BOOK STEW REVIEW: ‘Dream Boogie: The Triumph Of Sam Cooke’ by Peter Guralnick

Below is the latest Book Stew Review from Eileen MacDougall, the host of the 80+ episodes of Book Stew, a 30-minute video and podcast devoted to writing in all forms, featuring authors, playwrights, voice artists, and journalists.

‘Dream Boogie: The Triumph Of Sam Cooke‘ by Peter Guralnick

The excellent film One Night in Miami brought me to this biography. Even beyond Sam Cooke’s riveting performance and smooth yet passionate voice, his overriding personality traits were his thirst for knowledge and the genial and loving care he took of his family and friends (with the exception of his wife Barbara, whose voice is loud in this mix).

His roots in and his love of gospel are demonstrated by his reluctance to “cross over” to the pop world, and he always kept a toe in the gospel group universe. Mainstream success meant twisting and muting his church-roots style to please the while record-buying public.

He found success, but found little pleasure in it, missing his roots and the mesmerized audiences (especially women and girls) who threw themselves at him as he sang to each of them as if they were two alone in the room.

The racism that followed Sam and his early groups — the Highway QC Singers, the Soul Stirrers — especially down South, almost broke him and nearly got him killed. Every major artist of his time, and many minor ones — Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Mahalia Jackson, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Solomon Burke — crossed Sam’s path and all were enchanted by his unmatched charisma, generosity, command of his vocal gifts, and his allover instincts, intelligence, and goodness.

But there was a kernel of yearning in Sam that no one could quite touch, that he was never able to find in owning a nice home in a rich white neighborhood in fancy cars, in #1 hits, even in his children — but the fervent response from his devoted audiences probably came closest to reaching it.

The author’s recounting of the creation of Cooke’s varied hits — “We’re Havin’ A Party,” “Chain Gang,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “Bring It On Home To Me,” “It’s All Over Now,” “You Send Me,” “(What a) Wonderful World,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Cupid,” and the immortal “A Change Gonna Come” — alone is worth the price of admission. This is a masterful effort.

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