Everybody loves Sam Cooke, right? So why doesn’t everybody love, or even know about Sam’s younger brother L.C. Cooke? After all, L.C. had a great voice of his own, and recorded some great songs for Sam’s SAR label. The explanation seems simple, and sad … Sam died.
L.C. was born two years after Sam, the fifth of the ten Cook (there was no ‘e’ yet) children. When Sam put together his first gospel quartet, the Singing Children, in the late ’30s, L.C. was a member. Sam and L.C. kept singing together in the Nobleairs and by the late ’40s they were both members of the Highway Q.C.’s. It took Sam’s enlistment in the legendary Soul Stirrers to separate the brothers vocally.
L.C. kept singing, joining a group called the Magnificents in 1956. The Magnicents had a deal with Vee Jay Records and a hit for the label with “Up on the Mountain.” L.C. also did some recording on his own for Chess Records with the single “I Need Your Love.” The brothers got back together when L.C. signed with Sam’s SAR label in 1960. The closest that L.C. ever came to a hit for SAR was the single “The Wobble” b/w “Put Me Down Easy.” Sam wrote both songs for his brother, but the record had little chart success. To make matters worse, Sam went and had a hit with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster,” a song that L.C. had declined to record. When Sam was killed in December, 1964, L.C. was pretty much finished too, although he didn’t know it at the time.
Abkco Records is trying to set the record straight with a new collection called L.C. Cooke – The Complete SAR Records Recordings. The first ten tracks of the new album represent the album that Sam pulled together for L.C. in January, 1964. It wasn’t released when it was supposed to be and after Sam’s death it never came out at all. Reissue producer Teri Landi has added eight tracks to the original album, most of which, like the songs on the original album, were written by Sam. They include the Sam Cooke song that is now recognized as L.C.’s finest moment, “Put Me Down Easy.” The excellent liner notes by Peter Guralnick, who wrote Dream Boogie, the fine biography of Sam Cooke that was published in 2005, detail L.C.’s determination to record the song. In those days Sam would call L.C. from wherever he was on tour and teach him the songs that he wanted L.C. to record. One morning Sam was singing an unfinished tune called “Put Me Down Easy,” and L.C. immediately announced his intention to record it.
“I said, ‘That’s my song, Sam.’ So he laughed and said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take it just like that, huh?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m taking it.’
Despite L.C.’s impatience, Sam never could seem to finish the song. In fact it wasn’t finished until the day it was scheduled to be recorded. Remembering the original conversation in which L.C. had insisted on recording the song, Sam challenged him to do it right. According to L.C., Sam’s challenge went something like this:
“You’re so smart with your smart ass. I’m going to see if you got it.”
L.C. responded by telling Sam he had no need to worry, that he did in fact have it, and when it was finished Sam was just sitting in the studio control room smiling. There are two versions of “Put Me Down Easy” here, the original 1964 single release, and another take that wasn’t released until it appeared on an SAR compilation in 1994. The musicians on the track included Billy Preston on the organ. Other tracks on the album include legendary players like tenor sax player Plas Johnson, drummer Earl Palmer, and guitarists Bobby and Cecil Womack.
L.C. Cooke is 80 years-old. It has taken him a lifetime to finally get his due. Get his due he does however. This new collection has all the earmarks of SAR recordings including great playing, and great production. The songs are so good that it’s surprising that L.C. wasn’t able to overcome his brother’s death and become a star in his own right. They say that stardom is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and L.C. just never was.
There was a measure of fame for L.C., but not in the way he had hoped for, and not of his own making. In the late ’50s, Sam was entwined in an array of recording and publishing contracts that were going to be of no use to him. In order to prevent songs that he wrote like “You Send Me,” “You Were Made for Me,” “Win Your Love for Me,” “I Don’t Want to Cry,” and “That’s All I Need to Know,” from falling into the wrong hands he credited them to L.C. Cook.