Don Covay, an influential R&B singer and songwriter during the 60’s, has died at the age of 76.
Covay was born in Orangeburg, SC, the son of a Baptist preacher. His initial background was in gospel, singing with his family’s quartet The Cherry Keys. He eventually joined the secular group the Rainbows with a young Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart.
In 1957, Covay joined the Little Richard Revue and, signed to Atlantic, released his first single, Bip Bop Bip (as Pretty Boy), with his band the Upsetters and Richard producing. It wasn’t until four years and a number of labels later that he finally scored his first charted hit, Pony Time (1961 / #60).
In 1964, Covay cracked the pop and R&B top 40 with Mercy, Mercy (#35) with his group The Goodtimers and a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. The next year, he hit #21 on the R&B chart with Please Do Something and followed up with Seesaw (1965 / #44 Pop / #5 R&B).
Common among Covay’s early hits was the fact that covers did better for other artists. Pony Time became a number 1 record for Chubby Checker while Seesaw, written with Steve Cropper, became a major hit for Aretha Franklin. Other compositions by Covay that did well for others include Chain of Fools (Aretha Franklin / 1967 / #2 Pop / #1 R&B), Letter Full of Tears (Gladys Knight & the Pips / 1962 / #19 Pop / #3 R&B), Sookie Sookie (Steppenwolf / 1968 / b-side of Magic Carpet Ride), Your Good For Me (Solomon Burke / 1963 / #49 Pop / #3 R&B), Tonight’s the Night (Solomon Burke / 1965 / #28 Pop / #2 R&B) and Lights Out (Peter Wolf / 1984 / #12 Pop / #6 Rock / #11 Dance).
After a time without a hit, Covay formed an early R&B supergroup, The Soul Clan, with Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King and Arthur Conley. They only managed to score one hit, Soul Meeting (1968 / #91 Pop / #34 R&B).
Covay’s recording career had a resurgence in 1973 with the hit I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In which went to number 6 on the R&B and number 29 on the Hot 100.
In 1992, Covay suffered a debilitating stroke which would keep him out of music for the rest of the decade; however, he was honored with a tribute album, Back to the Streets: Celebrating the Music of Don Covay in 1993 and, that same year, was given the Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Don was able to gain enough function back to record two final studio albums, Adlib (2000) and Super Bad (2009).
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