Like so many other musicians of the 1950s and ’60s eras, Sam Cooke’s life was filled with both triumph and tragedy.
Cooke’s story, perhaps not nearly as well known as other performers of the day such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and others, is being brought to the stage by Michael Clarke of Rock Legends fame at the Crofton Hotel’s Osborne Bay Pub in the tribute concert Soul King.
Shows run Thursday, Feb. 1 through Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m., with an additional matinee on Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.
Clarke, who’s from Toronto, enjoyed the Cowichan Valley so much during the Rock Legends’ record-breaking run at the Chemainus Theatre last summer, that he decided to stick around.
“I didn’t need to go back to Toronto right away,” Clarke said.
“It’s a good point in my career to do something like this. It’s nice to be able to create and put a whole production together.”
Soul King offers a different journey down memory lane. Written and directed by Clarke, this biographical musical journey delves deeply and personally into the life and times of Cooke, commonly referred to as the King of Soul.
“Throughout, we tell the story of Sam’s life, his death and his music,” indicated Clarke, who plays the lead role as Cooke.
“For this one, it’s more I’m telling his story. I’m not trying to look like him. There are times when I might become him for a moment of two.”
Clarke has assembled a great team of musicians and people behind the scenes to make this show truly memorable.
The cast and band members include: Glaucia Desrochers of Crofton, whose solo performances as Billie Holiday have been enthusiastically acclaimed by local audiences; musical director Nicolas Rhodes (Nanaimo) on keyboards, who gets to show some acting chops as he helps to tell the story; Donn Tarris (formerly from Salt Spring Island now residing in Crofton) on guitar; Alan Wardroper (Salt Spring Island) on bass and Alicia Murray (Nanaimo) on drums.
Chris Kemppi is the administrative manager and Carson Kemppi the sound and tech engineer.
“We only just got here three months ago,” pointed out Chris Kemppi. “We’re so excited by the connections we’ve been able to make already.”
Cooke had an abundance of Top 40 hits in the 1950s and ’60s. Many people either remember or came to know such hits as You Send Me, Chain Gang, Cupid, Twistin’ The Night Away, Another Saturday Night and so many others.
Cooke is remembered as much for his death at age 33 under mysterious circumstances in December of 1964. He was shot three times in the chest by a motel manager in Los Angeles.
Clarke studied all aspects of Cooke’s life extensively to put the story together.
“His death is the first thing you read about when you start doing the research,” Clarke pointed out. “It scared me at the beginning. How do I get past it?”
The social and political backdrop from which popular music moved beyond romantic ballads to find its voice as a powerful agent for change figures in the story. With so many recent incidents such as the rise of the Me Too movement, “it makes it very relevant today again,” Clarke said of the context.
Clarke was born in Jamaica and came to Canada at the age of five, growing up in Toronto. He’s spent the last few years in Ajax, east of Toronto.
Clarke has performed in countless musicals and became a fixture in Alex Mustakas’ Rock Legends shows in Drayton, Ont. before the show came to the Chemainus Theatre.
Clarke was asked by Judith and Gerry Fewster if he’d like to work as a barista at Cedrick’s Tea and Coffee House and organize some musical ventures in the back courtyard space. Tony van de Mortel was also receptive to having productions at the Osborne Bay Pub and, voila, Clarke had a space for his production on Cooke.
“Tony likes the idea of doing two or three more of these every year,” Clarke indicated.
A connection with Cooke through a gospel music upbringing helped Clarke identify with his subject.
“I get the journey he went on,” said Clarke. “It’s kind of a similar journey for a lot of singers who came out of church.”
Clarke always wondered what character he’d like to play if he could do a jukebox musical and he’s found the answer.
“He was the person. I started studying his life,” Clarke noted.
Developing Cooke’s character and the voice was a big part of the process for him.
“I feel I’ve become a better musician I’ve taken that time,” Clarke indicated.
“Really, it’s a tragedy,” he summed up. “He had a lot of heartbreak in his life, but the show ends on a positive note.”
Ticket prices range from $26.50 to $35. Visit www.cedricksteacoffee.ticketleap.com or call 250-815-5241 and you’ll probably talk to Clarke directly.