Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story 1959-1965 Out On Vinyl For The First Time

Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story 1959-1965 Out On Vinyl For The First Time
Collection of Recordings From Seminal Black-Owned Label Includes Works By The Soul Stirrers, Johnnie Taylor, Billy Preston, The Valentinos Featuring Bobby Womack, & Company Co-Founder Sam Cooke


Originally released by ABKCO as a 2CD  set in 1994, Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story 1959-1965 is finally being made available on vinyl as a 4LP  set on February 9. This collection gathers significant recordings of SAR Records – the label Sam Cooke co-founded, produced the majority of records for, and was instrumental in operating before his untimely death in December 1964. Groundbreaking artists such as The Soul Stirrers, Johnnie Taylor, Billy Preston, and Bobby Womack’s group The Valentinos are all featured, in addition to Sam himself. “The whole SAR Records Story is infused with Sam Cooke’s rapturous sense of how sacred gospel and sexual soul flow together, unbroken,” stated Milo Miles on NPR’s Fresh Air upon the set’s initial release almost three decades ago.

In an era where black-owned labels were a rarity, Los Angeles-based SAR Records was founded at almost exactly the same time as Motown, its Detroit counterpart. SAR was established in 1959 by Sam Cooke, music publisher J.W. Alexander, and S. Roy Crain, Cooke’s road manager and founder of gospel group The Soul Stirrers. The acronymous name standing for Sam Alex Roy, SAR sought to keep gospel music alive while simultaneously crossing over to pop audiences in the secular world. LPs 1 and 2 of the set focus on the former, while LPs 3 and 4 encompass the latter. From choosing talent, to writing a great number of songs, to producing, SAR was entirely the fulfillment of Cooke’s vision on a musical/creative level. The superstar singer, who had already crossed over from the gospel world himself, tirelessly coached the vocalists during SAR recording sessions, emphasizing diction. His methods are heard throughout the collection, as he is heard speaking to artists between takes.

Formed in 1926 and having already gone through many iterations including a run in the ‘50s with pre-solo career Sam Cooke, The Soul Stirrers, now including Cooke’s replacement Johnnie Taylor, recorded songs for SAR in Chicago such as “Wade In The Water” and “Stand By Me Father.” By 1960, Johnnie Taylor had also left for a solo career and was replaced by Jimmie Outler, with both acts remaining on the label. Taylor, who is best known for his 1968 Stax hit “Who’s Making Love,” performs “Keep On Loving You,” “Rome (Wasn’t Built In A Day)” and “You Can Run (But You Can’t Hide)” among other selections by him on SAR Records Story.

Johnnie Morisette was a blues singer from Mobile, AL nicknamed “Two Voice” for his ability to alternate between his natural voice and a falsetto. Morisette’s cover of Albert King’s “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong” features a solo by Johnny “Guitar” Watson, long before his own 1977 R&B hit “A Real Mother For Ya.” Johnnie Morisette’s biggest hit “Meet Me at the Twistin’ Place” (1962) was written by Sam Cooke in the midst of the dance craze, before being re-worked and re-recorded by its composer as “Meet Me At Mary’s Place” two years later.

“Put Me Down Easy” was written by Sam Cooke for his younger brother L.C. Cooke, who was also a SAR artist. It has recently gained notoriety with its inclusion in the 2020 Regina King-directed film One Night In Miami…, which depicts Leslie Odom Jr. as the elder Cooke singing the tune. The Simms Twins, who sang backup on Sam Cooke’s “Cupid,” had a minor hit for SAR with “Soothe Me,” which was covered in ’66 by Sam & Dave. They cited brothers Bobbie and Kenny Simms as a big influence on their own call-and-response vocal style.

As a 16-year-old keyboard prodigy, Billy Preston briefly recorded for SAR sub-label Derby Records. “Greazee Part I & II,” an instrumental from 1963 — more than a half-decade before he worked with The Beatles on the Get Back sessions that became Let It Be — is included on SAR Records Story. Cincinnatian soul singer Mel Carter was also on the Derby imprint in ’63, releasing “When A Boy Falls In Love” before finding greater success a few years later with the Top 10 hit “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” for Imperial Records.

Cleveland gospel group The Womack Brothers, consisting of five siblings including singer/guitarist Bobby (who would go onto R&B chart-topping success with “Lookin’ For a Love”), recorded for SAR before Sam re-christened them The Valentinos. This secular incarnation of the group had a minor hit with “It’s All Over Now,” co-written by Bobby Womack and his sister-in-law Shirley Womack  , which concludes SAR Records Story. The Rolling Stones soon thereafter covered “It’s All Over Now,” scoring their first of many UK #1 hits.

While Sam Cooke himself was never signed to his own label, he obtained the rights to unreleased masters recorded under Keen Records in place of unpaid royalties. These tracks were put out on SAR and are included on this box set, along with a demo version of his #1 1957 hit “You Send Me.”

Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story 1959-1965 contains comprehensive liner notes written by music historian Peter Guralnick, who has since gone on to author Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, published in 2005. In Guralnick’s summation of SAR, he writes that the label “sought a way to broaden the appeal of gospel music while introducing the techniques of gospel into the world of pop.”

Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story 1959-1965 4LP vinyl track listing:

Record One

Side One

1) Sam Cooke & Paul Foster – Wade In The Water (Chatter)

2) The Soul Stirrers – Wade In The Water

3) The Soul Stirrers – I’m A Pilgrim

4) The Soul Stirrers – Praying Ground

5) Sam Cooke & His Gospel Paraders – Somebody (Chatter)

6) R.H. Harris & His Gospel Paraders – Somebody

7) R.H. Harris & His Gospel Paraders – Sometimes

8) The Soul Stirrers – Amazing Grace

Side Two

1) R.H. Harris & His Gospel Paraders – Pass Me Not

2) Sam Cooke, The Soul Stirrers & Clif White – Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep (Chatter)

3) The Soul Stirrers – Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep

4) The Soul Stirrers – Since I Met The Savior

5) The Soul Stirrers – God Is Standing By

6) Sam Cooke, S.R. Crain & The Soul Stirrers – Lead Me To Calvary (Rehearsal)

7) The Soul Stirrers – Listen To The Angels Sing

8) The Soul Stirrers – Don’t Leave Me Alone

Record Two

Side Three

1) The Soul Stirrers – Stand By Me Father

2) The Soul Stirrers – Jesus Be A Fence Around Me

3) The Soul Stirrers – Lead Me Jesus

4) The Soul Stirrers – Free At Last

5) Sam Cooke & Jimmie Outler – Looking Back (Chatter)

6) The Soul Stirrers – Looking Back

7) R.H. Harris & His Gospel Paraders – Born Again

Side Four

1) R.H. Harris & His Gospel Paraders – Wait On Jesus

2) The Soul Stirrers – Time Brings About A Change

3) The Soul Stirrers – Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone

4) Sam Cooke & Curtis Womack – Yield Not To Temptation (Chatter)

5) The Womack Brothers – Yield Not To Temptation

6) The Womack Brothers – Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray

7) The Womack Brothers – Somewhere There’s A God

8) Sam Cooke – That’s Heaven To Me

Record Three

Side Five

1) Sam Cooke – You Send Me (Demo)

2) Sam Cooke – Just For You

3) Sam Cooke – Somewhere There’s A Girl

4) Sam Cooke – You Were Made For Me

5) Mel Carter – When A Boy Falls In Love

6) The Simms Twins – Soothe Me

7) Sam Cooke & The Simms Twins – That’s Where It’s At (Chatter)

8) The Simms Twins – That’s Where It’s At

9) The Valentinos – Everybody Wants To Fall In Love

Side Six

1) Sam Cooke & Johnnie Taylor – Baby, We’ve Got Love (Chatter)

2) Johnnie Taylor – Baby, We’ve Got Love

3) The Valentinos – Baby, Lots Of Luck

4) L.C. Cooke – Put Me Down Easy

5) Johnnie Taylor – Rome (Wasn’t Built In A Day)

6) Billy Preston – Greazee Part I & II

Record Four

Side Seven

1) The Simms Twins – I Gopher You

2) Sam Cooke & The Simms Twins – I Gopher You (Chatter)

3) Johnnie Morisette – You’re Always On My Mind

4) Johnnie Taylor – I Need Lots Of Love

5) Johnnie Morisette – Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong

6) Johnnie Morisette – Black Night

7) Johnnie Morisette – Damper

8) Johnnie Taylor – You Can Run (But You Can’t Hide)

9) Sam Cooke & Background Vocalists – Meet Me At The Twisting Place (Chatter)

10) Johnnie Morisette – Meet Me At The Twisting Place

Side Eight

1) The Simms Twins – Good Good Loving

2) L.C. Cooke – The Wobble

3) Sam Cooke & The Valentinos – Lookin’ For A Love (Chatter)

4) The Valentinos – Lookin’ For A Love

5) The Valentinos – I’ve Got Love For You

6) Sam Cooke & Bobby Womack – I’ve Got A Girl (Chatter)

7) The Valentinos – I’ve Got A Girl

8) The Valentinos – Tired Of Living In The Country

9) The Valentinos – It’s All Over Now