Whether you’ve heard his legendary take on 1960s soul music or even recognize his name, you’ve likely seen a photograph of Wayne Cochran. Images of his massive blonde pompadour and flashy fashion sense elicit chuckles by some online, dating back to those pre-meme lists of funny-looking album covers and press shots. Others’ minds are blown by such an unlikely embodiment of early rock ‘n’ roll flamboyance. Beyond his flashy exterior, Cochran, who passed away on Nov. 21st at age 78, stood tall as a singer and performer alongside some of his greatest Southern peers, earning the nickname the White Knight of Soul.
The Thomaston, Georgia native played bass on Otis Redding’s “Shout Bamalama” single before touring frequently with King Records label mate James Brown. The latter’s showmanship and untouchably great live band inspired Cochran to form his own legendary backing band, the C.C. Riders (posing with Cochran in this photo). His most famous hit, “Goin’ Back to Miami,” became immortalized in 1980 by the Blues Brothers. Further, his band’s name influenced Elvis Presley’s decision to refer to his cover of “See See Rider Blues” by Ma Rainey (another great Georgian) as “C.C. Rider.”
Cochran later became a Christian minister in south Florida. Although he turned away from the “devil’s music” in a sense, it’s just as easy to paint his career change as a return to soul singing’s gospel roots.
There’s footage of a 2001 C.C. Riders reunion on YouTube that ties together this whole story. The video captures a true showman, belting out gospel revisions of “Hold On I’m Coming” and “Harlem Shuffle” that somehow aren’t corny. Instead, it’s a truly soulful singer, revisiting an old outlet for his ever-present evangelistic zeal.