3:36pm

Tue August 5, 2014
Music

A Lost Piece Of Soul History Appears

In the early 1960s when soul star Sam Cooke had his own record label, SAR, he recorded songs by his younger brother, L.C. Cooke. Ten of the tracks were supposed to become L.C.'s debut album in 1964. The release was postponed, then Sam Cooke was killed, SAR went out of business and L.C.'s album fell into limbo. Now, 50 years later, The Complete SAR Records Recordings has appeared. Fresh Air critic Milo Miles examines this lost piece of history.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. In the early 1960s when soul star Sam Cooke had his own label called SAR Records, he produced recordings by his younger brother, L.C. Cooke. Ten of the tracks were supposed to become L.C.'s debut album in 1964. Sam Cooke was killed that year. SAR eventually went out of business in L.C.'s album was never made. A new collection of L.C.'s recordings for SAR has been released, and music critic Milo Miles has the review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LOVER")

L.C. COOKE: (Singing) Everybody loves a lover, babe. That's why all the girls love me. Everybody loves a lover, babe. That's why all the girls love me - because when I get to loving I'm as loveable as I can be. I'm a raging ball of fire, babe. I'm a barrel of fun. I'm a raging ball of fire, babe. I'm a whole barrel of fun. Well, I'm a handyman, baby - sixty minute man all in one. Let me tell you about it.

MILO MILES, BYLINE: I knew Sam Cooke had a younger brother who he had recorded and produced, but it was tough to hear any of L.C. Cooke's rare singles and impossible to evaluate him as a performer overall - not anymore. All the material L.C. recorded for his brother's SAR label plus two songs made before and one from after have come out as "The Complete SAR Recrods Recordings." Most were written by Sam, a few by L.C. To get my one hesitation out of the way, L.C. is not quite the singer his brother was - tones less rich, phrasing a bit more pedestrian. But it's good the material sketches a persona different from Sam's. L.C. seems - how should we say - brattier.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME FOR WHAT I AM")

COOKE: (Singing) Don't try to make me...

CHORUS: (Singing) Don't make me...

COOKE: (Singing) ...Into what I ain't...

CHORUS: (Singing) ...Into what I ain't...

COOKE: (Singing) When you met me, babe...

CHORUS: (Singing) When you met me...

COOKE: (Singing) ...I was no saint.

CHORUS: (Singing) ...I was no saint.

COOKE: (Singing) How can a tiger...

CHORUS: (Singing) How can a tiger...

COOKE: (Singing) ...Be a lamb?

CHORUS: (Singing) ...Be a lamb?

COOKE: (Singing) Take me, baby...

CHORUS: (Singing) Take me, baby...

COOKE: (Singing) ...For what I am.

CHORUS: (Singing) ...For what I am.

COOKE: (Singing) A girl will search for just the right man. And once she finds him, aw look out because right away she'll try to change him. That's when you will hear him shout, don't try to make me...

MILES: In the liner notes by Peter Guralnick, he quotes L.C. saying, "everything Sam wrote was modern." I know what he means. Sam Cooke's songs sound timeless, urban and urbane - hip but never snobbish, the perfect blend of cool attitude and warm heart. The only dud track on the album is "The Wobble," a vague, derivative attempt to cash in on the dance craze era. L.C. adds clearer, sassier dance instructions during a spoken finale in "Chalk Line."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHALK LINE")

COOKE: (Singing) Now look, baby. This is the way you walk the chalk line. You put your left foot in front of your right, then your right in front of your left - now your left, baby, back in front of your right. That's it - now your right in front of your left. Now kind of move easy, baby, with it - not too fast. That's it. Shake them hips. Yeah, that's what I mean. You got it.

MILES: L.C. claims his favorite number that he ever did is "If I Could Only Hear," which he wrote and recorded before she joined SAR Records. It's understandable he doesn't want his only ride to be his brother's coattails, but while "If I Could Only Hear" is a captivating tune, it's stuck too much in the doo-wop mode. The clearer stand-out on this album is "Put Me Down Easy," which shows that L.C., like his brother, Sam, was a master of soft, sensuous pleading.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUT ME DOWN EASY")

COOKE: (Singing) I don't why it should be, but lately I can plainly see, you're cool to me. Do what you want to do but, darling, all I ask of you - put me down easy. Put me down easy, baby. Yeah, don't make it rougher, and don't make me suffer. Put me down easy. If you found somebody new, there is nothing I can do but ask you to try and do me just the same as pilots do big aeroplanes. Put me down easy. Put me down easy, baby. Yeah, baby, don't make it rougher, and don't make me suffer. Just put me down easy.

MILES: L.C. is now in his early 80s. I was surprised to learn he was born less than a year after his brother. Imagine, had he lived, Sam Cooke could have been around to see his fan, Barack Obama, elected President.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed L.C. Cooke, "The Complete SAR Records Recordings." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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