We’re going back to the beginnings of soul with The Soul Stirrers release on Specialty Records. ‘Jesus I’ll Never Forget’ was put out during a time when the church was a vital part to the community, and everyone gathered together on a Sunday to celebrate the spiritual side of things. The Soul Stirrers were hugely revered and celebrated. They made their bones on the road, touring and singing gospel in the countries churches as well as also performing on a weekly radio show. Sam Cooke joined the quartet in 1950, aged only 19. He replaced the long time lead vocalist R.H.Harris, who was the group’s leader. With him he brought a new style and made The Soul Stirrers more accessible to the younger teenage generation. Sam Cooke spent six years honing his singing skills with The Soul Stirrers and raised their profile amongst the Gospel community.
‘Jesus I’ll Never Forget’ was recorded in 1954 and really shows off the soulful injection that Cooke gave the quartet. It’s a real ‘bare bones’ track with just a piano for accompaniment but the main body of the 45 is the intertwining harmonies that are thrown back and forth between the group’s members. For me, it’s Sam Cooke’s lead vocals that really elevate this track. His raw talent is clearly shown as he covers several notes over just one word with his honeyed voice. This track also featured on the film soundtrack to the Coen Brothers 2004 remake of the Lady Killers.
Recorded on Art Rupe’s Specialty Records, a label set up to cater for jukeboxes. It encompassed many genres, originally just gospel but later Rock and Roll and R&B as they became increasingly more popular. I collect this label and it has exposed me to many artists I wouldn’t be aware of otherwise.
In 1956, after seeing the allure that mainstream music brought, Sam Cooke released his first soul single ‘Lovable’ on Specialty Records. He used the alias of Dale Cooke, so as not to upset the church following, which frowned upon secular style music at the time. Unfortunately for Sam Cooke his voice was so instantly recognizable that it was obvious to everyone who Dale Cooke really was, even resulting in the church communities booing The Soul Stirrers at their ensuing performances.
Sam Cooke eventually bartered his release from Specialty Records in 1957, using the outstanding royalties owed to him to broker a deal. Once the deal was sealed he signed to Keen and released ‘You Send Me’ which sold over 1.7 million copies, made number 1 and marked his arrival to the pop mainstream.
1960 saw Cooke move to RCA where he had many notable hits. He also set up his own publishing company as well as a label, SAR Records.
The hits flowed and Sam Cooke enjoyed the limelight. Whilst celebrating his latest albums success in December 1964, he took Elisa Boyer, a girl he had met to the Hacienda Motel (Cooke was already married) where he registered as Mr and Mrs Sam Cooke. After an altercation between them, Boyer fled with Cooke’s clothing and called the police. When they arrived they found Sam Cooke had been shot and clubbed with a broom stick by the motel manager Bertha Franklin, after he had allegedly burst in and demanded to know where Boyer was. She claimed self-defence, but there is much controversy surrounding the events that occurred that night. Sam Cooke’s final words were “Lady you shot me”
Without Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers, the soul music we love today probably wouldn’t be the same as we know it now. The Soul Stirrers still perform today with Willie Rogers on lead, and although the groups line up has changed over the years, their soul tinged gospel hasn’t altered at all!