February 14, 2010

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Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders

Question: Can you spot what these three guys have in common? Porter Wagoner, Wayne Cochran,Little Richard

(Answer: Porter Wagoner, Wayne Cochran and Little Richard – Kings of the Pompadour. Here’s a pretty good web site that will tell you more than you need to know about pompadours:  Click on Wayne's picture above.

There must be thousands --- no, make that hundreds of thousands --- of great musicians waiting to be discovered. Singers, songwriters, accomplished players --- talented people who may have thrilled millions with live performances. Nonetheless, the vast majority of these great talents never break-out and receive the recognition they deserve.

So it is with the story of Wayne Cochran. He never rose to the stature of a “star” performer, but his influence as an entertainer extended well beyond the limits of his own fame. Elvis, Ann Margaret, June Taylor, J. Frank Wilson, the Blues Brothers, even Pearl Jam --- all were influenced and benefitted from Wayne Cochran’s talent. And make no mistake: Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders became one of the greatest bar bands ever.

All through our high school years, and well into the 1970’s, he played at nearby venues. The Holyoake Club on East Washington Street in Indianapolis, The 67 Club in Muncie, and the Diamond Club in Dayton all regularly featured Wayne, passing through the area about twice each year – traveling by bus with his band from gig to gig.

A tall man, with a huge head and an even taller pile of white hair worn in a pompadour, Wayne Cochran possessed a raw, powerful voice – sort of a cross in style and texture between James Brown, Otis Redding and Little Richard – his primary influences.

Born in rural Georgia in 1939, Wayne Cochran started his first band in 1955, at the age of 16, and by 1963 had relocated to Macon, Georgia --- home of Otis Redding and Little Richard. There were a lot of changes in those early years, but by this time the band consisted of a four-piece rhythm section and had taken on the name “Cochran Circuit Riders” or simply the “C.C. Riders.” A little later, he hired away four horn players from a group called the “Dixie Crystals”, expanding the band to eight. They bought an old bus and hit the road.

Wayne and C.C. RidersAfter playing in Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee, their first booking outside of the deep south happened to be in Muncie, where they played at the old Woodbury’s Supper Club. This was in 1965, and the band was slow to catch-on there. In fact, they were broke and about to be fired, when Wayne hatched a stunt that turned things around.

That evening, dressed in their stage clothes and featuring Wayne in a bright blue sequined suit with platform shoes and the pompadour, the entire band made an appearance at a popular restaurant before their own show across town.

They had a large table in the center of the restaurant. Naturally, the sight of these outrageously dressed people turned all heads.

Wayne sat first, then motioned for the rest of the band to be seated. Their order: the shrimp cocktail appetizer. After a short time, Wayne got up and left, followed by the rest of the band. As the band members stood to leave, one announced: “Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ve just dined with Wayne Cochran and his fabulous C.C. Riders, and they’re appearing tonight at the Woodbury Supper Club".

Wayne and C. C. Rider(2)Word spread quickly. They had a good crowd later that night, and a full house each night for the balance of the booking!

Before long, the band had grown to fifteen pieces, and Wayne added a couple of back-up singers he called the “Sheer Delights.” When they weren’t touring, they became the house band for a major soul club in Miami called “The Barn” where they would play about half the year.

The Barn was a very popular night spot, and was regularly visited by celebrities. Jackie Gleason was a regular in the audience, along with the leader of his dance ensemble, June Taylor, who took ideas for her dancers from the C.C. Riders choreography.

Their first record, called the “Harlem Shuffle”, made it into the Billboard Magazine Hot 100, and earned the band bookings at major clubs around the country, as well as TV appearances with Merv Griffen, Mike Douglas and Jackie Gleason. Wayne and the band made several appearances on Jackie Gleason’s weekly variety show, which was based in Miami. In fact, Wayne wrote a song called “Going Back to Miami” which is probably the song most identified with the band today.

Here’s a link to one of the early appearances on the Jackie Gleason show: Jackie Gleason

Wayne and ElvisBefore long, Las Vegas came calling and the band started playing most of the year at the Flamingo in the Las Vegas Hilton. Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders quickly became one of the top draws in Las Vegas.

It was at this time that Wayne met Elvis Presley.

Throughout the 1960’s, Elvis spent his time making Hollywood movies. He chose Las Vegas as the ideal place for his comeback as a live performer, and late in the 60’s was the frequent headliner at the Flamingo.

The Riders were playing in the lounge or the casino theatre at the same time Elvis was playing in the main room. Elvis would stop by and watch the show, and was very interested in the way Wayne dressed.

WayneWayne tells the full story on his webElvis site: Click on Wayne's picture.

“Elvis Presley would come over and see our show. He really liked my clothes. When I was going to play opposite him his first month back in Las Vegas, I had two suits made for him and gave them to him. They featured the collar that I was wearing, which was like a Napoleonic Collar, the cuffs on the jacket, the cuffs on the pants and even the hip belt like I was wearing. From those two suits basically came the pattern for the clothes he would wear. Then I went to jump suits. It was the same sort of design, but in a jump suit rather than a two or three piece suit. The original suits were like Southern Plantation style. They were 3/4 length coats, cutaway in the front, with vests and lace shirts. Later, Elvis went to jump suits too.”

In the early ‘70’s the band really peaked, both in popularity as well as in creative energy. Their reputation had grown to the point where the band was the inspiration for a movie. Here’s how Wayne tells the story, again quoted from his web site:

“Ann Margaret and her husband, Roger Smith, Monica and myself were sitting in our hotel suite at the Newport Hotel on Miami Beach, one afternoon. They had also become good friends of ours. Ann would come see me in Las Vegas. She loved the show, and I would go see hers. They were in television, and of course, movies. Roger said," Why don't we write a movie about a motorcycle gang and call it the "C.C. Riders". Of course, The Riders and I were going to play parts in it. He immediately went and wrote it. They got Joe Namath to star as "C.C. Rider". That was the name of the main character. We did a guest shot in the movie performing in a dance scene with Ann and Joe. Things just kept opening up.”

Here is a video clip of Wayne Cochran and the band, performing in the 1970 movie “C.C. & Company” Click on picture: Joe Nameth

If you ever saw Wayne Cochran and his band perform live, you know about the excitement generated in the room when they were on stage. In his new memoir, We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives, the bandleader Paul Shaffer describes the first time he saw Wayne Cochran perform.

“…I first heard Wayne Cochran at the El Mocambo, a well-known Toronto rock club. As a kid in Thunder Bay, I was familiar with the Cochran legend, this singer from Florida known as the “white James Brown.” He was said to have two drummers and cotton candy hair piled to the sky. He had a number of regional hits. I had heard “Going Back to Miami.” (And later covered it with the Blues Brothers).

“The show was masterful. It opened with just a three-piece rhythm section --- bass, guitar and drums. No Wayne in sight. It was the bass player who killed me. He carved out a groove that could have made Richard Nixon boogaloo. He was the funkiest bass player I’d ever heard. (Later I’d learn he was the great Jaco Pastorius). JacoThis groove kept grooving. The groove got groovier, and groovier, and so groovy that people were up and dancing while the horns came marching in from the back of the club. When they reached the stage, it was horns up and out blasted a devastating version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Mr. Clean.” Then, on cue, a voice from heaven announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS is Wayne Cochran and the C. C. Riders!”.

“I was already on the floor before Wayne came out.  When Wayne appeared, Wayne killed.  Wayne killed without a voice.   His voice was shot, didn’t matter. His soul was intact, and his soul made up for his voice. The pitch, the intonation, the enunciation – it all said one thing: I am a showman whose ability to perform overwhelms all liabilities. I will win you over with my soul. I will soul you to death. My soul will prevail.”

And so it did. ”

As a songwriter, Wayne had several Hot 100 charting records, but his best known song was a hit for somebody else. “Last Kiss” became a hit record for J. Frank Wilson in the mid-60’s, and was later covered by the Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam.

After years on the road, playing nightly in smoky club rooms, his voice began to fail and he turned increasingly to alcohol and drugs. Wayne Cochran In 1981, he underwent a religious conversion. He stopped performing in clubs and started his own television ministry in Miami. Here’s a clip of Wayne today from his website that you can watch:

Last July, a reunion of the CC Riders was held at Wayne’s Church, and of course the band got together for a show. Check out this link: Wayne Cochran

There’s a surfeit of material about Wayne Cochran available on the internet. Here are a couple of more links that I enjoyed:

This one is my personal favorite. Just listen to this band… Wayne Cochran





Wayne on Tom Snyder’s show (stick around for the interview)… Tom Snyder

Wayne on Guitar… guitar

Blues Brothers Sauna SceneOne final thing about Wayne Cochran: His act was the inspiration for the Blues Brothers skits on Saturday Night Live, and later for the movie of the same name. During the movie, in the steam bath scene, music promoter Maury Sline (played by Steve Lawrence) criticizes the Blues Brothers’ outfits, saying “Those black suits scare people. Can’t you ever wear blue jeans and jump suits, like Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders?”

References & Citations

The author wishes to recognize the invaluable contribution of long-time friend, Neil Bolding, to the development of this story.

Official Web Site, “Lord Carrett",  http://www.lordoflaughs.com/

Official Web Site, “Wayne Cochran & the C. C. Riders,”  http://www.waynecochranandtheccriders.com/


Shaffer, Paul with David Ritz, We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin’ Showbiz Saga, New York, Flying Dolphin Press, 2009.
Wikipedia contributors, "Wayne Cochran", Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne Cochran Official Web Site, “Jaco Pastorius,”

YouTube contributors, “Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders on the Jackie Gleason Show,” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself,
YouTube contributors, “Wayne Cochran in C.C. + Company,” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself,


Official Web Site, “Voice for Jesus,” http://www.voiceforjesus.org/broadcasts.html
YouTube contributors, “C.C. Riders Reunion Sunday July 19th 2009,” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself,

YouTube contributors, “Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders,” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OppgGdoCrWs&feature=related

YouTube contributors, “Wayne Cochran on Tom Snyder,” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5_GstlPL64&NR=1

YouTube contributors, “Wayne Cochran on Guitar,” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7JJQSw7_tM&feature=related