From C.C. & Company (1970) with Joe Namath and Ann Margret.
Re-Union of the C.C. Riders at Wayne’s church in Margate, Florida, 1999.
Growing up in South Florida, which had an eighteen year old drinking age, but nobody ever got carded, you could have driven into most bars on a tricycle back then and gotten served, something we used to do for yuks about once a year was to go see Wayne Cochran & the C. C. Riders, a wacky show band whose home base was a club in Miami on the 79th Street Causeway called The Barn. Usually drugs were involved. I distinctly remember tripping on at least one of these occasions. When the Barn closed, Cochran would often appear at some of the swankier hotels like the Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida (which was full of New York wise guys waiting for things to cool off back home), or Fontainebleau at the north end of Miami Beach (back in those days, the south end of Miami Beach was like an ocean front version of the Bowery), which had a real borscht belt type of crowd, or clubs like the Bachelor’s Three in Ft. Lauderdale (one of the three Bachelors being football star Joe Namath, Jerry Lee Lewis played for two weeks straight one night, or for him it was one long night, his long time guitarist, Kenny Lovelace told me on their final night “Jerry ain’t been to sleep since we got here, we been havin’ so much fun”). Wayne Cochran spent a lot of time in Vegas, where he made lots of money, so when he came back to Florida, three or four times a year, he would really packed ’em in. Most of the audience were middle aged couples in polyester leisure and pants suits trying to act hip, the kind of folks who bought Chicago and Chuck Mangione albums. At least they seemed middle age to me then, when you’re sixteen everyone seems old, when I think about it now, the crowd was probably in their early 30’s for the most part. Often the places he appeared at didn’t want to let me and my friends in (to them, we probably looked like Manson family) and on more than one occasion we were refused entrance for the way we were dressed and/or for having long hair (same thing used to happen at Disney World). It’s hard to fathom in this day and age of tattooed and pierced faces that not so long ago you could be beaten or killed for having hair over your collar. But I’ll always have a soft spot in my admittedly soft brain tissue for Wayne Cochran, he was like the (wrestler) Gorgeous George
of the music world. By the time I got to see him, Wayne Cochran wasn’t exactly a rock’n’roll singer, he pitched himself as a white soul man (“The White Knight Of Soul”), but he was closer to Tom Jones, the Elvis of American Trilogy/Never Been To Spain/Steamroller Blues, and Blood, Sweat and Tears (remember David Clayton-Thomas? Don’t you hate “muscle” singers?) Anyway, the horn rock sound was very popular back then. But Wayne Cohran was something of a genre unto himself. He wore a huge white pompadour that had to be seen to be believed, fitted out in outlandish outfits that would have embarrassed Liberace (self designed but tailored by Nudie
), he was a hoot, but he put on a great show and really worked his ass off onstage.
Wayne Cochran (b. 1939), from Thomaston, Georgia, had been scrappin’ around the music biz since the mid-50’s. In his late teens he moved to Macon, Georgia and there, in 1955, formed his first band. His debut record, a sleazy rockabilly grinder called The Coo, on the flip was My Little Girl, a light weight, guitar rocker, it was released on Scottie in ’59, and became a minor local hit (an even sleazier version– The Naughty Coo was issued under the name of The Great Sebastian, you’ll have to buy the Norton
compilation The Rock-A-Round
(Norton 332) to hear that one). The Coo was followed by the Buddy Holly style bopper Cindy Marie b/w Edge of The Sea, a snuff ballad in the Endless Sleep vein, it foreshadowed Last Kiss, and was released on the tiny Aire label. He cut a nice a couple of more singles, wrote and produced a good rockabilly record by Bobby Cash on King, he even played bass on Otis Redding’s screamer Shout Bamala. Wayne Cochran never scored a hit single and as a recording artist he is best remembered for writing and recording the original version of uber teen snuff ballad, Last Kiss which became a huge hit for J. Frank Wilson, and, I’m told (but have never heard) Pearl Jam. By the early 60’s, Wayne’s band–the C.C. Riders, had morphed from a small, guitar oriented, rockabilly group into a big, horn driven, soul revue. The money was in live performances, and having acquired a beat up old bus, he hit the road. At this point he had adopted the style of fellow Maconite James Brown (another performer who was inspired by Gorgeous George, that’s where Mr. Brown as he liked to be called, got the cape routine from). Wayne Cochran & the C. C. Riders, as they were billed, toured the chitlin’ circuit and cut sides for Confederate, Gala, King, Mercury, Chess, Epic, Bethlehem, Drive and I’m sure a few other labels I missed. He made many memorable TV appearances, and in addition to the above clip from The Jackie Gleason Show
, he was seen on the Wild Wild West
, The Merv Griffin Show
, The Mike Douglas Show
(great show, once Douglas had John and Yoko as his guest hosts for a whole week), and dozens of others. He even shows up in the 1970 Joe Namath/Ann Margret biker flick CC & Company
. But it was the hair that really got wowed ’em in Miami and Vegas. Where as fellow white soul man Roy Head
impressed the audience by doing splits, flips, knee drops, and all manner of acrobatic showmanship, all Wayne Cochran needed was his hair. What sat atop his dome was a magnificent work of art. It was a golden, teased, bouffant meets ducks ass kinda thing that was about eight inches high and sprayed, shellacked, and greased until it was the texture of granite. Swept back and piled high, when it caught the spotlight it seemed to glow like a full moon over the ocean. No matter how much he sweated and strained, his hair never changed shape or drooped even a little bit. In fact his hair alone could have been the basis for a religion. I’m sure the religion idea was suggested to him because after the not unusual sad show biz story–struggles with cocaine and booze, etc. , Wayne indeed went into the religion business (where income is tax free, why do you think so many R&B singers go in that direction when the pop hits dry up?) in the early eighties. Starting out with the Abundant Life Christian Church
in Margate, Florida he made a brief move to Hialeah, Florida and a name change to The Voices For Jesus Family Center.
Today, Wayne and his wife Monica are back in Miami where he’s raking it in as a televangelist. He can be seen on the Church TV channel (to find out when/if he’s on in your area click here
). I watch him when ever I go back to visit my mom in Florida. He’s a natural, almost a white Reverend Ike
. Every once in a while the C.C. Riders hold a reunion show, usually in his church, the last one was in 2001.
As far as his recorded legacy goes, even without the hair to mesmerize you, Wayne Cochran has made some fairly cool rock’n’roll records early in his career, and even some enjoyable non-rock’n’roll later on. For you rockers are The Coo
, My Little Girl
, Cindy Marie
, Edge of the Sea
(sorry about the skips) and his original version of Last Kiss
. From the “White Knight Of Soul” days I kind of dig Get Down With It
, a re-make of The Coo
, these (possibly fake) live versions of John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom
and Don & Dewey’s I’m Leaving It Up To You
, his theme song Goin’ Back To Miami
, and a sappy version of Charlie Rich’s Life’s Little Ups and Downs
that I sort of like.
As a teenagers who thought we were cool, my friends and I used to laugh at Wayne Cochran, but in my feeble old age, I appreciate what a hard worker and great showman he was. I got a lot of respect for the guy. And even more for his hair. In fact, when I think about it, he was a much harder worker than Johnny Thunders, the only other performer I’d seen at that point who teased his hair that much, and hell, Johnny couldn’t be bothered to tune his guitar half the time. When punk rock came in, Thunders, rest his battered soul, sold his hair to Motley Crue for a bundle of dope and started sporting a greasy da (while I’m at it, I refuse to recognize that crappy band that David Jo-has-been has been attempting to sell as the New York Dolls, Johnny and Jerry Nolan where the best part of the group, and without them, they’re just a crappy bar band, it looks silly seeing 60 year olds wearing their grandma’s clothes). Come to think of it, Wayne Cochran, for sheer flamboyance made the New York Dolls, Gary Glitter, David Bowie, Slade, and all the other glam rockers of the day look like the Allman Brothers’ road crew. Wayne Cochran, the man, the legend, the hair.