If you’re looking for something really good to read on the beach this winter in Florida or by the fireplace in North Dakota, I’ve got a suggestion. "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke" by Peter Guralnick is the story of the cross-over r&b and pop singer.
I’ve been waiting for it to be published for weeks. It doesn’t disappoint.
Sam Cooke wrote and recorded pop classics in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s like "You Send Me," "Another Saturday Night" and "Twistin’ The Night Away."
The first one hundred fifty or so pages of the book are among the most interesting dealing with Cooke’s days as a gospel singer with groups like the Soul Stirrers. It turns out Cooke was no angel. He had several illegitimate children even before he became a pop music star. In the fifties anyway, gospel singers were no choirboys.
Set against the backdrop of the civil rights years, the book is peppered with stories about other entertainers like James Brown, Artheta Franklin and Little Richard. And later, boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and the Beatles.
Sam Cooke was talented, classy and ambitious. He wanted the show business status of someone like Sammy Davis, Jr. but he never quite got it.
His death is the stuff of a bad movie. After a night of drinking, nearly naked, he was shot to death by the female manager of a motel when he apparently broke into her apartment, enraged that the woman he had taken to the motel had left with his money and most of his clothes.
Peter Guralnick is also the author if the definitive Elvis biographies "Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley" and "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley."
He’s also written one of my favorite books about the music business, "Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom."
Everything Peter Guralnick writes is meticulously researched and beautifully written. He’s not just writing about pop culture, he’s writing history.