Everybody knows something about L.C. Cooke, at the very least that he is Sam Cooke’s younger singing brother. Some may even know one or two of his early records. But up till now, for a variety of reasons, including L.C.’s remarkable vocal resemblance to his brother, the true breadth of his talents has never been revealed. That’s why this album is going to come as such a revelation. And not just because it’s been 50 years in the making.
Sam put it together in January 1964 for his SAR label, for which he produced major artists including the Simms Twins, Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Womack and the Soul Stirrers. The first 10 tracks represent the album as it was intended to be. But then its release got delayed, and with Sam’s death, and the subsequent dissolution of the company, it never came out.
Well, here it is, with eight bonus tracks, presenting L.C. Cooke for the first time as a major artist in his own right. Anyone familiar with his scattered singles, or with L.C. himself for that matter, will immediately recognise the charm and the contagiously upbeat, buoyant mood of the music. But put together in this fashion, it’s the art of the songs, the craft of the songs, the care that has gone into their making, that really jumps out at you. Most were written by Sam for his brother. And when I say written, I mean tailored, because as L.C. explains, “Sam had that canny thing about him, where he could just look at you and say, ‘I’m going to write something that fits you’.”
These are pop songs uniquely suited to L.C.’s invincibly outgoing personality. For the most part they convey a jaunty mood, full of fun and raffish good humour, from ‘The Lover’ and ‘Take Me For What I Am’ to the raw rhymes and throwaway wit of ‘Missy Sally’. Then there are the harder-hitting stylings of ‘Chalk Line’, where L.C. pushes his voice to the falsetto range and the smooth vocal arrangement behind him creates a kind of spirited musical dialogue. Sam and L.C.’s mother was in the studio that day, too, along with their sisters Hattie and Agnes. “My mother had a ball, man. She just sat there and grinned and laughed. Oh, man, we had a good time. Every time Sam would come to town, it was a party.” ‘Put Me Down Easy’, though, is the song that has always been recognised as L.C.’s masterpiece, both for its lyrical content and for the emotional intensity of its delivery.
But listen to the whole album – to the diversity of its moods and settings – and see what you think. One thing I know you’ll think for sure is that L.C. Cooke is an artist who should be far better known in his own right. And will be now, after the release of this 50-years-in-the-making debut album.
By Peter Guralnick