And there is still a lot of gospel in his secular songs.
Yes, most of Sam’s songs had gospel overtones, and it’s the same with Aretha Franklin. Sam would write a lot of his songs at my mom’s house, so I would know the songs and would be able help out with the words.
Did you see him write ‘Chain Gang’?
Yes, when he wrote ‘Chain Gang’, we were travelling down south and that is where the chain gangs were. You could drive along the road and see them. We would talk to the guys and of course, they knew who Sam was.
You do a Sam Cooke song with Ray Charles, ‘That’s Where It’s At’, on the new album.
Yes. The minute Ray heard that song, he said, ‘That’s the one.’ When we finished, he said, ‘Oh boy. I bet ol’Sam would be happy about this.’
Much of your work has been in the jazz field.
Yes, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie and they all impressed on me the fact that variety was the key to longevity in show business. If you can do more than one thing, you will last longer because you are going to burn out on what you are doing, and that makes sense. I learnt a lot of songs when I started recording. I learnt about 300 standards as well as the new songs as I always knew that the standards would be the saving grace for me. I added songs like ‘When I Fall In Love’ and ‘Unforgettable’ to my repertoire and it keeps growing.
How did the gospel audience feel when Sam Cooke went from gospel to pop?
Well, there were numerous artists who had made the transition before Sam Cooke, but no one was really aware of them. It was a big thing because Sam was so well known. He had recorded with the Soul Stirrers and his voice was unique. They soon realised that he wasn’t being blasphemous and so they accepted him doing pop songs. He wasn’t singing lowdown dirty blues. (Laughs)
Did you know Otis Redding?
Yes, I knew Otis when he was singing gospel. I used his band once when I was at a record convention and my band had missed the flight. I thought Otis was great. I loved the way he did ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. Some songs lend themselves to that treatment and others would be destroyed. You know, there is a certain feel which goes with a song and if you stray too far from that, you lose the meat of the song. Look at how many ways they have done ‘Misty’ but that song is so strong that it will stand up in all circumstances.
What’s the story on ‘Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing’?
I was going through some romantic problems, and if you want to make a good record about love, fall out with your old lady! (Laughs) The timing was right. Everything at the time was heavy metal, acid rock, really ear-shattering stuff, and I came along with this which was soothing to listen to. I came through with something like Nat ‘King’ Cole. It went over real good and we got nominated for a Grammy.