Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Nate's Inflatable Bar II Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke
Nate and the dog sit in the otherwise empty bar. At the end of the bar is a TV set with a fire and brimstone evangelist in a white suit and a shit-eating grin making out he’s healing people. Nate looks at the screen for a few seconds, shakes his head, reaches up, gets a Jim Beam bottle, hefts it in his hand, looks at the label, then hurls it the full length of the room into the screen. There is a satisfying crash and a puff of smoke, then the screen heals up… but the preacher has gone.
“Dog, I’ve gotta find that remote,” he grumbles.
A 1965, convertible red Ferrari broadsides in the gravel outside Nate’s bar. A man wearing only an overcoat and one brown shoe bursts through the doors. He glances at Nate then races down to the far end of the bar, looking for somebody, something.
“Where is she?” he screams. “That whore took all my money, took all my clothes and then got me shot. Look at me. I’m dead. Two hours ago I’m in a business meeting; I’m gonna expand my record company; get some other artists, do some production, start running some tours and now I’m dead! What the hell happened?”
Radio: “This is WNIB Radio. We are receiving reports that Sam Cooke the singer was shot dead at the Hacienda Motel in South Central Los Angeles at around 3 o’clock this morning. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting and his body has been taken to the morgue. There are no further details of the circumstances of the shooting at this time. Cooke who was born in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississipi, hometown to other famous musicians: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner and John Lee Hooker. He was the fifth child of eight and the son of a preacher. He was raised in Chicago where his father and his brothers and sisters used to perform gospel songs as the Reverend Cook and His Singing Children. Later he had small scale success with the Soul Stirrers before his performance of You Send Me on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957 which saw the record rise to number one in the Billboard chart the following morning…. In 1963 Cooke’s son Vincent tragically drowned in the family’s backyard pool. It seems that another tragedy has struck the Cooke family tonight and our thoughts go out to his wife Barbara and their children.
More on this story later”.
Nate: “What the hell did happen Sam?”
“That crazy broad picks me up at Martoni’s on the Strip. She’s beautiful, long hair, kind of Asian looking. Turns out she’s half British and half Chinese. I’d seen her before. She was hanging out with the guys from the band. She started comin’ on to me, wanted me to take her to that Rat Pack mob joint down in Santa Monica - PJ’s . We drove down, had a few drinks there then I catch her talkin’ to some other guy, acting fresh and shootin’ looks at me over his shoulder. I figure she’s trying to make me jealous so I tell this guy to leave her alone. He wants to fight me and I see her smiling, getting off on the situation; two men fighting over her. The guy gives up and goes and then she tells me she wants to take me to a motel… not any motel mind, she wants to go to this specific place where she knows people, miles away down in south central. Why? I dunno exactly but she’s insistin’, keeps chewin’ on my ear as we’re drivin’ along and telling me what she’s gonna do to me when we get there.”

“You were taking a bit of a risk headin’ down to Watts in that car Sam”, says Nate.
“Well it sure turned out that way Nate,” he says. Sam thinks then looks puzzled. “How d’ye know about my car?” Sam looks over his shoulder. The whole front wall of the bar has melted and there is the red Ferrari clear as day with the driver’s door wide open. Sam shakes his head bewildered and then turns back to the bar. The wall closes up behind him
“Yeah, it was a helluva risk but she told me we might have trouble getting a room in Hollywood because I’m black and she was kind of white lookin’. She said this place would take anybody. It says ‘Everybody Welcome’ on a sign outside. That means blacks are welcome. It’s a code.
One time I tried to get into a Holiday Inn in Shreveport Louisiana and the manager turned me and my buddies away. We argued with him and then we went outside and shouted a bit and honked the car horn. Next thing I know we’ve been arrested for disturbing the peace; my wife Barbara, my brother and another guy. That got me so riled. There I am, a major artist with number one records and appearances on TV, the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show… everywhere. I play to thousands of people, sell millions of records and yet they treat me like I’m a shoeshine boy. I make more money in a week than that chump hotel manager makes in a year and he treats me like I should be round the back taking out the garbage rather that trying to book a room in his rat hole hotel. Later on I wrote A Change is Gonna Come out of frustration, just to get it off my chest”.
Suddenly, there is a load of motorcycle noise, the bar door opens and about a hundred Hells Angels troop in and stand up at the bar, occupy all the seats and start playing pool. On goes the jukebox and Sam’s song You Send Me is being played. Miraculously several staff appear from nowhere. They serve drinks to the Angels. Nate and Sam don’t move; they just keep talking. It seems like they are in slow motion while the Angels are moving at high speed. As suddenly as they appear, they leave. The staff evaporates. Nate and Sam are alone again as if nothing had just happened.
“When we get to the Ha-ci-enda, this snotty desk clerk makes me sign in as Mr. And Mrs. Sam Cooke. We go into the room and she’s all lovey-dovey, takes off her clothes and I take off mine. I’m just a red blooded boy, you know that Nate?”
“I guess you’ve had your share Sam”.
“That’s for sure”, he sniggers. Then she insists I take a shower so I go to the bathroom. I’m only a couple of minutes but when I get back into the room, she’s gone and so has all my money and my clothes ‘cept for my coat and one shoe. She’s taken the other one. What the hell did she take one shoe for? They were two-hundred-dollar brogues. What’s the point of taking one shoe? And why take the clothes? My pants and shorts, a silk shirt, my jacket. She’s got my money, my American Express card, my Diners. I had about a thousand bucks in my wallet. Why does she take the clothes?
“I guess to stop you followin’ her Sam”.
“Unless there was someone else there….”
“Yeah, you may be right. But it didn’t work that way. I put on my coat and went after her. I drove around to the front office to look for her. I was sure she knew that dame that worked there; sure she was in the backroom there. The door was locked so I was pounding on the glass, sayin’ ‘Let me in. Where’s the girl?’ She was on the ‘phone and shouted at me to go away and that I should call the police. I got crazy and beat the door in. She started screamin’ and shoutin’ and we just sort of tussled for a bit. She tried to bite me. Then she got this little gun out and shot me. Three maybe four times. Why did she do that? Four times. That seems like a bit of an over reaction. I guess maybe she thought I was gonna rape her or somethin’ where I was pretty much as naked as a jaybird. Why would I want to rape a fifty-five year-old motel clerk who looked like a man? I’m Sam Cooke. I don’t need to pay for it and I don’t need to rape nobody. Anyhow, it all gets a bit hazy then and I don’t remember much. I recall somebody was hittin’ me round the head but I couldn’t make out if it was her hitting me or somebody else but they sure did hit me hard. She was a big woman and I felt like my head was gonna come off my shoulders. And that’s about it. Here I am shot dead and half naked”. He looks down. “I can’t stand here like this”.
“You don’t need clothes in here Sam… Would it make it any easier if I took mine clothes off?”
“Thank you Nate but no”.
“Would you like a drink Sam?”
“I don’t think I should Nate; I’ve got a bit of a hangover and I’m driving”.
“I don’t think that matters now Sam. I’ve got somebody to drive you home”.
“Thank you Nate; I’ll have a whisky, Chivas, straight up”.
Radio: “This is WNIB radio: Police attending the scene of the shooting of Sam Cooke at the Hacienda Motel in South Central Los Angeles early this morning say that they discovered the singer’s red Ferrari convertible in the motel car park with the engine running and the driver’s door wide open. On the front seat were a whisky bottle and a Muslim prayer book. It is reported that Cooke had arrived at the motel in the small hours of December 11th with a young lady whom he had met in a restaurant in Hollywood where he had been having dinner with business associates. The young lady alleges that Cooke had tried to rape her and that she had escaped from the motel and called the police. The manager of the motel Bertha Franklin says that Cooke burst into her office and attacked her and that she had shot the singer in self-defence. It is not thought that the singer was armed”.
“You know that’s been my downfall,” says Sam ruefully.
Nate: “What has, the Chivas?”
Sam looks down at his glass. “Mmm, that too. I’ve been drinking a bottle a day recently. I gotta ease up. No I mean women, easy women, party girls, whores”.
Nate: “You just said you never paid for it”.
“Well maybe once or twice. My producer Bumps Blackwell once said that I would walk through a good woman to get to a whore”.
Nate: “What’s it about then; the drinking and the skirt chasing?”
“I don’t rightly know, except that it’s all available. It’s all out there. I used to watch Sinatra and Dean Martin, the whole Rat Pack putting them away, in Martino’s or when I ran into them in Vegas, so I started to drink the same drinks. I wanted to be a cool cat like them. And they were always surrounded by these beautiful women…
“But I never had to learn how to get girls like I had to learn how to drink. There’d be girls throwing themselves at me wherever I went. It got so I’d get fed up with it and it used to irritate me. Then later in the evening after I’d had a couple of drinks I’d be bird doggin’ around the place trying to find the best lookin’ women in the room.
“This could all be a put up job you know; the girl, the motel clerk. One is a prostitute thief and the other has a gun and shoots me four times. There are plenty of people who’d like to see Sam Cooke out of the way. I met up with some of them recently. People who’d like to get control of my businesses, get their hands on my songs; people who don’t like the idea of a black man having his own record company; people who think they had everything to do with my success and that I’m just some face-on-a-stick singer who should do as I’m told, that I was just some hired hand; people who think I should give them my wage packet, just hand over my record royalties and touch my forelock and bow and call them Massa. There’s a lot of green eye and hatred in this business you know Nate and whenever there’s some success, everyone thinks they are entitled to a piece of the action; they want money for nothing… my money”.
“You know it could have been one of those black power groups that did for me. They ain’t never forgiven me for writing songs for white audiences, for wearing a cardigan when I did the Tonight Show dressed like Perry Como. But I never wanted to be a gospel or blues singer. I done my time singing church songs. I wanted big hits, to be a big star, not slogging around the chitlin’ circuit. I wanted to be like Nat King Cole… Sammy Davis Junior. I wanted to be on TV and maybe make movies like Elvis… only better than Elvis”.
“This is embarrassing Nate; me and a two-dollar hooker in a three-dollar motel; getting shot with a toy gun and beaten to death with a broomstick. It ain’t in the script. I’ve got a house in the Hollywood Hills. I’m the first black man ever to own a record company. I’ve got powerful friends. I’m a friend of Cassius Clay. When he beat Sonny Liston and became the world heavyweight champion, Cassius hauled me up to the ring and introduced me to the crowd and the cameras as 'the world's greatest rock and roll singer.' And you know what Jerry Wexler said about me? He said, I was ‘the best singer who ever lived, no contest'”.
Nate: “Yeah, but didn’t Jerry also say that you had sold out when you recorded You Send Me… that you’d forgotten where you came from?”
“Well thanks for reminding me Nate. He may have thought that but what did he make of Chain Gang? Did he think that was a whitey’s pop song? I don’t reckon it’s that. When we were touring down in Georgia one time, we saw this huge red dust field. There were all these black men in white clothes alongside the road. It was a colourful sight… a kind of beautiful sight. Then we saw the chains around the ankles of the black men and we saw the shotguns all being carried by men in uniforms… white men in uniforms. After that I wrote Chain Gang. Does that sound like a white boys pop song to you Nate? A couple of years later I wrote A Change is Gonna Come; that sound white?”
Nate stands quiet.
Sam isn’t finished. “Bring it on Home to Me. Does that sound white?”
Bring it on Home to Me…” Nate muses. “That’ll be a big hit for The Animals next year Sam”.
“Next year? The Animals? Ain’t they just had a big hit with House of the Rising Sun?”
“That’s right Sam. The songs will live on Sam… for ever”.
This is one version of the Sam Cooke story.
Clarksdale sits near the junction of Highway 61 - the road immortalised by Bob Dylan - and Highway 49. This is the famous crossroads where, according to the legend, Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for mastery of the blues. This is the same junction where blues singer Bessie Smith died in a car crash.
Sam was born in Clarksdale but the family moved to Chicago where they became a singing act. He joined the Soul Stirrers when he was 19 and the group played over 1,000 concerts coast to coast and made dozens of records. But Sam wanted to cross over from what he regarded as ‘race music’ to the ‘chess board’ crowds of blacks and whites that Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley were used to. And the music didn’t really fit in with his lifestyle for despite the gospel songs, Sam had an unholy problem; he was a serial skirt-chaser. Aged only 22, Sam had three pregnant girlfriends, two in Chicago and one in Cleveland. The three children were all born in a five-week period and paternity lawsuits would plague him for the rest of his life. Sam didn’t marry any of the mothers; instead he married a singer from Texas called Dee Dee Mowhawk but she called a halt a couple of years later because of Sam’s wandering eye. A year after that he married Barbara who he had been seeing for some time. Soon he would be cheating on her too.
These attractions would prove to be fatal.
Sam Cooke achieved stardom in 1957 with his first pop single You Send Me. Unlike Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the others he admired, Sam wrote his hits: Cupid, Wonderful World, Bring It On Home to Me, Chain Gang, Change is Gonna Come, Shake, Only Sixteen and Another Saturday Night. He also produced much of his own work. The most successful black recording artist of his time, he was also a masterful businessman who owned his own recording, publishing and production companies, blazing a trail for the likes of Puff Daddy and Berry Gordy. He helped launch the careers of Billy Preston, Lou Rawls and Bobby Womack. He had taken on a new manager, the legendary Allen Klein who would later manage the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Just before Sam died he had signed an historic half million-dollar deal with RCA and had only weeks prior to the shooting picked up a cheque for $100,000 from them. He saw himself more and more writing and producing for other artists and had his eyes on a future career in movies. Sadly his plans were unrealised.
Sam had become involved in the civil rights movement and had become interested in the Islamic religion influenced by his friend Cassius Clay who had just converted and become Muhammed Ali.
There is nobody remaining who could tell the real story of what happened in the early hours of December 11th 1964 at the Hacienda Motel. Sam was shot dead; Elisa Boyer the girl who accused him of rape has subsequently died, as has Bertha Franklin, the motel manager who shot him. The truth went to those graves with them. All there is left is Sam’s wonderful songs, a whole load of questions and some rich material for conspiracy theorists. Was it a date gone horribly wrong or a drunken rape that ended in a shooting? Was Elisa Boyer an innocent victim or a prostitute on the make? Which of them was it that wanted to go to that sleazy hot-sheets motel in the first place? What did Boyer think was going to happen there, a couple of drinks, a chat and maybe a kiss goodnight before a quiet night sleeping in single beds? How could she not know that sex was on the menu? If Sam was planning a rape, why did he sign the hotel register using his real name? Why when he was signing that register didn’t Elisa, who had been sitting in the Ferrari, make any attempt to get away? Why when she walked into the motel office didn’t she tell Bertha Franklin she was being kidnapped?
We only have Boyer’s version of what happened in the bedroom. She says Sam stripped her, groped her and then went to the bathroom. She told police she picked up her clothes and some of his and fled. Again there are more questions than answers. If he was kidnapping her and intended rape, why did he leave her alone? Did he only go to the bathroom because she insisted he take a shower, a trick she had used before when she had robbed other ‘clients’?
Did she think she could stop him chasing her if she took his clothes? His shirt, shoes and pants? He was left with only a coat and one shoe.
We have Franklin’s version of what happened in the office and also the evidence of Edith Card, the motel owner who was on the telephone to Franklin when Sam burst through the door and Edith says she heard the whole incident take place. But again there are questions. Where was Boyer when Sam burst through the office door? Hiding out the back or up the road phoning the cops as she claims? If she was merely robbing Sam why did she stop to call the police? Could there have been somebody else in the office, someone with murderous intent? Why was Sam shot with a .22 calibre handgun when Bertha Franklin only had a permit for a .32 handgun? Why did no other guests of the motel hear or see the altercation? Wouldn’t a half naked singing star driving around the building in a bright red Ferrari shouting and beating in doors attract just a little attention?
The conspiracy theories surrounding the killing of Sam Cooke just will not go away. Could the killing have been a mob hit arranged by shadowy figures jealous of Sam’s success and angry because Sam wouldn’t part with any shares in his businesses or songs? The police report said that as well as the fatal bullet wound, Sam had a lump on his head and some scratches to his face. However, the singer Etta James states in her book Rage to Survive, that she had seen Cooke’s body in the morgue and that the singer had been so badly beaten that his head was almost decapitated from his shoulders; his hands had been crushed and his nose was broken. These injuries do not seem commensurate with a couple of swipes with a broom handle.
“I couldn’t comment on the behaviour of my fellow police officers, however this would seem to suggest that the LAPD somehow colluded with a person or persons unknown to conceal the truth from the coroner’s jury for reasons unknown.
The Cooke family believes that Sam was enticed to the motel and that an accomplice of Boyer shot him in the motel room but botched the job and when Sam fled to the office, the accomplice followed him and either shot him or beat him to death there. Franklin was either bribed or threatened into silence.
Sam’s wife Barbara turned up at his funeral on the arm of Bobby Womack. Bobby was wearing one of Sam’s suits as was his brother. A mere three months after the funeral her and Bobby were married. No will was ever found despite several friends of Sam’s reporting that they were sure he had made one, and his widow inherited all of his estate.
Elisa Boyer, the girl in the motel room was arrested for prostitution a month after Cooke's death after agreeing by phone to have sex with an undercover cop for $40. In 1979, she was found guilty of the second-degree murder of her boyfriend.
Sam’s body was taken to Chicago for a wake.
There were 200 cars in the procession. Some reports say there were 80,000 mourners there; almost double the number that attended the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King. A few days later, Sam’s body was returned to Los Angeles where there was another highly emotional service that featured singing by Lou Rawls, Bobby Bland Arthur Lee Simpkins, the Staples Singers and Ray Charles. Mowtown stars Mary Johnson and Smokey Robinson were in the crowd alongside Muhammed Ali who stated that if Sam had been a white singer, ‘if he had been someone like Elvis Presley or one of the Beatles, the FBI would still be investigating and someone would be in jail.’ Philadelphia DJ and civil rights activist Georgie Woods alleged that the LAPD were in possession of facts that had been kept from the coroner.
Allen Klein, Sam’s manager went to Los Angeles convinced that someone had killed Sam for his money. It was well known that Sam always carried plenty of cash. Klein hired a private detective who reported that he was convinced that Elisa Boyer, was a ‘professional roller’ who usually worked with an accomplice. Sam’s wife Barbara asked Allen Klein to discontinue his enquiries.
When an interviewer once asked Rod Stewart how he was doing, Stewart replied that he was not so great — Sam Cooke was still dead.

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