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Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke    by Peter Guralnick order for
Dream Boogie
by Peter Guralnick
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Sam Cook (the letter 'e' was added later in his career) was born in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His parents - Annie Mae and the Reverend Charles Cook - were fervent in the ministry of Church of Christ (Holiness), and their own congregation at Christ Temple Church (in Chicago Heights, Illinois). The Reverend had 'untrammeled ambitions for the children', leading to the formation of the Singing Children, a five-member gospel quartet including Charles Jr., Sam, L.C., and sisters Mary and Hattie. All the Cook children were musical, and it wasn't long before Sam became a stand-out with audiences. The Reverend had a saying that he instilled in his children, 'Once a task is once begun / Never stop until it's done / Be the labor great or small / Do it well or not at all.'

Leaving the Singing Children, then The Highway QCs, Sam was drawn to the Soul Stirrers, named 'the most influential gospel quartet in the country'. Sam's warmth and magnetism made him the group's principal lead singer. His voice was 'smooth, insistent ... beguiling, magnetic', as was his poised manner. Sam wrote many lyrics, and as artists did and do, he adapted others' music to his own style. Cooke's triumphs and tribulations illuminated the spiritual, cultural world of gospel and soul, and he thrived in it, as he moved from Chicago to California in 1957. It was there he was to take his place in the world of crossover, and as a solo performer.

Agents and recording companies encouraged Sam to crossover to rhythm and blues (r&b), pop, and rock 'n roll. During his career, there were many agents and recording contracts, with partnerships formed between himself and other individuals, that met later with lawsuits over rights to songs, as his desire to spread out grew. With good friend and agent J. W. Alexander, Cooke started his own record label and recording company. Just as there were many songs in Sam's life, there were many women - in one nighters, many of which produced children. Sam was married twice. His first marriage ended in divorce, and it wasn't until years later that he married Barbara Campbell, who had given birth to Sam's daughter in her early teens. He was smitten with his first daughter (Linda Marie). A second daughter (Tracey Samia), and son Vincent Lance (who drowned in the family pool as a toddler in 1961) were added to his family. But there were problems in the marriage, as Sam continued travelling for performances.

Sam's stylistic breakthrough happened in Fresno as he was 'pitching a song a little too high, out of range'. He took the highest unreachable note and 'bent it', and thus Sam's vocal trait was born - 'a lilting yodel into the body of any song'. This trait brought Sam into the 'crooning style' of Bing Crosby and the Ink Spots. The years were hectic with marketing tours and TV promotions. The music field was competitive, including the Blue Jays, renowned Mahalia Jackson (who headlined the first all-Negro spiritual gospel concert at Carnegie Hall), Lloyd Price, blues' great BB King, Fats Domino's 'rolling piano triplets', Sammy Davis, Jr., and Canada's Paul Anka. Not all Sam's performances were successful, specifically his 1958 appearance at the famous Copacabana in New York City. He made a return engagement in 1964 with overwhelming success, and a sign placed in Manhattan's Times Square read 'SAM'S/THE BIGGEST COOKE IN TOWN', including a forty feet high cutout of Sam ('the tallest figure of an entertainment personality ever to be erected in the Times Square area').

Peter Guralnick also covers the Civil Rights movement. The written rule in some states and cities was, 'Negro and white performers cannot appear on the same stage in the same show.' Within performance halls, an aisle rope divided white and black audiences, some cities allowed blacks to only occupy certain areas in balconies and admitted only a certain number of black attendees. Many black (and white) performers refused to participate in scheduled (segregated) engagements. Guralnick writes of the swing of the music record market affected by teens, especially those of white families. Cooke influenced other performers, including the Womack Brothers. He encouraged the Brothers to change over to rock, as the Valentinos. In 1964, Sam Cooke was shot in a Los Angeles motel at the age of thirty-three. Prior to the shooting, he had registered at the Hacienda Motel with prostitute Elisa Boyer, who took his money and clothing, and left the motel. Cooke gave chase wearing his sport coat, sure he saw Elisa go into the motel manager's office. A series of calls were made to the police precinct, and varied stories arose as to why and how he was shot.

The author does not miss a beat in Dream Boogie, delivering an impressive, in-depth bio of Sam Cooke. The multitude of associations Sam Cooke made with people - both in the music industry and in other venues - is phenomenal. For me, it is the latter aspect of Sam Cooke's career that embodies the book's sub-title, The Triumph of Sam Cooke. Sam had his success and failures, but he left an indelible mark on gospel, r&b, pop, and rock 'n roll music. Among Sam's immense discography are: Chain Gang (for which he received a BMI award), A Change Is Gonna Come (an anthem for the civil rights movement), Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha, Jesus Be a Fence Around Me, and You Send Me.

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