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Don Covay iTunes Tracks

Don Covay

+ {Don Covay & The Goodtimers} + {Don Covay & The Jefferson Lemon Blues Band}

Self-proclaimed “super dude”, unsung hero DON COVAY always seemed to be on the fringes of the ever-widening American R&B/soul scene of the 60s and 70s. Best remembered for his glorious step into northern soul territory, `It’s Better To Have (And Don’t Need)’ – a surprise UK one-hit-wonder in 1974 – garnered little reward for this songsmith to the stars, who’d had Top 50 hits in the mid-60s with `Mercy, Mercy’ and `Seesaw’.
Born Donald James Randolph, March 24, 1936, Orangeburg, South Carolina (son of a preacher man who died when Don was only eight), the youngster went from Washington, D.C. school gospel group, The Cherry Keys, to fit in with doo wop combo The RAINBOWS. From 1955-58, lead chanter Ronald “Posie” Miles, John Berry and, after an unknown on their `Mary’ debut, Don officially joined when Berry roped him in alongside Chester Simmons for the `Shirley’ and `Minnie’ platters. While still a member of the group, Covay found work as a chauffeur to LITTLE RICHARD, and through this association, Atlantic Records delivered Don’s debut single (`Bip Bop Bip’) in summer ’57, under the pseudonym of Pretty Boy. And by the following year, his tenure with The RAINBOWS came to a halt when `If You See Mary Lee’ got stuck somewhere in the vaults, by which time, Pretty Boy’s `Rockin’ The Mule (Back In Kansas) Swingin’ Like A Young Grey Mare’, had been issued by Big Records.
As DON COVAY, a handful of independent, post-RnR-type 45s (from `Believe It Or Not’ and `Standing In The Doorway’, to 1960’s `Beauty And The Beast’ and `Hey There’ for Bigtop Records), spread the gospel that this singer was on the up and up. Latching on to one of many dance crazes, DON COVAY & THE GOODTIMERS had to watch their modest #60 breaker, `Pony Time’, usurped by chart-topping “twist” specialist CHUBBY CHECKER.
Compensated by a contract at Columbia Records, frustration set in as `Shake Wid The Shake’, `Hand Jive Workout’ and the mello-mood ballad `(Where Are You) Now That I Need You’, failed to make an impression on the movement. Ditto his CHECKER-cloned `It’s Twistin’ Time’ (credited to just The Goodtimers) and the “Earth Angel”-like `I’m Your Soldier Boy’ (by The Soldier Boys); the latter reuniting COVAY with John Berry and unknown Robert Spencer.
Insistent on following the Chubby one into the charts (CHECKER had strengthened his own cause through `Popeye The Hitchhiker’), COVAY sealed his second Top 75 entry in early ’63 with the 1960-published `The Popeye Waddle’. `Ain’t That Silly’ and `The Froog’ followed in its footsteps, but with the British Invasion underway, the cool COVAY (& The Goodtimers) converted to R&B on breakthrough hit, `Mercy, Mercy’, a platter highlighting a young JIMI HENDRIX on lead guitar and Don’s co-writer Horace Ott on keyboards. Atlantic Records (via Rosemart Records) were also behind his solo-billed, nominal hit, `Take This Hurt Off Me’, which led Don inking a deal for the aforementioned major label as 1964 came to a close.
Almost immediately set the task of cutting a full set of songs, 1965’s MERCY! {*7}, might well’ve hastened the rising star (and Goodtimers’ guitarists: Wally Richardson, Bob Bushnell, Harry Jensen and Ronald Miller) into the hearts and minds of soul fans who’d cottoned on to BEN E. KING, MAJOR LANCE and the emerging OTIS REDDING. As funky and groovy as any of his soul-stirring rivals, COVAY was still twisting the night away or turning out the odd ballad, best served up by the respective `Come On In’ and `Come See About Me’.
The organic `Seesaw’ had a similar effect on the record buying public, even if the gurgling/growling back-up singer couldn’t quite get into gear. Spawned from SEE-SAW (1966) {*7}, `Sookie, Sookie’ was the other most recognisable dirge on board, having taken the subsequent interest of John Kay and STEPPENWOLF (the B-side to `Magic Carpet Ride’); sadly, `Iron Out The Rough Spots’, appealed little to Don’s fickle fanbase.
For the ensuing few years (kick-started by a solo `Shingaling ‘67’), DON COVAY & THE GOODTIMERS struggled to keep apace with the ever-changing tides of the pop scene; `40 Days – 40 Nights’, `You’ve Got Me On The Critical List’, `Don’t Let Go’, `Gonna Send You Back To Your Mama’ and `I Stole Some Love’, all faltered outside the Hot 100. Don must’ve thought he was a dead-cert to finally succeed when his bosses at Atlantic simultaneously pitted him alongside contenders SOLOMON BURKE, ARTHUR CONLEY, BEN E. KING and JOE TEX in The SOUL CLAN; together for the first time on the earthy summer ’68 single `Soul Meeting’ (#91 from their eponymous ensemble LP).
An accomplished guitar player in his own right, DON COVAY (& The Jefferson Lemon Blues Band) turned an artistic corner on the raw and spiritual THE HOUSE OF BLUE LIGHTS (1969) {*8}. A truly outstanding and shockingly understated LP that mixed in nostalgic folk-blues, jazz, soul and gospel, it was easy to see why performances like `Key To The Highway’, `Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind’, `Four Women’, `Steady Roller’, `The Blues Don’t Knock’ and two parts of the title track, had Messrs JAGGER, RICHARDS and every other “Stone” dude, again, salivating. Full credit must also be given to producer Herb Abramson and JLBB players JOHN P. HAMMOND and Joe Richardson.
Inevitably, dropped as a consequence of relatively poor sales, Janus Records were over the moon to be granted the challenge of transforming COVAY’s fortunes on DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS (1972) {*6}. Labelled “country funk” after both `Sweet Thang’ and `Daddy, Please Don’t Go Out Tonight’ stuttered outside the playlists, the dextrous Don stretched beyond his limitations, even rocking-out an old VANITY FARE opal `Hitchin’ A Ride’ – a must-listen.
A southern soul resurgence underway when the adulterously-themed `I Was Checkin’ Out She Was Checkin’ In’ gave COVAY – through his job as an A&R executive at Mercury Records – his highest chart action yet (#29), the AOR-funk of SUPER DUDE I (1973) {*6} guaranteed the artist critical recognition again if not commercial rewards. Of a similar cheating-spouse motif to his aforesaid hit, `Somebody’s Been Enjoying My Home’ deserved better feedback, as did flop 45 `The Overtime Man’ and a cod-reggae cover of CHUCK BERRY’s `Memphis’.
Despite opening with his piece de resistance, `It’s Better To Have (And Don’t Need)’ – only a Top 75 breaker in his homeland – 1975’s HOT BLOOD {*5} punched above its weight. Highlighting the thrust and south-paw jab of `Rumble In The Jungle’ (an ode to the Ali-versus-Foreman boxing match), COVAY was also fighting his corner, only to be dropped by Mercury when sales figures were counted out.
Philadelphia International Records coming on board for 1976’s poignant TRAVELIN’ IN HEAVY TRAFFIC {*4}, the overweight COVAY stalled at several red lights via roadkill tracks `No Tell Motel’ and its flop title track counterpart. Although an improvement of sorts when delivered on the low-budget Versatile imprint, FUNKY YO YO (1977) {*6} starred his best VAN MORRISON or (reciprocal) MICK JAGGER impersonation on the rousing `I Don’t Think I Can Make It’, `Three Time Loser’ and `An Ugly Woman (Is Twice As Sweet)’.
Naturally fed up with his lot (swansong `Badd Thing’ flopped in 1980), COVAY retired from showbiz thereafter only to return to in 1986 when long-time fans The ROLLING STONES gave him a backing vox role on their `Dirty Work’ album. In a way of thanks, and to compensate for a stroke he’d suffered in ’92, RON WOOD and a plethora of friends (IGGY POP, TODD RUNDGREN, BOBBY WOMACK, BILLY SQUIER, BEN E. KING, ROBERT CRAY et al) paid tribute to their bluesy buddy by endorsing tribute set, `Celebrating The Music Of Don Covay’ (1993).
Nursed back to health over a period of several years, ADLIB (2000) {*5} marked Don’s comeback, and saw him joined by friends such as Kim Simmonds, PAUL RODGERS, WILSON PICKETT, jazzman Lee Konitz, HUEY LEWIS, FREDERICK KNIGHT, ANN PEEBLES, Syl Johnson, OTIS CLAY, Paul Shaffer, DAN PENN, Anton Fig and Simon Kirke. Aged 64 and revisiting old haunts, `Mercy Mercy’, `Chain Of Fools’ and `Three Time Loser’, the unavoidable grits ‘n’ soul took over on the loose `Poontang’, among others.
While tragedy was to strike the singer when son Donald Covay, Jr. died in 2009 (Don’s wife had lost her life in ‘81), legend DON COVAY could not survive another stroke and died on January 31, 2015 at his home in Franklin Square, New York.
© MC Strong/MCS Jan2016

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