Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, don’t know much about Sam Cooke….
But people who may have found songs like Wonderful World familiar discovered much more about the man behind the music, Sam Cooke, during Michael Clarke’s production of SoulKing at the Osborne Bay Pub in Crofton. Those who packed the venue during four performances Thursday through Saturday saw a thoroughly entertaining show.
Clarke brought a professional touch to the small stage, with the backing of a great support team. The instrumental side was led by Nico Rhodes and sidekick Glaucia Desrochers provided a superb complement to Clarke in both the vocal and dramatic sequences.
Clarke appeared in last summer’s blockbuster hit at the Chemainus Theatre, Rock Legends, and decided to stick around. He wrote, directed and starred in SoulKing and proved there’s clearly a strong local appetite for this kind of show.
“I am very thankful to the energy of the universe that has brought me to this amazing Island,” wrote Toronto-based Clarke in the concert program notes. “In my career, I have been lucky enough to travel across this great nation of ours from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Chemainus and now Crofton. I have met amazing people coast to coast and it reminds me of just how lucky we all are to live in such an amazing country.”
Cooke’s name is known to many music-lovers, but he really flew under the radar compared to other artists of the 1950s and ’60s. Through some fabulous story-telling in song and words by Clarke, we learn of Cooke’s rise from a gospel singing background to mainstream music where hits such as You Send Me, Wonderful World, Cupid, Chain Gang, Only Sixteen and countless others cracked the famed Billboard charts.
In an interesting twist, Clarke presents the scene at the beginning of the show that led to Cooke’s death at the age of just 33 when he was shot by a motel manager and then works backwards in time through his storied, but short career.
“Sam Cooke’s life ended tragically,” pointed out Clarke. “He had tremendous highs and heartbreaking lows and through it all his music told his story. In SoulKing, I try to show how his music reflected his life – the highs and the lows – but throughout showing the immense talent not just in singing, but also in his lyrical and musical compositions.”
Clarke breathes new life into some of Cooke’s best-loved songs with his remarkable voice, putting his heart and soul into every number. Desrochers proved she can belt out a tune and also showed versatility on lower notes in the tender songs.
There were a few glitches, but the audience didn’t seem to care. It was all good fun and great entertainment in an intimate setting.
Every artist has a story to tell and Clarke could easily work his magic on shows of this sort about others if he so desired. Lou Rawls, mentioned in SoulKing, comes to mind; Ike Turner was an interesting character; perhaps even Dennis Edwards of the Temptations who just died; how about Barry White? (although Clarke would have to put on a few pounds or wear a special suit); the list goes on.
If Clarke sticks around these parts and continues writing and directing similar stories, it will definitely attract a following.