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They called him The White Knight of Soul. Dedicated pale soul singers were not in great quantity when Wayne Cochran first caught my attention back in 1965. Given my spirited musical sensibilities, his appearance on The Jackie Gleason Show during that year was as influential a moment as The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan inauguration. He arrived sporting a soaring platinum white pompadour that adorned his head like a luminous crown. It was a symbol of dedication to fellow Georgia performers Little Richard, Otis Redding (for whom he once played bass guitar) and the architect of a new R&B movement, James Brown. The fury and fire Wayne reflected revealed a divine desire to cross musical and visual lines in the same manner Elvis did. The bi-racial duo of Billy Vera and Judy Clay inpired a similar notion with their appearance and the wonderful recording “Storybook Children” in 1968. The idea that certain shades could not convey the integrity of Rhythm and Blues was changing beyond the spectrum of blues The British Invasion produced. Even though the influences were obvious, Wayne was a defiant and intriguing awakening inspired by the blood and guts of contemporary black American originality.

I was hooked on those with an intrinsic ability to testify and not just entertain. The airwaves were filled with deep soul hurricanes delivered regularly by Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge, and, of course, The King Of ‘Em All You All, Mr. Brown. With the exception of Mitch Ryder, there were few Caucasian cats capable of putting it all on that devotional inspiration train and ride wild. Wayne did.

In 1961 as a 21 year old he composed and recorded an iconic piece of pop culture titled “Last Kiss”. His version went unnoticed until presented by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964. That raw and touching document went on to sell a million copies and then repeated its sales success with Pearl Jam’s version 34 years later.

Cochran continually struggled for acceptance as a recording artist. His endeavors for King and Chess Records produced some magical moments such as “Going Back To Miami”, “Get Down With It” and a fine cover of “Harlem Shuffle”. But the stage was where he commanded his craft. With his band The CC Riders, Wayne toured and created a natural home for his style in Las Vegas where he befriended Elvis and adopted his jumpsuit persona.

On April 1, 1971, The White Knight was invited by promoter Bill Graham to enter the heart of hip acceptance, The Fillmore West in San Francisco. Wayne Cochran brought a Vegas Show Band into the home of The Grateful Dead! That my friends, took guts AND soul!

As the years and the trials and tribulations of show business expanded along with an appetite for escape, Cochran began to recognize his true calling. “He was all about family,” his son Christopher Cochran told the Miami Herald. “Over the course of his 25-year career in the music industry he employed over 300 people with different members of the band and the people at his church. He always looked after people. He ran his building like a big family.” The beloved Pastor Wayne Cochran died on November 21st, 2017 in Miramar, Florida. He was 78 and will remain significant not only as a rhythmic influence, but as a Peoples Champion of soul, salvation and humanity. We pay tribute to Wayne with this performance of Otis Redding’s classic “I Can’t Turn You Loose” as performed on the David Letterman Show in 1982.

By Rich Buckland 11/10/2019 08:23 PM

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