Recording Sam Cooke’s "Bring It on Home to Me"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by John B, Sep 9, 2003.

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  1. John B

    John B Once Blue Gort,<br>now just blue. Thread Starter

    Toronto, Canada
    sam cooke was one of the most talented and versatile singers and songwriters of the ’50s and early ’60s, a performer with seemingly limitless potential before he was cut down in the prime of his career. He was one of the first black singers to attract a large white audience–I should know; as a 9-year-old kid growing up in a lily-white New York suburb, I bought the single of "Cupid." Yet he also influenced the entire generation of soul singers who followed him, and he never lost his African American constituency. In some ways, cooke is the link between the pleasing, middle-of-the-road stylings of Nat King Cole and the gritty, gospel-tinged soul of Otis Redding, who idolized cooke and even covered a few of his songs, most notably "Shake."

    cooke was born in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1931 but raised in Chicago, where his father was a minister. All of young sam’s early musical training was connected to the church. By the age of 9, he and three of his siblings were performing together in a group called the Singing Children. When he hit his teens he joined a gospel group called the Highway QC’s, who were coached by a singer from one of the top gospel groups of the day, the Soul Stirrers’ R.B. Robinson. cooke stayed with the QC’s until 1950, when the 20-year-old was suddenly tapped by Robinson to join the Soul Stirrers to replace their immensely popular lead singer Rebert Harris, who quit because he was no longer comfortable singing sacred music exclusively. So great was the shadow cast by Harris that it took awhile for cooke to find his own voice, so to speak, with the Soul Stirrers, but after he was fully broken into the group, cooke became a bona fide star attraction. The Soul Stirrers with cooke recorded a number of sides for Specialty Records in the early and mid-’50s, and the group sold enough records and filled big enough theaters that by the mid-’50s various manager and record company types were sniffing around cooke’s door, wondering if he was interested in making secular records. Ray Charles had done it and become successful, and cooke wasn’t nearly as overtly church in his delivery as Brother Ray.

    cooke’s first secular single, "Lovable," was a rewrite of one of the many songs he penned for the Soul Stirrers, so no one was fooled when it came out under the name Dale Cook in early 1957. Many in the gospel community were aghast that cooke would record a pop song, and though he continued to tour with the Soul Stirrers awhile longer, he had in effect made the jump away from gospel by mid-year. He was signed to Keen Records, and his first single for that fledgling label, "You Send Me," shot straight to Number One and put sam cooke on the map permanently. With his easygoing, velvety tenor, all-American good looks and catchy songs (nearly all of which he wrote himself), cooke couldn’t miss. In a country where music was still largely segregated, cooke managed to appeal equally to whites and blacks. There was still always a touch of gospel in his delivery, but mainly he wrote sweet, lightweight pop tunes that were completely likable on their own merits, but also nonthreatening to people who didn’t care for "colored music" or the other great "threat" to white society, rock ’n’ roll.

    In 1960, with several hits already under his belt, cooke signed with RCA Records, and that marks the beginning of his fruitful association with staff producers Hugo & Luigi (Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore) and engineer Al Schmitt, recipient of this year’s TEC Awards Hall of Fame honor. Schmitt, who was already a ten-year veteran, says, "sam was the best. He was the easiest person I ever worked with. He and [Henry] Mancini. Just a fabulous guy. We became really good friends. Everybody loved him. And he was a total professional, too."

    By the time Hugo & Luigi and Schmitt began working with cooke, the elements of his sound were fairly well fixed. Rene Hall wrote many of the arrangements, which were often lush, string-filled affairs. Once cooke began recording at RCA in Hollywood, Schmitt says, "Luigi ended up doing most of the production because Hugo didn’t fly, and he lived in New York. If he was going to come, he’d have to take the train out, so we didn’t see that much of him."

    Schmitt believes that some of his own famously calm studio demeanor comes from working with Hugo & Luigi: "One of the things about them is they were very patient about things. Luigi was this great guy, with a wonderful sense of humor, and he was very relaxed. He always knew it was going to get done, and he didn’t panic. He wasn’t a screamer, he didn’t curse. Unfortunately, some of the producers were like that–they were just maniacs. I worked on dates where a .32 automatic would be sitting on the producer’s desk. And working with sam was cool because he was so relaxed most of the time, so there wasn’t any tension. Everybody had a job to do and knew what they were doing and did it well, and that was it."

    Though Schmitt notes that Hugo & Luigi would make some suggestions from the control room, "Once we got our sounds, sam pretty much produced himself. He wrote most of the songs, he knew what he wanted. He had a vision in his head of the way these things should be and that was pretty much it. He worked fast in the studio. We’d do three and sometimes even four songs in three hours, and then we’d usually just choose the best take and that was the record."

    In the early ’60s, RCA’s main studio was equipped with a custom console that had 16 inputs–"four groups of four," Schmitt says. "But there was no EQ on the board and no limiters at all. I had one limiter that I’d patch in on something if I wanted it. So since I didn’t have much limiting or EQ, I had to rely on microphone technique to get the sounds I wanted."

    For cooke’s vocal, Schmitt always used a tube Neumann U47. "For drums back then it would vary; sometimes just one or two mics; three at the most. That Altec ‘salt-shaker’ was a mic a lot of us out here in California used at that point. It was good as an overhead. I also remember using a little 8-ball kind of microphone on the kick–I don’t even remember what it was; it was a cheap $25 mic in those days. But then you could buy a Telefunken for $300! When I was in New York we used a lot of tube mics, and when I first arrived in California I was surprised that not a lot of tube microphones were being used. But I used them all the time; as many as I could scrape. It took awhile for people out here to get away from dynamic mics."

    Typical of most artists of that day, cooke’s recording sessions were cut completely live, including lead vocals and strings. "RCA was a great room for strings," Schmitt notes. "There was almost never any overdubbing with sam, unless he was going to do his own backing vocal or something. And when I did ‘Bring It on Home,’ that was Lou Rawls with sam and that was live; they sang it together."

    Lou Rawls and sam cooke already had a long friendship before teaming up for the 1962 hit, "Bring It on Home to Me." Rawls had been a singer in the gospel group the Pilgrim Travelers at the same time cooke was in the Soul Stirrers, and after cooke became a solo sensation, Rawls sometimes toured with him. In 1958, the two were involved in an automobile accident that nearly killed Rawls–he was in a coma for five days. cooke even briefly managed Rawls, whose own rise to stardom began right after "Bring It on Home to Me."

    "Lou was great," Schmitt comments. "That was just before he busted wide open. Just the other day I was talking to Nick Venet, who produced a lot of Lou’s early stuff [on Capitol]. In those days, he would come by with Lou to sam’s sessions and I’d go up with sam and we’d visit him when he was working with Lou or Bobby Darin or whoever. We were a couple of blocks away from Capitol and everybody hung out; it was real close. We all had the same bars we went to and so forth, so there was a real camaraderie in the recording community at that point.

    "We all used to spend a lot of time listening to the top records of the day; what was happening, who was doing what. I used to listen to a lot of Columbia Records just to see how they were approaching their records. ‘Let’s see what they’re doing with Johnny Mathis.’ That sort of thing. I’d talk to their engineers and ask what they were using to get a particular sound I liked, and they would do the same with me. Nobody was keeping any secrets back then."

    In those days, there weren’t many secrets to keep, the recording gear was so minimal. There were no real "effects" to speak of. RCA had five echo chambers and some EMT plates, and then there were a few tricks engineers could do using tape delay. Schmitt remembers "Bring It on Home to Me" as being a very straightforward session with cooke’s band and live strings.

    Musically, the song actually represented a slight departure for cooke in the early ’60s, a step back toward his gospel roots after a series of more pop-oriented confections. The blend between Rawls and cooke is positively electrifying, particularly when they get down to trading soulful yeahs. Amazingly enough, the song was cut the same day another cooke smash was recorded–"Having a Party," which was much more typical of cooke’s teen-oriented oeuvre.

    According to Cliff White, who along with Bobby Womack (before he became famous), played guitar in cooke’s band, after the group had completed 13 takes of "Having a Party," there was a break and then, "sam brought in a couple of jugs, you know. And these guys got full of that yocky-dock, man! And by the time they got around to doing ["Bring It on Home to Me"], I think that was one of the things that gave it its flavor."

    The single "Having a Party" b/w "Bring It on Home to Me" was released in the spring of 1962, and both songs made it to the Top 20–the former to Number 17, the latter to Number 13. Significantly, "Bring It on Home to Me" was a smash on R&B radio, rocketing up to Number 2 and staying there for a month. (It was never quite able to unseat Ray Charles’ "I Can’t Stop Loving You," which was Number One for ten weeks.)

    cooke went on to have a number of charting tunes the next two years, including "Send Me Some Lovin’," "Another Saturday Night," "Little Red Rooster" and "Good Times," but his escalating career was tragically ended when he was shot to death by the night manager of a Hollywood motel where he’d had a liaison with a young woman who stole his pants and vanished–cooke apparently ranted at the manager about the whereabouts of the woman so aggressively that the manager, fearing for her life, fired a shot at cooke in what she believed was self-defense. A sordid end to an incandescent life. More than 200,000 showed up for his funeral and filed by his body. As often happens, the hits kept coming for cooke posthumously–in 1965, "Shake" made it into the Top 10, and his socially conscious anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come" made it to the Top Ten of the R&B charts (Number 31 on the pop charts). And in the years since his death cooke has become one more pop icon in the crowded pantheon–forever smiling and handsome and unquestionably cool.

    by Blair Jackson
    Adam9 and kennyluc1 like this.
  2. Mark

    Mark I Am Gort, Hear Me Roar Staff

    Truly one of the all time classics. Another great read.
  3. John B

    John B Once Blue Gort,<br>now just blue. Thread Starter

    Toronto, Canada
    You're quick Mark!
  4. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Another fine article, Johnny B. Cooke was really something, probably the most talented single artist of his time, with the possible exception of Roy Orbison. Amazing how his stuff has held up so nicely over the years.

  5. John B

    John B Once Blue Gort,<br>now just blue. Thread Starter

    Toronto, Canada
    A bold statement Ed!

    He was indeed great. My favorite version of "Bring it on Home to Me" is not the one featured here but the live recording from "Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963". He was backed by King Curtis and his band and they smoke
    JuanTCB likes this.
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Al Schmitt was working in the studio next door to mine last week at Capitol. He is truly a cool dude. He is one of those guys who has an artistic aura around them all the time. He's friendly but everyone else keeps a respectful distance from him, as do I. He's a friggin' living engineering legend!
  7. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    Thanks John!

    Steve, do you know what years Al Schmitt worked at United? I remember seeing his name on some of the DCC Ray Charles releases.
  8. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Well, no. But he did MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY WESTERN MUSIC VOLUME 2 (the United side) and a bunch of other stuff.
  9. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    Thanks anyway Steve.
  10. Aaron R

    Aaron R New Member


    Please can someone help.

    I am doing a music course at University and I am writing an essay on Sam Cooke.
    I have found this amazing article but unfortunately I cant use text I've found from a forum.

    Does anyone know the source of this article? I have searched the internet but can't find it :(

    Any help would be much appreciated


  11. crimpies

    crimpies Forum Resident

    Aaron R likes this.
  12. McLover

    McLover Forum Resident

    East TN
    The Negro Spiritual call and response between Sam and Lou Rawls makes this record what it is. It's a return back to Sam's Gospel roots and his traditional sound. More soulful and harder edged, yet smooth. And so well recorded, the church comes to you.
  13. W.B.

    W.B. The Collector's Collector

    New York, NY, USA
    Wasn't "Bring It On Home to Me" recorded at the grounds of the old NBC Radio Sunset & Vine studios, which was RCA's first "Music Center of the World" before they moved to their proverbial "sonic disaster" at Sunset off Ivar?
  14. Aaron R

    Aaron R New Member

    Thanks a lot this is awesome.

    If anyone has any more info on Sam Cooke (especially 'A Change Is Gonna Come') that would be great.

    Thanks :)
  15. jtaylor

    jtaylor Forum Resident

  16. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    NS, Canada
  17. Adam9

    Adam9 Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    What a great two-sided single: "Having a Party" b/w "Bring It on Home to Me"!
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