Sam Cooke: Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out


Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out


Sam Cooke (vocals)


The Rhythm and the Blues (RCA 66760-2)

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Sam Cooke (vocals),

15-piece big band arranged and conducted by Sammy Lowe


Composed by Jimmie Cox


Recorded: New York City, May 19, 1961


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

If not for his tragic death in 1964 at age 33, Cooke may well have given Berry Gordy's Motown a run for the money. Through his own record label, SAR/Derby, he was developing his skills as a producer, songwriter, talent scout, and arranger, with the goals of complete artistic and publishing control within his sight. Meanwhile, RCA Victor and his producers there, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, were trying to broaden his appeal to include virtually anyone with two functioning ears. Blues, R & B, soul, jazz, pop, standards, teen anthems and more, the former gospel star with The Soul Stirrers was being spread thin, but due to his immense vocal talent was more than persevering.

"Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" originally appeared on Cooke's My Kind of Blues album, and conveys some of the infectious excitement that Joe Williams could similarly engender with Count Basie. The horns hearty intro gives way to Cooke's suave, knowing vocal, filled with a sprinkling of his characteristic brand of melismas, or "yodels." The orchestra's backing is effective but not overbearing, as Cooke interprets the lyrics with crystal clear enunciation and a sincere, committed perspective. The climactic section finds the trumpets coming to the fore with staccato outbursts, and Cooke now soaring to his full power. His final marvelous, throaty held note on the word "out" quivers and shakes incomparably. This version of a tune that Bessie Smith sang and popularized in the '20's could engage those who patronized black backroads juke joints, as well as the more cosmopolitan MOR supper club crowd. Such was Cooke's allure and magic.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


  • 1 Sam's Neph // Jun 12, 2009 at 11:00 PM
    Over the years I've warmed to Sam's big band remakes, my favorite now being his version of "I Don't Get Around Much Anymore." I used to think these songs sounded dated, even for the early '60's, but I've learned to appreciate how special these recordings truly are. Great review! Erik Greene Author, "Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective"
  • 2 Scott Albin // Jun 15, 2009 at 01:55 PM
    I wasn't aware of your book on Sam, Eric. I'll be ordering a copy soon. Thanks for your input.