, you can hear the crowd completely immersed in Cooke's performance at this stage of the recording. Other highlights are his old favourite 'Twistin' The Night Away' and the feel-good finale 'Having a Party'.

Outside of his music Sam Cooke was an intriguing, multi-talented person. He was the first black artist to take control of the business side of his music, setting up his own record label, SAR Records, in 1961, was influential in the civil-rights movement, (indeed one of his other, and my favourite, hits which he penned, 'A Change Is Gonna Come' became the anthem for those looking to end discrimination against blacks in 1960's America) as well as having mass appeal with music fans of every background. Cooke's last days were tragic, in 1963 his 18 month-old son, Vincent, drowned in their front-yard pool when he wandered off from his mother, Cooke was away at the time and blamed his wife, Barbara, for the death, their marriage broke up partially as a result of this incident. A year later, on the 11th of December, 1964, Cooke was shot dead at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles by the motel manager, under what were suspicious circumstances. The manager, Bertha Franklin, claimed Cooke broke into her apartment demanding to know where the woman he had arrived with had gone to, fearing for her safety she shot Cooke and proceeded to beat him with a broom-handle, another theory is that the woman in question, Elisa Boyer, had conspired to kill Cooke with Franklin as a large sum of cash Cooke had on him at the time was never recovered. Cooke's last words, according to Franklin were; 'Lady, you shot me!'. Thankfully Cooke's legacy lives on, and in 2008, Rolling Stone magazine honoured him as the 4th Greatest Singer of All-Time, and in 2011, the City of Chicago named part of East 36th Street, Sam Cooke Way in his memory.

Track Listing:

1. Feel It
2. Chain Gang
3. Cupid
4. Medley - It's Alright - For Sentimental Reasons
5. Twistin' The Night Away
6. Somebody Have Mercy
7. Bring It On Home
8. Nothing Can Change This Love
9. Having a Party

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