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Little Joe Cook
Blues


Little Joe Cook has had at least three successful music careers in one lifetime. One of the most durable singers ever to come out of Philadelphia, Cook sang gospel and rhythm & blues, fostered a few dance crazes, and organized at least one successful girl group in his career. Joe Cook was born in Philadelphia in 1922, and by 1934 at age 12, had organized his own gospel group, the Evening Star Quartet. With his falsetto voice, winning personality, and dazzling musical instincts, he was a popular local figure in Philadelphia when he started recording in 1949. He later had his own radio show in Philadelphia and in the early '50s, he decided to make the jump to rhythm & blues, which was booming at the time. He organized the Thrillers with Farrie Hill (second lead), Richard Frazier (tenor), Donald Burnett (baritone), and Henry Pascal (bass), and by 1956 they had a contract with OKeh, the rhythm & blues imprint of Columbia Records. Their first single "Do the Slop," released that year, became a regional hit in New York and Philadelphia, and got enough action to justify an appearance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The Slop was one of two dances that Little Joe Cook introduced (the other was the Bicycle Bounce), and made him one of the top R&B figures in Philadelphia. It sold well enough to justify further efforts on their behalf by OKeh, which was trying to get in on the rock & roll boom. The group's second single, "Peanuts," released in 1957, featured Cook's piercing falsetto voice as the lead. It was catchy and distinctive enough to get the group an appearance on American Bandstand. Little Joe & the Thrillers became one of the first R&B groups to score a national hit through television exposure; the single was propelled, with help from Bandstand and host Dick Clark, to number 23 nationally, and it sold in huge numbers. This was to be the Thrillers' only national hit; they tried to score a second time with "The Echoes Keep Calling Me," a faster-paced number that put Cook's falsetto out in front again, but the record never charted. OKeh kept releasing Little Joe & the Thrillers' records until 1961, with "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons," which ended their contract. The group recorded one single for 20th Century Records before disappearing. (Ironically, the OKeh label that they'd left behind vanished into inactivity around the same time). During the early '60s, Cook organized a girl group with his daughters, eventually called the Sherrys, who charted with one record before a couple of marriages and a change in management forced them out of the business. Little Joe Cook remained an active performer in Boston, and "Do the Slop" and "Peanuts" are still remembered as two of the most beguiling of R&B-cum-rock & roll hits of the late '50s. Bruce Eder

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