LC Cooke talks about how Sam Cooke started his career in music, what he did to stand out and how he was with people.
Interviewer: Now, what kind of man was your father? Was he strict?
LC: Very, very strict. Very, very firm and if you stayed in his house he had certain requirements that you had to do and if you didn’t do them you had to get out of his house and you had to go to church, that was the first. It was a must. It didn’t leave that up to you whether you want to go or not. You had to go to church in my family, every member, my oldest to the youngest had to go to church and we go to church twice a week. We’d go on Sundays and on a Wednesday. He had high expectations for all his children because he thought all of us was great. He didn’t think wrong with nobody or nothing. He thought we all had equal opportunity to be just as good as we want to be if we apply ourselves to do it. He always told us that first of all is how much of yourself are you willing to give to achieve what you want. So, you’ve got to give up something, you can’t sit back and just wish for something you’ve got to make an effort.
And so is my father if you made an effort then he’d go along with that effort, you know. But he didn’t want to just sit back on your laurels and not do nothing.
Interviewer: So, whatever you did be the best.
LC: Be the best! If you’re going to sweep a street he told me, he said, “Hey you sweep that street better than anybody over there sweep it”. He said, “Whatever you do you be the best at it. If you talk you be the best talker. If you’re going to see be the best singer’ That’s the way he taught us. And it always taught us to stick together. He always thought those if somebody jumped on one then they had to jump on the old family. Well, singing children, we start singing it was myself, I was singing base and my brother Charles was singing lead, my sister Mary was singing lead, Sam was singing tenor and my other sister was Hattie singing baritone and that’s how we started the group. And Sam always wanted to sing lead but Charles wouldn’t let him because Charles said, “You got the best tenor in the world man. So, if you sing lead was going to sing tenor?” And so Sam never did get a chance to sing lead with the family, with the Singing Children. And when he got to sing lead when he left the Singing Children he went to the highly QC.
Interviewer: Where were the singing children, where would you sing?
LC: We’d sing all over, we’d go out of town. We sang with my father, my father had a revival somewhere we’d go along and we’d open up, we’ll sing for my father and then we also had a manager and he would take us around. We used to go to like Indianapolis or Kankakee, Illinois, we’d just go around and sing, we made a little money. We didn’t make much but we made a little money and we were always happy because they were together. My father had a song he would sing; he had three or four songs he would sing before you would do his sermon on Sundays and “This Little Light of Mine” was one of my daddy’s favorite songs. So, Sam was talking one day. Sam said “Pappa, this little light of mine I can beat you singing that.” Pappa said, “Son, that’s my song” he said, “I don’t care who song it is. I can beat you singing it” Pappa said “Well, okay so come Sunday I’ll see what you can do”. So that Sunday Pappa called and said I’m up for it. He did a sermon, he said, “My son wants to sing and he told me he can beat me singing this song.” So everybody claps, Sam comes up and Sam was singing and Sam got the better of the house. My father singing Sam says okay son, you can instead by now. Sam says, “No Pappa! I’m about to get them.” He said, “Son, you can step up now”. He said, “I told you this is my song, this is my pulpit”. He said ‘Now you step back.’ Sam stepped back and my father took the song and turn out the church. So, at the end of church Sam says, “Pappa, that wasn’t right.” He said “You know I was getting ready to get in that house there, sir”. He said “Son, it’s my song”. He said, “I told you”. He said, “That’s my song and you’re my son”. He said, “You have to do what I tell you”. He said, “When you sing my song, I told you, you have to sing first and when I get ready to come in it means you step back”. He said, “Is that clear?” So, Sam says ‘But Pappa’. He said ” Is that clear?” He said, “We’ll have no more discussion about whose song it is”. He says, “It’s my song, it’s my sound.” He says, “I’m the Cooke, I got the sound and you got the sound from me and that end that”.
Interviewer: So, it’s a Cooke sound?
LC: That’s right, it’s a Cooke sound. It’s not a Sam Cooke sound, is a Cooke sound.
Interviewer: Well how did the audience react to sound when he was singing lead with the Soul Stirrers?
LC: I mean he loved it. Well, at first some people have the to those because they were so used to RE Terrence because RE Terrence was such a strong thing in gospel and he was such a great singer. But what made it sound so different is that Sam had plenty of sense and Sam was smart. When Sam came to the group he didn’t come in singing Harris’s song, he came in singing Sam Cooke song. That’s what Avery’s lead singer make a mistake at. Because if you’re going to sing this man’s song all we are going to do is remind the public of RH Harris, you are going to remind them off Sam Cooke and Sam had the wisdom and the sense enough to see this. So he didn’t go ahead, he didn’t sing any of Harris’s songs. He sang all the songs he sang with the QC’s. Just like ‘Jesus Gave Me Water’ – that was his first hit. First million seller of Gospel – Sam had it, ‘Jesus Gave Me Water’. Now that was a song he sang with the QCs -“Peace In The Valley” that was a song is sung with the QCs that he brought to the Soul Stirrers.
You see, Sam came in with a different approach than everybody else. See everybody else would have come in and try to sing Harris’s songs, you know? But Sam had the wisdom of the snow. He said, “If I only sang Harris’s song, they’ll see”. He said, “People will think about Harris”. He said, “I don’t want people to think of Harris”. He said, “Harris ain’t in the group; I’m in the group”. He said, “I’m trying to make myself popular”. He said, “So if I sing my own sounds they’ll listen to me and think about me and when they go home they’ll be talking about Sam Cooke instead of talking about RH Harris” – which is very smart.
Well, the first Jackie Wilson tour really sound wasn’t prepared about singing at the time and Jackie Wilson got the best of the tour; he’d kill Sam. But the last tour that they went on it was Sam’s tour. Sam had Jackie. Now Jackie is telling me this. Now, Jackie was telling me this in Houston Texas, we were at Wadley’s. Wadley used to drive for Sam then after Sam died he started driving for Jackie. So, we were at Wadley’s mother’s house, she had been there for me and Jackie Wilson. So, me and Jackie is at the table eating; Jackie says, “LC, so you know the first tour I killed Sam” but he said “that last tour, Sam had me coughing up blood”. So, I said what man? He said now look, Sam paying me. He said Sam’s tour so Sam come up to me and say Jackie ” when you want to, come on? Do you want to come on in the first half or you close the first half? Or do you want to close the show and I could close the first half?” Jackie said “Man I’m Jackie Wilson, Sam I’ll close it. Sam said “Fine Jackie”. He said “LC, every song that Sam sung was a million seller”. He said, “Sam was killing me”. He said, “When Sam would close the first half he said the people were leaving”. He said, “The people need to stay and hear me”. He said, “I came to Sam and say ‘hey, Sam so we’re going to switch to surround so you’re going to close the show and let me have the first half’”. Now Jackie told me this. He said, “LC, Sam killed me; I’d be truthful”. He said, “For the first time Sam wasn’t ready. He had just left the Soul Stirrers, so he just wasn’t prepared. And I killed him on the first tour”. He said, “But the last tour Sam had me coughing up blood”. He said, “I had a million sellers- one or two but every song Sam sung, man, it was 1 million seller”. He said, “You can’t overcome that”. He says, “No way! I don’t care who was singing. You can’t overcome million sellers, man”. He said Sam killed him. Sam just had something, like James Brown once said. He was on Dick Clark show American Bandstand and Dick Clark asked James Brown “What made Sam Cooke so special?” So James Brown says ” Are you kidding?”. He said Sam Cook stands flat-footed and kill you with one song”. So that’s what made him special.” He said, “If I could sing as half as good as Sam Cooke he said I’d quit dancing.”
See he never got too big where he thought that you know, he was well above people.
Now, on the same tour that’s just before we did the Harlem Square, we were in Norfolk, Virginia. Now we were all shooting dice, me and my brother Charles, King, Curtis and so Sam comes in and Sam broke the game. So now when Sam broke the game Sam started giving people money back. He said “man how much you do?” Now he a cat, he had five dollars; “Man I lost $100.” Sam gave him $100. I said man, that man ain’t have no hundred dollars Sam and Sam just gave money and comes to find out when he gave up beaded and have no money. So, I said, “Sam, man, why would you give all the money up man? You can give all that money to me and Charles”. He said “Look, them people’s got families, man”. He said, “I take their money their kids can’t eat”. He said, “Now, I got money, why am I going to take their little money?” He said “No man, let them have the money” and he gave them every penny of their money back. So, you see that was Sam.
You see, Sam really know the way that he really cared for people and I didn’t realize how popular he was till after his death, to be truthful with you. Like I was at Jesse Jackson’s brother’s wedding in Long Beach, California. The table I was sitting at it was Sgt., Police Department and Lieut. Police Department and there was another couple there. The other couple, this fellow was telling me he said, “Man whenever I feel bad he said you know what I do? I just couldn’t get one of Sam’s LP band and then put it on. It changes my whole mood.” And his wife would be there shaking her head, “That’s right, it sure do. Now if it is in a foul mood I have and get one of Sam’s record and puts it on for him and it changes his whole outlet”. She says, “He’s a different person after you hear Sam”. So, like I said some appeals to everybody. He appealed to the young, to the old, to the women, to the boys, to the girls. Sam had that whole appeal to everyone