THE OTHER GEORGIA PEACH
He was this heavy-set white guy from Thomaston, Georgia who stood 6' 2", took a lot of heat for his wigged-out hairdo and love for Black music, was known to send entire tables flying through expensive picture windows when he performed (at the Happy Medium in Chicago was where this supposedly happened), was probably one of the few artists in the sixties to become well-known without having a hit record of any kind (ah, the power of television), and the quick way of explaining him to people is as "the white James Brown". This was Wayne Cochran, who along with the Teenbeats, Louis Prima, the Treniers, and quite a few others (not too many, mind you) brought rock 'n' soul into the lounges and supper clubs of the world (without watering it down, which was an achievement at a time when rock was still considered "kid" music that you didn't grow up with).
In the sixties, every town had at least one eight- or nine-member R&B band (in the tradition of the fictional Otis Day & the Knights from the movie Animal House) to shake 'em down at frat parties. Most times, they were just regionally popular without ever hitting the big time, like Chicago's own Baby Huey & the Babysitters, or Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts, from Texas. What set Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders apart was that, through some chain of circumstances, they broke loose from the Miami spring-break circuit right clear through to the big-money saloons, playing the same places as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Rocktober hero Sammy Davis, Jr. At a time when Black soul acts who played that circuit like Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, the Temptations, and (especially) the Supremes were reduced, in their heyday, to doing stuff along the lines of "There's No Business Like Show Business," the fact that Cochran could get away with performing maximum R&B for a blue-haired audience is significant. By all accounts, the older showbiz crowd got a more subdued Cochran while the rock-slanted clubs got the Wayne Cochran known for getting so excited he'd rip the paneling out from the ceilings and walls, or even worse, grabbing a handful of beer bottles and sending them flying in all directions. Cochran & co. kept playing the club circuit straight through 1981, playing places as diverse as the Black entertainment mecca the Apollo in New York, all the way through to the more showbiz-oriented Flamingo in Las Vegas, and even finding time to play the hippie folk/rock club the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Incredible road dues any way you cut it.
He'd started out in church, but it really got rolling when, in true punk fashion, he got kicked out of high school for refusing to cut that huge white pompadour of his (supposedly inspired by Johnny & Edgar Winter, then fronting a group called It & Them). Between that and his family's lowly social status on the Georgia social ladder, Cochran felt an empathy for the Black struggle. (As he told Hit Parader magazine in 1970, "I ain't a white black, but Otis (Redding) once told me that deep down I was as black as he was.") After he restrung an old beat-up guitar his dad found in the trash, he formed his first band, the Rockin' Capris, who broke up when two-fourths of the band felt the pull of the British Invasion. Wayne and his bassist went to Louisiana to find some decent R&B musicians and then, renamed Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders, hit the road with a vengeance, winding up in Miami. Jackie Gleason, of all people (the same guy who founded a Committee for Decency to keep the likes of ol' penis-flashing Jim Morrison out of Miami for good. Then again, Ol' Ralphie-boy also put Elvis on TV head-to-toe long before Ed Sullivan's famous waist up show, so he wasn't really an enemy of sleazy Rock n Roll.), caught one of his Miami gigs and gave him exposure on his TV show. Even though Cochran and his group would continue to criss-cross the country on a regular basis, Miami served as a homebase from here on in.
Between the gigs and the TV appearances, sixties and seventies audiences knew who he was. Even though he recorded fairly extensively, there were no hit records to really leave his mark---just four albums and countless singles. His first few sides, up through 1965, ran the gamut from near-rockabilly to semi-teen idol pop. His first single, on the Scottie label, was a lewd, grinding number called "The Coo," a new dance that he talks/sings his way through. He's come close to a hit on a few occasions, with "Goin' Back To Miami" (Mercury, 1967), later covered by Cochran disciples the Blues Brothers, and "Last Kiss"(Galico, later reissued on King, 1964, and probably better known to you through the catchphrase "Where Oh Where Can My Baby Be?"----the actual title is only mentioned once). The latter disc was a bigger hit for J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers, and is probably one of the few instances where the hit version sounds rawer than the original. Cochran's version, contrary to what he would later record, is basic white teen pop from the early sixties. None of the grit that made his R&B voice sound like "no. 3 gauge sandpaper" (as he was referred to in the original Rolling Stone Record Guide), every note sung clear, every hair in place, and that female chorus behind him actually sounds fairly soulful. Now compare that to the psycho hit version by Wilson that followed it. Cochran's version was going big in a few isolated markets, so the legendary Texas producer Major Bill Smith hurriedly issued Wilson's version onto the market. A trembling adolescent-sounding voice recorded in what sounds like a basement is what he got, and then on top of that the chorusing females of Cochran's original were replaced by this lone wobbly operatic voice, hollering at the top of her lungs and threatening to crack at any time. The whole thing sounds like it took $1.98 and two Wheaties box tops to record, yet this was the hit version. (By the by, Cochran wrote this teenage death item, so I'm sure he got quite a bit of cool change from the proceedings).
After 1965, he pursued the R&B trip, and four albums resulted. The best by far was the first, Wayne Cochran!, recorded for Chess in 1967 and released early the following year. The cover alone is half the show: plastered all over the back cover and inner spread are shots of Cochran live and lowdown---rolling on the floor, chewing up the mike, showing off his kingsized cufflinks. And you should see the clean-cut fratties and their dates checking out Cochran's wild R&B show! While one of the color photos has Cochran, pompadour and all, working out in a garish red suit (his white shirt has red polka dots), in the same photo the C.C. Riders are wearing normal black Blues Bros.-type suits----and capes! Can't forget about the liner notes by Jackie Gleason. The music inside more than lives up to the cover, although somebody, sensing that Cochran probably worked better as a had-to-be-there live act, planted some girls in the studio to cheer him on and do some call-and-response on his version of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." Rhythm & Blues standards, like "Little Bitty Pretty One" and "You Can't Judge A Book By Its' Cover" appear side by side with little known gems like "Big City Woman" (written by Eddie Hinton, himself a mighty good blue-eyed soul belter). One song, "Get Down With It," has Cochran shouting Rhythm & Blues cliches over a soul-a-go-go beat----"let's do it night & day to funky, funky Broadway," "if you don't feel like lettin' (your hair) down, TAKE IT OFF!!!HA-HAAAA!!!"----and two songs, credited to Abner (no relation to Phil) Spector, openly ripped off "Turn On Your Love Light" and "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." (This was "Some-A Your Sweet Love" and "When My Baby Cries", respectively). In used record stores, this is possibly the easiest to find of his LP's, as it hung in the lower reaches of Billboard's album chart for a time.
The next two albums, done for the King label, were some very miserable footnotes. By now it was 1970, and Cochran was wearing a headband and growing out his pomp. He was filming a cameo in the biker movie C.C. & Company (changed from C.C. Ryder), and the covers of the next couple of albums sported some curious motorcycle motifs. The only good thing about Alive & Well & Living....In A Bitch Of A World is the title, as well as a pretty good remake of "C.C. Rider." The rest is mainstream pop-rock of the lowest order, and the cover featured blurred shots of Cochran on his motorbike. This wasn't nearly as horrid as the all-instrumental album on King's jazz subsidary that followed it (High & Ridin', on Bethlehem). The arrangement was supposed to be similar to James Brown's---vocals on one label, instros on the other---and although Cochran was said to be proficient on guitar and keyboards, the tracks sounded less like funky Booker T.-type instros, but rather like uptempo elevator music for an unfinished session at which the vocalist never showed. Cochran might have been the white James Brown, but the C.C. Riders sure weren't the JB's! And for the second album in a row, the cover---a bird's eye view of Wayne and the Riders on a hill on their newly-acquired motorsickles, physically forming a giant V-styled peace sign---really eats!
Cochran saved face with his final LP, on Epic (Cochran, 1972), where the horn-heavy ensemble come to terms with not only the jazz-rock movement it indirectly spawned (Blood, Sweat, and Tears immediately come to mind when hearing this LP) but the emerging funk movement as well (one throwaway cut, about a minute long, has Cochran pointlessly explaining that the C.C. Riders music is pure "funk, F-U-N-an' a big ole K" while the band aimlessly jams in the background). Like I said, seasoned road veterans the C.C. Riders (a mostly different, and younger, crew than on the previous albums) sure weren't the JB's, so that takes care of the funk conceit. By now they were closer in spirit to Blood, Sweat and Tears, or Chicago, since the horn lines were much more busy than in the past (many a schlocky lounge act joined the rock revolution thanks to those guys). In addition, Cochran's hair trailed straight down his back, and with his cowboy hat he now physically resembled Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd. Maybe this was when they temporarily dumped the staid lounge circuit to play the hipper Troubadour in Los Angeles. While you'd think, from the above remarks, that the album sort of has an overbearing "getting with the kids and their heavy underground beat" vibe, in truth the songs work very well despite themselves. It's not a bad used-record-store-find.
After the Epic LP, Cochran continued to do the lounge-and-talk-show circuit that he'd done for years, not really recording anymore. Like Little Richard, personal conflicts between performing and doing the Lord's work arose. One story has him deep-sixing his normal act to do some storefront preaching to one casino audience, even cutting his hair and growing a beard. In 1979, he had a straight acting role on an episode of a short-lived detective show called The Duke. Before the title character can bust into the ghetto tenement door wanting to know the whereabouts of some old so-and-so, Cochran and a roomful of latter-day redneck types are getting into a hot bluegrass jam. Cochran, almost unrecognizable, had dark brown hair and a moustache, the pompadour totally gone. By 1981, he'd dumped the rock-and-soul road life totally, and that summer he'd appear on the Tomorrow show, with Little Richard, to discuss his conversion. His hair, back to white again, was now worn in a conservative Charlie Rich style, and he and Richard did a duet on the gospel standard "One Day At A Time." (Supposedly David Letterman's bandleader Paul Shaffer got him to do one last secular performance on Letterman's show. Anybody seen it? Better still, anybody got a tape?) Unlike Richard, Cochran has kept a low profile since, and as recently as 1988-89 was said to be preaching on public-access cable TV in Miami.
Now's a great time to be obscure, because even the most untalented nobody who had a record that went to #99 on the Hot 100 in 1991 has a cult following and a box set. So where's Cochran's comp? In 1988, Rhino reissued "Goin' Back To Miami" on volume six of their Soul Shots comps (he's right there on the front cover, and that particular volume is devoted to white soul singers), and that's it as far as an in-print legacy goes. (It was issued on vinyl, but for now, only the cassette remains in print.) During their relatively brief recording career, the Blues Brothers responded to criticisms that their blues wasn't authentic enough by claiming they were more like an old-time soul revue---like Wayne Cochran's. (He's namechecked in the Blues Brothers' self-titled movie---their former manager, Maury Sline, asks Jake and Elwood to ditch their simple, FBI-like black suits and wear blue jeans like Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders.) The man is what legends are made of, and the records that he left behind (the good ones, that is!) present a pretty good southern-soul shouter, even without the flashy visuals.
(NOTE: In Chicago, there's a black club on 75th and King Drive called the Other Place, and it's one of those historical clubs with never-seen celebrities' pictures on the wall---everybody from Redd Foxx to R&B singer Maxine Brown to Tony Bennett. One of the pictures on the wall---they all seem to date from the fifties and early sixties, by the way---is of Cochran and a barechested Jackie Wilson cutting up backstage! Of course, the last time I was there it was covered up by a sign announcing the house rules, but it's easy to lift that sign up to check out an incredible slice of rock & roll history.)