The notion of anyone being billed as "the white James Brown
" seems faintly ridiculous, but that description was actually one of the less ludicrous aspects of Wayne Cochran's outrageous career in the '60s and '70s. Born and raised in Georgia, Cochran began his musical career in the '50s as a rockabilly howler (he wrote and recorded the original version of "Last Kiss" before J. Frank Wilson
took it to the national pop charts), but he had a powerful taste for rhythm & blues, and in the early '60s he evolved into the most over-the-top blue-eyed soul singer the world has ever seen. Fronting his road band the C.C. Riders (which featured as many as 15 musicians), flanked by gyrating female backup singers, and sporting a platinum blond pompadour roughly the size of a loaf of Wonder Bread, Cochran was a showman willing to do anything to impress an audience (that included tossing furniture around the room at some gigs), and he developed a sizable fan following in his adopted hometown of Miami, Florida, which included comedy legend Jackie Gleason
, who featured Cochran on his TV variety show. Largely through word of mouth, Cochran grew into a cult hero, playing over 300 dates a year and knocking out audiences with his frantic stage show, and in time became one of the biggest draws in Las Vegas. Despite his success as a live attraction, Cochran never scored anything close to a hit record beyond a few minor regional successes, and as a consequence little of his back catalog has made it to CD. Goin' Back to Miami: The Soul Sides 1965-1970
is the most comprehensive collection of Cochran's '60s sides to date, featuring the cream of his singles for Mercury, Chess, and King Records (his final album, 1972's Cochran!
, doesn't make the cut for some reason). These 26 songs confirm Cochran was a good but not great vocalist, but he had energy, spirit, and swagger to spare, and "Goin' Back to Miami" is some sort of classic (enough so that the Blues Brothers
covered it), and his covers of "Get Ready," "Think," "Harlem Shuffle," and "Little Bitty Pretty One" get over on the sheer lunatic energy of Cochran and his crew. Goin' Back to Miami
also includes a bonus disc featuring an unreleased Wayne Cochran live album, cut straight to two-track in the studio in 1970, and though there's by a bit too much between-song patter, it's the best evidence extant of what Cochran's barnstorming nightclub show was like. Alec Palao
's liner notes offer an in-depth history of Cochran's career, including plentiful quotes from the White Knight of Soul himself (who is now the pastor of a church in Hialeah, Florida), and this is a sincere and suitably wild tribute to a one-of-a-kind performer. Get that frying pan on the fire, cook up a little fatback grease, and crank this up good and loud -- that's just what Wayne deserves.