Posted: April 10, 2015 in Music, Rock n Roll Music 1960 Part 2
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by Robert Seoane




The first time that I saw Sam was at my dad’s church… and I just happened to look over my shoulder and went, ‘Oh, my God! Who is that?’” –Aretha Franklin, VH1 Behind The Music

While James Brown is known as the Godfather of Soul, Samuel Cooke was crowned King of Soul during his day. Both artists simultaneously pioneered the soul genre starting in the late Fifties but their styles couldn’t be more different. Sam Cooke is smooth and elegant while James Brown is raw and passionate. Sam’s laid-back, easy delivery oozes sensuality. James Brown’s vocalizations are more sexual than sensual, less seductive and more aggressive. Having invented the soul genre, then splitting it up into two opposite directions, both artists’ styles were profoundly influential throughout the rest of the 20th century. In Sam Cooke’s case, musicians who followed include Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston and scores more.

Cooke’s family moved to Chicago from Mississippi when he was two. Cooke’s father, Reverend Charles Cook, was a Baptist minister. Sam added the ‘e’ at the end of his name once he began his career.

He grew up singing with his seven siblings, billed as The Singing Children, at churches. He and fellow gospel choir singer Lou Rawls were childhood friends. Rawls would go on to carve a solo career of his own in the Seventies, peaking during the disco heyday with the 1976 song, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”. He and Cooke would continue to cross paths often as they grew up into promising musical artists, with Rawls joining Cooke’s band whenever on tour.

“Sam was so outstanding. He was young, he was good looking, he dressed well, carried himself, presented himself with class and dignity and so, it was like, how do you compete with that?” – Lou Rawls, VH1 Behind The Music

Sam first became known once he joined a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers when he was 19. He replaced R.H. Harris, already a popular singer, and faced a lot of antipathy, that is, until he opened his mouth to sing. The Soul Stirrers enjoyed the biggest hit of their career with Cooke immediately after he joined, called “Jesus Gave Me Water”, a rousing, irresistible gospel tune, sure to exorcise your demons. Soon, the churches started to fill with a younger, mostly female flock wherever they sang.

“Sam changed the whole prospect of gospel music, ‘cause when Sam came in, all the teenagers started going to church, especially little girls because they wanted to see Sam.” –L.C. Cooke, brother, VH1 Behind The Music

“I never saw nothin’ like that, to this day I’m astonished the way that Sam Cooke would turn the church out. People got up, they’d shout and they’d pass out, and that ‘woo…’, nobody had ever done that.” – Lloyd Price, singer-songwriter, VH1 Behind The Music

It was a struggle for Cooke to transition from gospel to secular pop music. He felt he had hit a wall in terms of growing further within the gospel genre, but he received resistance from his label, Specialty Records, after he started writing pop songs, so he took “You Send Me” to label competitor Keen Records. It was released in late 1956 by Keen and became the biggest hit of his career, climbing up to the top spot in Billboard’s Hot 100 in the Winter of 1957. No other single he released in the Fifties even came close to the Top Ten after that.

Cooke had established himself as the King of Soul soon after the release of “You Send Me”. Over the years, as his success grew, Cooke managed to take control of his career. He didn’t allow himself to be pushed around. Bright, well-read and ambitious, he demanded respect and got it.

“Sam, he didn’t back down. You didn’t push him. Once he told the police in Memphis, (brother) Charles had run out of gas and the police come and told Sam to push the car over to the side of the street. Sam told him, ‘My name is Sam Cooke. If you haven’t heard of me, your wife know me… When you get off tonight, you ask your wife if she knows Sam Cooke… I don’t push no cars… you want to put a ticket on it, put a ticket on it, I’ll pay the fine… I’m not a pusher, I’m a singer.’ And he sat back in his car. The police went and left him alone.” – Brother, L.C. Cooke

Cooke was also an avid reader, with a keen interest and knowledge of African-American history. As a result, he wouldn’t tolerate segregation or prejudice, being one of the first black entertainers to demand an integrated audience.

“We got into Little Rock, we played in the military armory. And they said, ‘You’re going to have to do two shows. ‘ ‘Why?’ ‘You gotta do a show for the white audience and a show for the black audience.’ And Sam said no. We’ll do one show for both.” – Lou Rawls, VH1 Behind The Music

Sam was unhappy at Keen Records because of his lack of hits. In the three years he was signed to the label, none of his songs had entered the Billboard Top Ten since “You Send Me”, and only one other record made it into R&B’s Top Ten, so in 1959 he signed with RCA Records. Like most rock ‘n’ roll and pop artists of the day, Cooke focused more on his single releases rather than his albums, but his first single release through RCA in 1960, “Teenage Sonata”, was a bust, while the last single released by his old label Keen, is an enduring classic.


His last single for Keen Records was recorded in an impromptu session in March 1959. “(What A) Wonderful World” was released over a year later in April 1960 to compete against his move to RCA. It became his highest charting single since “You Send Me”, just missing the Top Ten by two positions at Number 12.

The song is a sweet, simple tune sung from the point of view of a student who admits his limited scholastic capabilities as he declares his love for the object of his affection, who seems to be unaware of his feelings. It’s a timeless song, reminiscent of the teenage crush everyone has had at one point in their lives.

“Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, don’t know much about a science book, don’t know much about the French I took. But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you love me, too, what a wonderful world this would be.” (What A) Wonderful World – Sam Cooke

Perhaps to appease the parents who still frowned on rock ‘n’ roll’s permissiveness, Cooke added a lyric alluding to the fact that the struggling love-struck student is at least open to getting good grades.

“Now, I don’t claim to be an ‘A’ student, but I’m tryin’ to be. For maybe by being an ‘A’ student, baby, I can win your love for me.” (What A) Wonderful World – Sam Cooke

The song was made popular once again in 1978 when it was showcased in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” in a scene where John Belushi “partakes” of the college cafeteria cuisine.


RCA’s second Sam Cooke single release after the dreadful “Teenage Sonata”, was the hit he was looking for. “Chain Gang”, Cooke’s 1960 summer single, would become his second biggest hit, just behind “You Send Me”. Released on July 26, 1960, it made it to the second position in both Billboard’s Pop and R&B charts.

Legend has it that he came across an actual chain gang on the way to a live appearance during one of his tours, inspiring Cooke to write the song.

“It was in the South, and it’s hot. They had the windows open and the chain gang was out there working. And Sam wrote the song. ‘That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.’“ –Lou Rawls, VH1 Behind The Music

Cooke was not only a pioneer in soul music, he was also an astute businessman. He had final say over the mix of his songs, and his contract with RCA also stipulated his ownership of the rights to them after a certain period of time. He wasn’t happy with RCA’s final mix of “Chain Gang”, so he remixed it himself, bringing the ho…ha’s up to the fore.

The song sympathizes with the convicted felons, a first, humanizing them and bringing the invisible people of society into focus. One of the few other artists of the rock ‘n roll era to write to and about jailed prisoners was Johnny Cash, who veered away from rockabilly to country during the late Fifties and released his classic album “Live From Folsom Prison” in 1968.

Hmm, I’m goin’ home one of these days, I’m goin’ home, see my woman whom I love so dear, meanwhile I have to work right here…” “Chain Gang” – Sam Cooke


In 1961, Cooke founded SAR Records with his manager Roy Crain and singer/songwriter J.W. Alexander. It was founded specifically to develop other burgeoning talent, while still recording his own singles and releasing them through RCA. Sam’s interests had expanded from singing and writing songs to producing records and discovering up and coming artists. By 1964, SAR Records’ stable of stars included Billy Preston, Mel Carter, Johnnie Taylor and The Valentinos, a group led by Seventies soul singer Bobby Womack.


Cooke was asked to write a song for a female singer that had appeared on “The Perry Como Show”. He wrote “Cupid” for her, but she didn’t deliver the song to his liking, so he wound up recording it for himself. Besides his perfect delivery, the sound of an arrow hitting a target was also Cooke’s contribution.

Although. “Cupid”, released on May 12, 1961, only made it as high as Number 17 In the pop chart, this love cherub prayer endures today as a timeless classic.

“Cupid, please hear my cry, and let your arrow fly straight to my lover’s heart for me…” – Cupid – Sam Cooke

Towards the end of the disco era in 1980, the Spinners released a version of “Cupid” that was updated to the times. The song succeeds, particularly because the Spinners know how to deliver a flow with style and substance, and despite its dated disco sound, the production remains strong by its timeless melody. This version reached Number Four in Billboard’s Pop chart.


Sam Cooke’s next Top Ten single was released on January 9, 1962 to ride the wave of the “twist” dance craze of the early Sixties. The Twist, a radical dance in its day, was the first in a wave of free-form “touchless” dancing that would cause teenagers’ parents to scratch their heads in wonder. The dance became popular after the release of a 1959 Hank Ballard song called “The Twist”, then re-recorded and released on September 16, 1960 by Chubby Checker. Checker’s version went to Number One, then it was released again two years later and made it to the Number One position again for two weeks starting on January 13, 1962, four days after the release of Cooke’s “Twistin’…”.

“Twistin’ The Night Away” was recorded with the aid of one of the most famous and prolific session musicians of the Sixties. The Wrecking Crew were comprised of various musicians in Los Angeles, California who were always the first call for any recording being done by the leading artists of the day. Names like Nat ‘King’ Cole, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel comprise just a few of the artists who had The Wrecking Crew back them in their classic recordings. Legendary producers such as Phil Spector relied on the Wrecking Crew for almost every recording session they had. The nickname for the revolving short list of top rate musicians came about from drummer Hal Blaine, the story being that at the time, the older generation felt that the youth of the day was going to wreck the music industry.


“He would just sit up and listen to people, he said, ‘Man, listen to the people talk. And that’s where you get your hooks from.’” – Bobby Womack, Seventies soul artist and back up guitarist for Sam Cooke’s live performances, VH1 Behind The Music

Sam Cooke continued his string of hit singles with a song that harkened back to his days as a gospel singer, echoing the sounds of his old group The Soul Stirrers . “Bring It On Home To Me” is a re-working of a 1959 smolderingly slow, classic blues song called “I Want To Go Home” by Charles Brown.

“I wanna go home, ‘cause I feel, feel so all alone, I wanna go home, I wanna go home, oh yes, I wanna go home…” I Want To Go Home – Charles Brown

Cooke re-wrote the lyrics and gave the blues song a gospel feel by adding a call-and-response background vocal. He was deliberately taking a new musical direction to broaden his scope as a versatile singer by reaching back to his gospel beginnings in order to distance himself from the lighter melodies he had been recording since “You Send Me”. After this release, Cooke’s music began to veer a bit closer to James Brown’s style.

“If you ever change your mind about leaving, leaving me behind, oh bring it to me, bring your sweet lovin’, bring it on home to me…” Bring It On Home To Me – Sam Cooke

“Bring It On Home To Me” was released on May 8, 1962 and climbed up to Number 13 in the Billboard Pop chart and Number Two in the R&B chart. It’s one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.


“Havin’ A Party” was the flip-side of “Bring It On Home To Me”. The recording had a party atmosphere because guests had been invited to the session to sing along. Liquor flowed freely. Both songs are accompanied by an 18 piece backing section comprised of violins, violas, cellos, a sax, percussionists, bassists, guitarists and a piano.

After its release, “Havin’ A Party” become the song Cooke would perform as his encore at each live performance, inviting people up on stage to sing along and urging his audience to continue the party.

“The cokes are in the icebox, popcorn’s on the table, me and my baby, we’re out here on the floor… so Mister Mister DJ, keep those records playing, ‘cause I’m having such a good time dancing with my baby…” Havin’ A Party – Sam Cooke

“Havin’ A Party” was a hit separate from “BIOHTM” despite being on the flip side. It went up to Number 17 on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Four on the R&B chart.


Sam Cooke’s next single, “Send Me Some Lovin’” charted exactly the same as “Bring It On Home To Me”, probably because of their slight melodic familiarity, proven when John Lennon recorded a medley of both those very songs for his own 1975 “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album.

Written by John Marascalso and Leo Price, “Send Me Some Lovin’” was making the rounds among artists in the late fifties and sixties, and was subsequently recorded by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, Brenda Lee, Hank Williams, Jr. and Otis Redding.


“Another Saturday Night” was Sam Cooke’s last Top Ten single, and it just made it in at Number Ten in the Spring of 1963. It did, however make it to Number One in the R&B chart. This was another one of those songs that boasts The Wrecking Crew as session musicians, including perpetual Wrecking Crew member, drummer Hal Blaine.

It was a catchy song, with a quasi-Caribbean beat and witty lyrics about a young man with a cashed paycheck in his pocket but nobody to spend it on. The song continued to showcase Cooke’s vocal talents as more than just a soul balladeer.

“Another fella told me he had a sister that looked so fine, instead of being my deliverance, she had a strong resemblance to a cat named Frankenstein ohhhh…. Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody, I have some money ’cause I just got paid, how I wish I had someone to talk to, I’m in awful way…” Another Saturday Night – Sam Cooke

A Seventies soft-rock pioneer who you wouldn’t associate with dance songs, Cat Stevens (now named Yusuf Islam), also had an unlikely hit with this song in late 1974, reaching Number Six in the Hot 100.

Cooke followed up “Another Saturday Night” with two more singles in 1963, “Frankie & Johnny” and “Little Red Rooster”. The former is a song originating from 1899, about the murder of a man by his jealous girlfriend. The latter is a Willie Dixon blues standard. Both singles had reasonable success, flirting under the Pop Top Ten and making it into the R&B Top Ten, but ultimately both of Cooke’s versions of the songs aren’t particularly definitive to the compositions.

Tragedy marred Sam Cooke’s success throughout his career. He survived a car accident that killed his chauffeur and put Lou Rawls in a coma for five days. Two months later, Sam’s wife was killed in another car accident. But in the Summer of 1963, the unthinkable happened. His eighteenth month old son Vincent drowned in his swimming pool. Cooke was devastated and those close to him have said he seemed so despondent that he didn’t want to continue living. Despite his depression, or perhaps because of it, he buried himself back into work and recorded an album filled with positive messages.


Cooke released “Good News” on January 22nd, 1964, at the cusp of the musical revolution brought on by England’s Beatlemania. The first single off his thirteenth and final album was called “Ain’t That Good News”, and was released five weeks later on March 1st. Like many of his classic singles, it stalls just under the Top Ten at Number 11. “Good News” is a bouncy, catchy song with a gospel feel that Cooke delivers with his usual confidence and surprisingly strong voice.


By 1964, Sam Cooke had been a pop star for eight years, and his style was unique enough to run parallel to the changing musical styles heralded by the Beatles that year. Although he continued to release singles, he was becoming more interested in developing new talent through his label, SAR. One of the groups signed to his label was the Valentinos, comprised of brothers Cecil and Bobby Womack, who wrote a rock ‘n’ roll standard made popular by the Rolling Stones that same year called “It’s All Over Now”.

At first, Bobby Womack didn’t want to give the Rolling Stones permission to record the song because he had not heard of the new band from England before. Although the Beatles were a big hit by then, the Stones were still struggling to be heard in America. It was only the Stones’ third single release and it climbed to Number 26 on Billboard’s Pop chart, but made it to Number One in the UK.


One of Sam Cooke’s last singles is also another one of his most memorable. Once again, it just missed entering the Top Ten Pop, peaking at Number 11.

The flipside, “Tennessee Waltz” was a remake of the 1946 country standard, but played in double time. It made it to Number 35 Pop in the Fall 1964. He sang it live on “Shindig” along with Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind”, also sung in a faster tempo.


By 1964, Sam Cooke was deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement, having been an avid follower of black history all his life. “Blowing In The Wind” resonated with him strongly, and he had added it to his tour repertoire. As a response to “Blowing…”, Cooke wrote his most important and beautiful song. With the struggle of the civil rights movement at the forefront of the national eye as well as his own conscience, Sam Cooke recorded “A Change Is Gonna Come” on January 22nd . It was a powerful song and he knew it. Cooke never released it while he was alive.

“He played that song and he asked me what did I think about it. And I told him, I said, ‘Man that song feels eerie, feels like death.” – Bobby Womack



“Sam knew about every after-hour joint in town. I don’t care how big or how small the town was. He would know where to go.” – Leroy Crume, The Soul Stirrers, VH1 Behind The Music

Cooke was out on the evening of December 11th, 1964 in the company of a young lady. Elisa Boyer had accompanied him that night to a local Los Angeles nightclub. According to her testimony, she had repeatedly asked Cooke to take her home after the nightclub, but Cooke took her to a motel instead. Once alone in a room at La Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, he forced her on the bed, then apparently stood up to go to the bathroom. It was at that moment when she escaped with his clothing and called the police from a telephone booth to accuse Cooke of kidnapping her.

Circumstantial evidence and other witnesses’ testimony have cast doubt over Boyer’s explanation of the evening. There is a plausibility that she could have willingly gone to the hotel with the intent of calling the police in order to frame him. But the subsequent events executed by Cooke as a reaction to being left in such a vulnerable situation makes him look responsible for his own unnecessary death.

Apparently under the influence of all the liquor he had consumed that night, Sam Cooke broke into hotel manager’s Bertha Franklin’s office-apartment in a rage once he discovered most of his clothes missing along with Boyer. According to Franklin, he was dressed in only a sports coat and one shoe. Cooke demanded to know where Boyer was, accusing Franklin to be in on the set-up. Franklin told him the girl wasn’t in the office and that she had no idea what he was talking about. Franklin had been on the phone with motel owner Evelyn Carr at the time. Carr confirmed the events as Franklin related it. Later on, Franklin and Carr were given a lie detector test and both passed.

Cooke didn’t accept her answer and assaulted her. Soon, a struggle ensued, with both of them falling to the floor. Freeing herself from his grip, Franklin scrambled for her gun and managed to shoot him in the torso. Cooke managed to say, “Lady, you shot me,” before collapsing. He was 33 years old.

One month after his death, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released as a posthumous single and has since become the anthem of the Sixties’ Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s no telling how far Sam Cooke’s career would have brought him had he lived, but the direction he was taking as a songwriter, singer and record producer indicates that we lost an artist that had still not reached his peak. Sadly, we’ll never know the direction he would have taken pop, soul and rock ‘n’ roll had he lived.

“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die, ’cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky, it’s been a long, a long time coming but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will…” A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

As of this writing, a film is being produced about the life of Sam Cooke based on Peter Guralnik’s book “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke”.





With a high pitched “Come-a, come-a, come-a, come-a, come, come, come-a…”, James “Jimmy” Jones came and went, leaving us a bouncy, happy ditty in 1960 that’s been re-done enough times to warrant a nook in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. There is however, an uncertainty as to Jimmy Jones’ credit as co-writer.

Jones, a showman and performer who started his career tap dancing, is remembered primarily for this song. “Handy Man” made it to Number Three on the R&B Billboard chart and Number Two on the Pop chart in 1960, but other interpretations of this composition have been recorded. Critics and fans alike have argued over which is the best version of “Handy Man”.

The original “Handy Man”, released a year earlier in 1959, was quite different from Jimmy Jones’ pop version. Performed by a group called The Sparks of Rhythm, the record label credits the songwriting to Andrew Barksdale and Charles Merestein. Their version of “Handy Man” was a slow, bluesy tune with a sultry baritone delivery, with back up vocals that mimicked the protagonist’s moves as he describes himself in song. It sounds nothing like Jones’ version, but the lyrics are very similar and so is the structure of the composition.

“Well, hey girls why don’t you gather ‘round and pick up on what I’m putting down, I said hmm baby, can’t you understand, I’m your handy man…” “Handy Man” – The Sparks of Rhythm

Jimmy Jones was with The Sparks of Rhythm back in 1954 when they were still known as the Berliners. Supposedly, he co-wrote “Handy Man” in 1955, apparently with Barksdale and Merenstein although Jones’ name doesn’t appear in the credits. He left the group shortly thereafter. The re-named Sparks of Rhythm, recorded the song without Jones in 1956 and released it in 1959. Later that same year, Jones recorded his own version of the song with Otis Blackwell who reworked it and sped up the tempo, stripping it of its lurking sensuality and replacing it with a fast, bouncy beat that followed Jones’ falsetto, with intermittent whistles that sound like happy birds. Once released, Blackwell and Jones shared songwriting credits this time. The original composers, Barksdale and Merestein, were not given credit.

Del Shannon of “Runaway” fame made a feeble attempt at cashing in on Jimmy Jones’ version of “Handy Man” by recording an identical version of it in 1964, making it only to Number 22 in the Billboard pop chart.

The definitive version of “Handy Man” is believed to be James Taylor’s version, recorded in 1977 and released on his “JT” album. Taylor’s version is a laid back interpretation sung in the typical straightforward, clearly vocalized Taylor manner, and accompanied only by JT’s acoustic. It made it to Number Four in Billboard’s Pop chart and Number One in the Adult Contemporary Chart, earning Taylor his second Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Jimmy Jones died at age 75 in 2012.



“There were NO Hollywood Argyles at the very beginning. I was the only lead singer. Kim Fowley helped me produce it, because we were partners in Maverick Music International/BMI at the time. A little bitty street (Argyle Street) was next door to the studio, so I said, ‘Let’s call ourselves The Hollywood Argyles!’” –Gary Paxton

The only reason this song deserves mention is because it launched the career of someone who was very influential in the development of rock music. Otherwise, this song is not very good. In fact, it’s downright awful.

The Hollywood Argyles were meant to exist only for that single recording session, but after it made it to Number One Pop and Number Two R&B on Billboard, they appeared live on “American Bandstand” in a very creaky, primitive looking re-staging of the song.

The song is based on a popular comic strip character of a caveman called Alley-Oop. Songwriter/producer Kim Fowley and his friend, fellow musician Gary Paxton, booked a studio in Los Angeles along with a few session musicians. Paxton was under contract with another record label under the name Skip and Flip. The duo recorded an unmemorable song called “It Was I”, released in 1959 to moderate success.

“Kim Fowley and I were living in a $15-a-week room in Hollywood… Since I was still under contract (to Brent Records) as ‘Flip,’ I couldn’t put my name on ‘Alley Oop.’ Seeing that the studio was on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. And Argyle Street, I decided on Hollywood Argyles… Other than myself, there were no actual Hollywood Argyles. Everyone else on the track was either a friend or a studio musician who I paid $25 apiece for the session. When ‘Alley Oop’ suddenly took off and people wanted to book us for concerts, there was no such group.” – Gary Paxton

The song’s style is loose and attributed for a very good reason.

“All the participants were hopelessly drunk on cider by the time they recorded the song.” – “Alley-Oop” percussionist Sandy Nelson

The singer, Norm Davis, was paid a grand total of $25 for his contribution as lead vocalist. His delivery gives the impression not that he’s drunk but a little high.

Fowley’s career casts a longer shadow in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history. It was Fowley who began the iconic experience of lighting a flame during rock concerts. On September 13, 1969, Fowley was the emcee at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. There, he persuaded the audience to light matches and lighters to welcome John Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band. The performance was captured on the Lennon album “Live Peace In Toronto”. The band consisted of Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman on bass, Alan White on drums and Yoko Ono.

In the 1970s Fowley discovered and managed the second all girl rock and roll band, The Runaways, the first being a moderately succesful all girl group from the Sixties called The Pleasure Seekers, with future solo artist and songwriter Suzi Quatro.

The sight of girls holding electric guitars and playing drums was totally new for 1975. Although not a big hit in the US, the Runaways were huge in Japan, and their fame launched the career of Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie. An excellent eponymous film was released in 2010 starring Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Jett. Michael Shannon portrays Kim Fowley.

The Runaways’ biggest hit was “Cherry Bomb”, released in 1976. It didn’t chart in the US, having a larger fan base in Europe and Asia. Today, The Runaways and “Cherry Bomb” are both regarded as essential components to the saga that is the history of rock ’n’ roll, and if it wasn’t for Kim Fowley, the co-writer of that silly little “Alley Oop” song that was a big novelty hit in 1960, the Runaways may had never been discovered.



Blues musicians that would greatly influence future rock artists of the Sixties were still coming to the fore and in 1960, Elmore James’ compilation album “Blues After Hours”, was released. Consisting of songs James recorded during the Fifties, a wider public was exposed to his music because of this release. Elmore James songs, most of them sounding similar to each other and based on the same guitar lick he discovered for himself, has been played and copied by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix among others. Both Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix even briefly changed their last name to “James” to honor the musician. George Harrison also mentions him in his song “For You Blue” (1970) off the “Let It Be” album in the middle of John Lennon’s slide guitar solo, a sound that James had pioneered, saying as he laughs, “Elmore James’ got nothing on this baby!”

Originally born as Elmore Brooks, he took on the surname of Joe Willie “Frost” James, the man who moved in with his mother after she had baby Elmore. Elmore James had been playing music since age twelve, when he devised a one string instrument called the diddley bow by stringing up a broom wire to the side of his house. He toured with Robert Johnson, a profoundly influential guitarist and songwriter, when James was still a teenager.

James was born in Mississippi like most of the other legendary blues musicians of that era and worked with his adopted brother Robert Holston in Holston’s electrical shop after Elmore was honorably discharged from World War II. It was in Holston’s shop that James developed his electric sound by tinkering with the electrical parts strewn around the store and coming up with a distorted amplification that nobody had ever heard before. It wasn’t long after that, when he stepped up to the mic one day at Trumpet Records, that he began to earn his nickname, “The King Of The Slide Guitar”.


Thirty-three year old Elmore James met Sonny Boy Williamson II when James signed to Trumpet Records in January 1951. It was after one of the sessions recordings with him when he took his turn at the microphone. Plugging in his electric guitar, he played a lick that today is one of the most recognized and copied blues licks of all time. It was the intro to his version of Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom”(1936). James altered the lyrics, then took Johnson’s acoustic intro and revved it up to what sounds like an electric jolt of energy. It surprised everyone when the song made it into Billboard’s R&B chart at Number Nine in 1952.

It’s not known whether Johnson’s version sold many copies only because back in the 1930s, there was no R&B chart tracking sales of music recorded by black artists. But, like so many other blues songs, Robert Johnson’s “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” also has its origins in earlier blues compositions, tracing the song back to the Sparks Brothers’ “I Believe I’ll Make A Change”, recorded in 1932. Johnson’s version however is now considered to be the earliest boogie rhythm ever recorded.

Elmore’s famous intro may have even inspired Chuck Berry to re-design the lick into his own version. Although there are no similarities between the two licks that would hint at plagiarism, it’s clear just by listening to the intro to “Roll Over Beethoven” that Berry’s lick has roots in the blues and particularly Elmore James’ electric noise.

Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” is considered historic by the American government as well, as it is in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”


Elmore James continued to capitalize on the success of “Dust My Broom” with “I Believe”. Unlike his pal Sonny Boy, James left Trumpet Records right after the release of “DMB”, dodging a bullet when Trumpet went bankrupt and held back paying Williamson. James was still working at his brother’s radio shop when “DMB” made it into the charts. Meteor Records owner Joe Bihari found him there and offered him a chance to play his guitar backing Ike Turner, Tina’s future husband.

“I Believe”, released as a single through Meteor in late 1952, is also “Dust My Broom” but with different lyrics, and rides along with a gentler version of his famous electric guitar lick.

Its b-side “I Held My Baby Last Night” is a slowed down version of “Dust My Broom”, but this time it’s accompanied by sax and piano. James once again uses the same blues lick he practically patented, but veers into a heartfelt guitar solo in the middle.


James next single, “Baby What’s Wrong”, released in early 1953 is a precursor to rock n roll. It rocks and sounds similar to “Shake, Rattle & Roll” by Big Joe Turner (which was then remade by Bill Haley & The Comets both in 1954). You can also hear echoes of Chuck Berry’s signature guitar licks being born from James’ guitar. Once again, the record showcases a wailing sax.

Elmore James played for various record labels throughout his career, but didn’t enter the charts again until 1960, probably because almost all of the songs he recorded sounded very much like one another, particularly because he played that same lick in many of them.


There were notable exceptions such as “Can’t Stop Lovin’”, a driving, jaunty song released in 1953 that helped establish his versatility and mastery of his instrument. It was the second single released through Joe Bihari’s subsidiary label Flair Records, the record company he would continue recording for until 1955.


The opening track of his 1960 collection, “Blues After Hours”, is yet another variation of “Dust My Broom” called “Dust My Blues”. Recorded in 1955 as the last single for Flair Records, James altered the song slightly from the “Broom” recording in order to continue capitalizing on the original song’s success. “Dust My Blues” is considered the definitive re-recording of “Dust My Broom”, particularly due to its updated accompaniment. Upon the song’s UK release in 1964, many British rock groups adapted James’ guitar sound for their own songwriting.


“Standing At The Crossroads” is Elmore James’ re-working of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues”, written in 1936. Adding his trademark electric guitar opening, this song was later recorded and sped up with different lyrics by Cream as the classic “Crossroads” from “Wheels Of Fire” (1968).

“Well I was standin’ at the crossroad, and my baby not around (2×) Well I begin to wonder, ‘Is poor Elmore sinkin’ down’” Crossroad Blues – Elmore James

“You can run, you can run”, tell my friend boy, Willie Brown, run, you can run”, tell my friend boy Willie Brown and I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down…” “Crossroads” – Cream

Cream’s “Crossroads” is the third “Greatest Guitar Song Of All Time” as per Rolling Stone Magazine and is also listed as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll. Just these two citations are enough to place Elmore James as a major influence in the development of rock n roll.


In 1994, Eric Clapton recorded “Blues Before Sunrise” off his “From The Cradle” album and played it with such vigor and earnestness that it practically shows Elmore James how to play it. Starting with James’ trademark guitar lick, the song is timeless.


Clapton gives “It Hurts Me Too” the same treatment, recording his Elmore James rendition of the song for the same “…Cradle” album.

“It Hurts Me Too” is based on a song written by Tampa Red in 1931 called “Things ‘Bout Comin’ My Way”, and there are several variations of the song recorded along the way from different artists, but it was Elmore James’ version, played with an extended slide guitar solo, that has the lyrics that are most familiar today.

“You said you was hurting, you almost lost your mind, now the man you love, he hurts you all the time. But when things go wrong, go wrong with you, it hurts me, too.” It Hurts Me Too – Elmore James

He recorded the song originally in 1957 and it went nowhere, but upon re-recording it in 1963, its posthumous 1965 release did not go unnoticed, and was further covered by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead among many others.


It rained cats and dogs that day in 1959 Chicago, so Elmore James and his band the Broomdusters went back into the recording studio to record a song that was inspired by the downpour. “The Sky Is Crying” was released as a single the following year in 1960 and it reached Number 15 in Billboard’s R&B chart. Over thirty years later, in 1991, “The Sky Is Crying” was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a “Classic of Blues Recordings”.

James’ slide guitar technique in the recording has come up in debate as to how it was produced. Many argue that it was a particular guitar, a different amplifier or a new recording technique. Regardless, “The Sky Is Crying” is a classic blueprint of a blues song tailor-made for rock ‘n’ roll, and has been played and cherished by the best musicians that came out of the Sixties.

Sonny Boy Williamson II took “The Sky Is Crying” and gave it a country blues feel, singing lead and on harmonica with Matt “Guitar” Murphy on acoustic in 1963.

Eric Clapton has been performing “The Sky Is Crying” since his days with the Yardbirds in the early Sixties.

The Allman Brothers Band played “The Sky Is Crying” at brother Duane Allman’s funeral after being killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971. They’ve included the song in their repertoire ever since.

B.B. King introduced Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1985 as the “new blood” before they tackled the song with Albert King (no relation) also in residence, whose version Vaughan always performed.


Elmore James adds his “Dust My Broom” guitar lick in all the right places in Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Hold Out”, his second single of 1960 released after ‘The Sky Is Crying”. Dixon wrote it after he spoke to his wife long distance on the phone.

“I just talked to my baby, on the telephone, she said “Stop what you’re doin’, and come on home”. I can’t hold out, I can’t hold out too long, I get a real good feelin’, talkin’ to you on the phone.” I Can’t Hold Out – Willie Dixon

James’ guitar and Dixon’s distinctive songwriting style made a good pairing.


Elmore James had reached his command over his craft by this time and took a song written in 1929 by singer/guitarist Hambone Willie Newbern and made it his own and at the same time turned it into a standard rock ‘n’ roll song.

Since then, James’ faster version has been subsequently covered the the likes of the Yardbirds, Cream, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, The Grateful Dead and an alternate version by Bob Dylan found on his “Modern Times” album.


Released in late 1960, “Knockin’ At Your Door” is along the same vein as the epitome of a classic rock song – not just blues or rock ‘n’ roll, but rock. You can hear James in many songs played from the Allman Brothers to George Thorogood and all those other blues loving rock legends, the usual suspects, I’ve already mentioned time and again. This song is a shining example of rock perfection, complete with a sexy saxophone solo and an Elmore James guitar that stands the test of time and rivals everything that has come after him.


Despite the fact that Elmore James was hitting his creative apogee, his songs did not enter any of the national Billboard charts. “Done Somebody Wrong”, his final single release of 1960 with its irresistible slow hiccup beat and possessed guitar playing, made a perfect bed for James’ heartfelt vocal. Each song being released during this period was a blueprint for rock artists like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. They and more British talents or, in Hendrix’ case, those who learned their chops in the British isles, imported a love for the blues back into the United States, from whence it came.


Arguably Elmore James’ most famous song, if just for its title. “Shake Your Moneymaker” was derived from snippets of different songs that inspired James, particularly the tune “Roll Your Moneymaker” recorded in 1958 by Shakey Jake Harris, who in turn showcased his variation of James’ famous guitar lick. The term “moneymaker” for one’s ass was further put to use when Elmore James recorded his version in the summer of 1961.

What makes the song distinctively James’ is the rhythm and slide guitar, carrying the listener along in uninterrupted waves of an exquisite collection of sounds to form one.

Back in 1968, an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac featuring its founders and namesakes, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie recorded a very decent version of the classic tune.

The resurrection of rock in 1990 was heralded in by the Black Crowes, and one of their albums was even called “Shake Your Moneymaker”. They played the song often on tour and at one point, back in the last decade of the 20th century, they were even joined in by Zep’s Jimmy Page, back when his hair was still black.

It’s said that the Door’s first track, “Break On Through”, off their eponymous debut album in 1967, is derived from Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker”.


“Stranger Blues”, Elmore James’ last single released in 1962, was a precursor to the most wicked guitar lick ever played. Its repetitive lick is menacing and an obvious inspiration to classic licks like the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”.

Elmore James died suddenly on May 24, 1963 at age 45 of a heart attack. He left behind a legacy of music that will remember him as long as the blues and rock are appreciated.


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