I’m gonna keep this short Andy; look at all these mother f*ckers- dressin up for another let down on a Saturday night- when we ain’t got nobody right? Halloween’s tomorrow night, what a bunch of idiots! Speakin’ of Saturday nights, let me tell you something about Sam Cooke. – Ray Tarte
By Ray Tarte | Transcribed by Andy Whorehall
There’s this walk-through restaurant on North Ave. near Oak Park, Chicago, called Johnny’s Beef. A great place to get a combo beef/sausage sandwich with peppers, tamales, fries, chocalate shake & a lemon iced granita. If that’s not your thing (Vegetarians think there’s a heaven), try the grilled egg & pepper sandwich. It’s one of the few Chicago places where the staff naturally offends you if you don’t know how to order without having to sit down for the experience; juicy? Yeah, make it juicy. Anyone who has been there knows what I’m saying. It’s worth the assault.
A random Wednesday night in Oak Park, IL I wandered over to the Johnny’s, waited. Lines were prone to exit the doors and string up the block- especially in the summer. I’m waiting, standing still. I hear Joey, overweight & mustached, sitting in his Register chair get loud, I said, you want it Juicy? The young man with his wife/girlfriend/mistress, says, Juicy what?
It was pretty normal to go there and wait for Joey to snap, always worth the trip even if you weren’t hungry.
Joey snaps, Juicy beef, juicy fries, juicy pepper, juicy-juicy man come on get with the program!
I’m already satisfied, moments like these are golden. Watching other humans get berated in public is beautiful, unscripted comedy.
The woman chimes in (they always do when they shouldn’t in situations like this); You don’t have to be rude about it sir!
Joey looks to his right at his fry guy and laughs, Lady, I wasn’t talkin to you now was I? Keep movin on.
The man, defending his anchor weight as any good captain will do, Please don’t talk to her like that.
Joey laughs, These people waiting don’t have time for you to argue with me- keep movin on.
The man, now told to exit pretty much without having his order understood, processed, or paid for politely said, Excuse me?
Joey, without hesitation- like he’s scripted this and acted the part before, You heard me, who am I? Sam Cooke? I am. I just told you to keep movin on. You want me to sing it to you?
The man and woman left. It was then that I knew Joey, the overweight register guard / ordering conductor, was brilliant. In his perfect delivery was a mystery story script I found something new to learn from. I ordered my typical to-go bag, scarfed it down in my green buick and headed back home, parked my car and walked to Val Halla’s record store, Oak Park, right off the L’s green line. Walked in and asked, Got any Sam Cooke? Something with movin on, bring it on home, anything? The part-time, well-versed, record store clerk, who used to pass me dat bootlegs from random, well-known,Chicago area bands says, Best question all night, let’s see. Takes me over to the tiny soul area and hands me a CD copy of 1985’s reissue of Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963. I said, any studio releases I should start with first? He says, not yet, those are being reissued with remastered audio, just wait. So I did.
I lived with Cooke’s ‘Harlem’ performance for a few more years. A performance best heard remastered first off, or on vinyl. It breathes now as it must have almost 50 years ago, sermon-esque, scary, exciting, jubilant. It’s pretty easy to hear in Cooke’s smoky, live performances how many after him ripped him off. A preacher meets the devil rock n’ roll sermon, in song and performance. Look at Bruce Springsteen with the E-Street Band’s live performances for a great mock example, he’s made a career out of the rock n’ roll sermon.
In 2002, I picked up Keep Movin’ On, a Sam Cooke compilation ABCKO put out. By now, I couldn’t wait for the remasters having perused through what I could with patience. There’s the hits, obviously, like the lonely bounce of Another Saturday Night and civil rights anthem-Bob Dylan inspired, A Change is Gonna Come. More notable hits are missing like the monumental, Bring it On Home To Me. The one song that makes this an essential purchase for any one wandering into Sam Cooke’s genre-defying catalog is the title song of this compilation, a previously unreleased studio song called, Keep Movin’ On. Not many notes were taken on this composition; but was planned for a record Cooke was preparing right before he was found murdered in a Los Angeles motel room. December 11, 1964. Sam was 33.
Keep Movin’ On was written after the drowning death of his infant son in 1963. Sam never quite recovered emotionally, having always wanted a son. Like most obstacles in any artist’s life, Sam Cooke put slow emotional recovery attempts into songs, focusing on the blues, society, our country’s problems through himself. The power in Keep Movin’ On could be attributed to anyone, any obstacle. It speaks from a place unified, wherever that is he sings of- but it’s not this place, it’s still not this place called Earth.
Reserve your questionable moments to this song’s rewards. It’s a prayer unlike any prayer religious folks have written or preach about and aloud. The admittance of defeat, lesson learned, and what ifs if you can just live each day as best a person as you can, cause all of this ends at some point and how you live and love, fight and forgive, well, that’s all you can do and keep movin on. Maybe be remembered by living life’s simple rules. The song is humbling and haunting. Ironically, Sam Cooke never finished the record this was recorded to be on. Technically this song sat unreleased for almost 40 years. More importantly, his homicide is still unsolved.
What Sam Cooke left behind as an artist is unparalleled in today’s music business climate. No one does as Sam did; mixing gospel, soul, pop, R&B, country, New Orleans jazz, Chicago blues, folk….man, he was the real Chairman of the Board- not Frank Sinatra. Sam wrote his own tunes for Christ’s sake, what did Frank & Elvis do? They sang other peoples songs, well, but they didn’t compose ’em. Sam called the shots from Chicago to the rest of the world in such a very short amount of time when civil rights, America, music, culture- the world was changing so fast.
He took his vision of gospel to pop, musically and lyrically, in a very short amount of recorded time (1957-1964); a genius composer with a midwestern work ethic. Mix in the fact he was an entrepreneur in a business at a time that was set up to take from an artist, rather than nurture. He called the shots. If you ask me who music’s King really is too, it’s not Elvis and it’s not Michael Jackson. Sam Cooke was, is, and will always be the King. If God has a voice, it’s Sam Cooke. Man, that voice.
How Keep Movin’ On sat so long in a vault is another real mystery. What else is in that vault? What else you got in there Sam? Are they ever gonna solve your young life’s own mystery? The only answers we have, you gave us right here:
Thank you for the tip, Joey- but I’ve always been bothered & never had the right moment or situation to ask; how did you hear that song before the rest of us?
I’ll take a juicy combo, peppers, small frys, small icy, small chocolate, 1 tamale and an unreleased side of Sam Cooke.
RT | AW | SMS