“Bring It on Home to Me”, like its A-side, “Having a Party”, was written while Cooke was on tour for Henry Wynn, a promoter who had a company called Supersonic Attractions and he promoted all over the South and in the Midwest and other places. The song was initially offered to fellow singer Dee Clark, who turned it down. While in Atlanta, Cooke called co-producer Luigi Creatore and pitched this song, as well as “Having A Party” (which was the A-side of the single that was released); he was sold and booked an immediate recording session in Los Angeles scheduled for two weeks later. The session’s mood “matched the title” of the song, according to biographer Peter Guralnick, as many friends had been invited. Recording engineer Al Schmitt recalled:
It was a very happy session. Everybody was just having a ball. We were getting people out there [on the floor], and some of the outtakes were hilarious, there was so much ad lib that went on.
René Hall assembled an eighteen-piece backing group, “composed of six violins, two violas, two cellos, and a sax, plus a seven-piece rhythm section that included two percussionists, two bassists, two guitars, and a piano.”
The song is a significant reworking of Charles Brown’s 1959 single “I Want to Go Home”, and it retains the gospel flavor and call-and-response format; the song differs significantly in that its refrain (“Bring it to me, bring your sweet lovin’, bring it on home to me”) is overtly secular. The song was the first serious nod to his gospel roots (“[He] felt that he needed more weight, that that light shit wouldn’t sustain him,” said J.W. Alexander). The song was aiming for a sound similar to Cooke’s former group, the Soul Stirrers. The original, unreleased first take includes vocals from Lou Rawls, J.W. Alexander, Fred Smith (former assistant A&R rep at Keen Records), and “probably” the Sims Twins. A second, final take leaves Lou Rawls as the only echoing voice.
Songwriter and performer Sam Cooke was one of the most popular and influential black singers to emerge in the late ’50s, successfully to synthesize a blend of gospel music and secular themes and provided the early foundation of soul music. Cooke’s pure, clear vocals were widely imitated, and his suave, sophisticated image set the style of soul crooners for the next decade. The son of a minister, he started his career as a child singing Gospel music. As he found his way through life and recording, he transitioned to a more secular, soul sound for which he faced difficulty. He became a profound influence on some major artists with his mixture of that Gospel background and taking into the mainstream of popular music.
Cooke was born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1931. In 1957 he added an “e” at the end of his name to signify a new start to his life. He was the fifth of eight children of the Rev. Charles Cook, a minister in the Church of Christ (Holiness). By age nine Sam, with his two sisters, formed a gospel trio the Singing Children. As a teenager, he was a member of the nationally famous Highway Q.C.’s (so named because their home base was the Highway Baptist Church) with his younger brother, L.C. Cook. It was here that they sang with all the leading gospel groups of the day when they passed through Chicago. In 1951, at the age of nineteen, Cooke replaced gospel tenor R. H. Harris as lead singer of the gospel group the Soul Stirrers, an American gospel music group, whose career spans over eighty years. The group was a pioneer in the development of the quartet style of gospel, and a major influence on soul, doo wop, and motown, some of the secular music that owed much to gospel.
Cooke soon became a gospel superstar. With the times changing soon Alexander was pressuring Rupe to let Cooke issue records in the popular field. Constraints against gospel performers performing secular material were strong and woven deep into the fabric of the black community. However, the monetary and worldly rewards for singing gospel could never equal those for singing to the masses. Cooke gave in and recorded “Lovable” under the name Dale Cook. Cooke’s voice was to unique not to be recognized. “Lovable” set off a backlash from his gospel fans and the Soul Stirrers were booed whenever they made a personal appearance. Cooke was released by the Soul Stirrers and in the next five months there were no more releases by “Dale Cook” or even Sam Cooke.
After being signed to a new, small record company, Keen Records, Cooke’s first solo success was “You Send Me”, which sold over two million copies and hit number one on both the pop and R&B charts. Although it seems like a tame record today, “You Send Me” was a pioneering soul record in its time, melding elements of R&B, gospel, and pop into a sound that was new and still coalescing at the time.
Heralding a bolder phase in his career he recorded singles like bluesy, romantic “Sad Mood,” the idyllic romantic soul of “Cupid,” and the straight-ahead dance tune “Twistin’ the Night Away” (a pop Top Ten and a number one R&B hit), and “Bring It on Home to Me”. At the time of these releases, he was mostly identified through his singles, which were among the best work of their era, and had developed two separate audiences, among white teen and post-teen listeners and black audiences of all ages. It was Cooke’s hope to cross over to the white audience more thoroughly, and open up doors for black performers that, up to that time, had mostly been closed.
In mid-1963, however, Cooke had done a show at the Harlem Square Club in Miami that had been recorded. Working in front of a black audience and doing his “real” show, he delivered a sweaty, spellbinding performance built on the same elements found in his singles and his best album tracks, combining achingly beautiful melodies and gritty soul sensibilities. The two live albums sum up the split in Cooke’s career and the sheer range of his talent, the rewards of which he’d finally begun to realize more fully in 1963 and 1964. Here is “Bring It Home To Me” from that concert:
Like most R&B artists of his time, Cooke focused on singles; in all, he had 29 top 40 hits on the pop charts and more on the R&B charts. He was a prolific songwriter and wrote most of the songs he recorded. He also had a hand in overseeing some of the song arrangements. In spite of releasing mostly singles, he released a well-received blues-inflected LP in 1963, “Night Beat”, and his most critically acclaimed studio album, “Ain’t That Good News”, which featured five singles, in 1964.
“Bring It Home To Me” has been covered by many artists including Paul McCartney, Dave Mason, Van Morrison, Otis Redding, and Rod Stewart. One of the most popular covers was done by The Animals in 1965.
No one knows for certain what exactly happened in the early hours of December 11, 1964. Cooke had been out the night before, reportedly drinking at a Los Angeles bar where he met a woman named Elisa Boyer. The pair hit it off and eventually ended up at the Hacienda Motel. There the couple had some type of altercation in their room, and Cooke then ended up in the motel’s office. He reportedly clashed with the motel’s manager, and the manager shot Cooke. Cooke died from his injury, which the manager claimed was inflicted in self-defense. It was later ruled justifiable homicide.
No matter the circumstances of his passing, Cooke left behind a tremendous musical legacy. In 1986, Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1987, Cooke was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. On February 1, 1994, Cooke received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the music industry. In 1999, Cooke was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 16th on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. In 2008, Cooke was named the fourth “Greatest Singer of All Time” by Rolling Stone. In June 2011, the city of Chicago renamed a portion of East 36th Street near Cottage Grove Avenue as the honorary “Sam Cooke Way” to remember the singer near a corner where he hung out and sang as a teenager. In 2013 Cooke was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, at Cleveland State University.