Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A00329 - Don Covay, Performer and Writer of R&B Hits


Don Covay in 1981.CreditEbet Roberts/Redferns, via Getty Images

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Don Covay, a singer and songwriter whose rhythm-and-blues compositions — among them “Pony Time,” “Chain of Fools” and “Mercy, Mercy” — became hits for a variety of performers and standards of rock ’n’ roll and soul music, died on Jan. 31 in a hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y., not far from his home in Queens. He was 78.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Wendy, who did not specify a cause. Mr. Covay, who suffered a stroke some years ago, was known to be in declining health.
Mr. Covay was among a handful of writers and performers, including Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, who helped define the soul sound (male division) of the 1960s. His own recordings of songs like “Pony Time” (written with John Berry), “Mercy, Mercy” (a funky R&B tune sometimes known as “Have Mercy”) and “See Saw” (written with Steve Cropper) were modest hits, but other performers did even better with them: “Pony Time,” an up-tempo shuffle, was a No. 1 hit for Chubby Checker in 1961; “Mercy, Mercy” was featured on the Rolling Stones’ 1965 album, “Out of Our Heads”; and the soulful and lusty “Chain of Fools” was a No. 2 pop hit in 1967 — and No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart — for Aretha Franklin, who won a Grammy Award for the recording.
Mr. Covay wrote songs with and for Mr. Pickett (“I’m Gonna Cry”) and for Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Letter Full of Tears”). His songs were also covered by singers and bands not necessarily within the sphere of R&B and soul, including Steppenwolf (“Sookie, Sookie”), the Small Faces (“Take This Hurt Off Me”), Connie Francis (“Mr. Twister”) and others.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Covay helped assemble a cadre of soul singers — Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley, Joe Tex and others — called the Soul Clan, which recorded one single (“Soul Meeting” and “That’s How I Feel”) and then dissolved, a legendary supergroup flameout.
They briefly reunited — with Mr. Pickett replacing Mr. Conley — for a series of shows in 1981. In an interview with The New York Times on the occasion of the reunion, Mr. Covay recalled the success that each of them had as individuals in the 1960s, and described their music.
“We were singing rock ’n’ roll, but we were also singing our souls,” he said. “We all had a sound somewhere between gospel music, the blues and country music. We always said that soul and country were so close, if you could write a good country song you would have a good soul song as well.”
He was born James Donald Randolph in Orangeburg, S.C., on March 24, 1936, one of nine children of John and Helen Randolph. His father was a Baptist preacher, and he and some of his siblings sang in a gospel group.
Their father died when James was a boy, and in the late 1940s the family moved to Washington, where James later joined a doo-wop group called the Rainbows. It was around this time, his brother Thomas Randolph said in an interview on Friday, that James Donald Randolph became Don Covay.
“He just made up the name,” Mr. Randolph said. “He felt his name was not right for a singer.”
By the late 1950s, Mr. Covay was appearing as an opening act for Little Richard, who some sources say employed him as a chauffeur as well. By the early ’60s, he had moved to New York.
Mr. Covay and his wife, the former Yvonne Darby, married as teenagers in the early 1950s. She died in 1981. They had five children, four of whom —Ursula Covay Parkes, Antonio Covay and the twin sisters Wendy Covay and Wanda Richardson — survive. Another son, Donald Jr., died in 2010. In addition to Thomas Randolph, Mr. Covay is survived by two other brothers, Leroy Randolph and Eddie Randolph, and six grandchildren.

Donald James Randolph (March 24, 1936 – January 31, 2015), better known by his stage name Don Covay, was an American R&B, rock and roll and soul singer and songwriter most active from the 1950s to the 1970s. His most successful recordings included "Mercy, Mercy" (1964), "See-Saw" (1965), and "It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)" (1974). Other songs written by Covay included "Pony Time", a United States #1 hit for Chubby Checker, and "Chain of Fools", a Grammy-winning song for Aretha Franklin. He received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.

____________________________________________________Donald James Randolph (March 24, 1936 – January 31, 2015), better known by his stage name Don Covay, was an American R&B, rock and roll and soul singer and songwriter most active from the 1950s to the 1970s. His most successful recordings included "Mercy, Mercy" (1964), "See-Saw" (1965), and "It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)" (1974). Other songs written by Covay included "Pony Time", a US #1 hit for Chubby Checker, and "Chain of Fools", a Grammy-winning song for Aretha Franklin. He received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.
Writing in The Washington Post after his death, Terence McArdle said: "Mr. Covay’s career traversed nearly the entire spectrum of rhythm-and-blues music, from doo-wop to funk."[1]

Life and career[edit]

Donald Randolph was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, United States. His father was a Baptist preacher who died when Don was eight.[2] Covay resettled in Washington, D.C. during the early 1950s and initially sang in the Cherry Keys,[note 1] his family's gospel quartet. He crossed over to secular music with the Rainbows, a group which also occasionally included Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart, and made his first recordings with the Rainbows in 1956.[3]
Covay's solo career began in 1957 as part of the Little Richard Revue, when he worked both as the star's chauffeur and opening act. A single "Bip Bop Bip", on which Covay was billed as "Pretty Boy", was released on Atlantic, produced by Little Richard and featuring his backing band the Upsetters. Over the next few years Covay drifted from label to label, eventually signing for Columbia Records in 1961, but success remained elusive. Later that year, however, he had his first chart success, when "Pony Time", a song he co-wrote with fellow Rainbows member John Berry, reached No. 60 on the Billboard pop chart, issued on the smallArnold label and credited to his group The Goodtimers. The song was later recorded by Chubby Checker and became a US No 1 single.[3]
In 1962 he had his first hit under own name, with "Popeye Waddle", a dance-oriented track. He also started writing songs for Roosevelt Music in the Brill Building in New York, writing a hit for Solomon Burke, "I'm Hanging Up My Heart for You".[4] Gladys Knight & the Pips reached the US Top 20 with "Letter Full of Tears", and Wilson Pickett recorded Covay's song "I'm Gonna Cry" as his first single on Atlantic. Covay's singing career continued to falter until 1964, when he had one of his biggest pop hits on the small Atlantic-distributed Rosemart label with "Mercy, Mercy", co-written with Goodtimers guitarist Ronnie Miller, which established his earthy bluesy style and featured a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. The following year the song was recorded by The Rolling Stones on the album Out of Our Heads, with Mick Jagger closely following Covay's singing style.[3]
Atlantic bought Covay's contract but, while minor R&B hits followed, it was a year before Covay returned to the pop chart with "See-Saw", co-written with guitarist Steve Cropper and recorded at Stax along with "I Never Get Enough of Your Love", "Sookie Sookie" (both also co-created by Covay and Cropper), and "Iron Out the Rough Spots" (by Cropper, Booker T. Jones, and David Porter).[5] Covay's relationship with Stax's staff has been described as difficult, both with its musicians[6][7] and management,[8] but Cropper ascribed this to executive Jim Stewart's more conservative persona clashing with Covay's unpredictable creative character, and emphasized his appreciation of Covay: "I loved Don to death. We get along great but I don't think Jim and them understood Don. He thinks in different areas and he was kind of driving people bananas".[8] According to Carla Thomas the musicians enjoyed working with artists sent by Atlantic such as Covay and Wilson Pickett, but resented having to give them studio time.[7] On "See-Saw", Covay "achieved an even more powerfully soulful edge", but failed to maintain his momentum as a performer and most of his later recordings for Atlantic failed to chart. However, his song-writing continued to be successful, as he wrote songs for Etta JamesOtis Redding, Little Richard (his 1965 hit, "I Don't Know What You Got But It's Got Me"), and, most notably, Aretha Franklin, who had a hit in 1968 with "Chain of Fools", a song Covay had written some fifteen years earlier. Franklin won a Grammy for her performance.[3] Over the years Covay's compositions have been recorded by such varied artists as Gene VincentWanda JacksonConnie Francis,SteppenwolfBobby Womack, The Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Small FacesGrant GreenPeter Wolf and many more.
Covay organized the Soul Clan, a collective venture with Solomon BurkeJoe TexBen E. King and Arthur Conley, in 1968, but it was relatively unsuccessful. In 1969, he joined with former Shirelles guitarist Joe Richardson and blues and folk singer John P. Hammond to form the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band. The band had a minor hit single, "Black Woman" and recorded two albums, The House of Blue Lights and Different Strokes for Different Folks, before splitting up.
Covay then joined Mercury Records in 1972, as an A&R executive, while also starting to record his album Superdude. The album yielded two of his most successful songs, "I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In" and "Somebody's Been Enjoying My Home." He followed up with two more successful singles, "It's Better to Have (And Don't Need)" in 1974, followed by "Rumble in the Jungle," inspired by the heavyweight boxingmatch between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In the late 1970s he recorded for Philadelphia International Records, but then withdrew from recording for several years, reappearing as a backing singer on the Rolling Stones' 1986 album Dirty Work.[3]
Don Covay had a stroke in 1992, and the following year Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones appeared, with Iggy PopTodd Rundgren and others on a Covay tribute album Back to the Streets: Celebrating the Music of Don Covay. The same year he was presented by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation with one of its Pioneer Awards.[3]
He released an album Adlib in 2000 on the Cannonball label, his first album in 23 years. Collaborating musicians included Paul Rodgers, Wilson Pickett, Lee KonitzOtis ClayKim SimmondsAnn PeeblesSyl JohnsonPaul ShafferHuey Lewis, and Dan Penn. The cover art was by Ronnie Wood.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Interviewed by UK's Record Mirror in 1967, Covay said: "Singing is my first love, but I like to express my thoughts in the songs I write as well as in the way I sing them. I am always looking for experiences we all know and try to relate them through both my writing and my singing. This is why I think ‘Mercy, Mercy’ became so popular. It was down-to-earth, and everyone immediately recognized the meaning of the song from first-hand experience.”[1]
Covay’s wife, the former Yvonne Darby, died in 1981 and their son, Donald Covay Jr., died in 2009. Covay died after a stroke on January 31, 2015 at the age of 78.[1][10][11]
His survivors include four children, Wendy Covay of Washington, Wanda Richardson of Chicago, Ursula Covay Parkes of Queens and Antonio Covay of Suitland, Maryland; three brothers, Eddie Randolph of Washington, Thomas Randolph of the Bronx, and Leroy Randolph of Brooklyn; and five grandchildren.[1]



  • Mercy! (1965)
  • See Saw (1966)
  • The House of Blue Lights (1969)
  • Country Funk (1970)
  • Different Strokes for Different Folks (1971)
  • Super Dude (1973)
  • Hot Blood (1975)
  • Travelin' in Heavy Traffic (1976)
  • Funky Yo Yo (1977)
  • Adlib (2000)
  • Super Bad (2009)

Chart singles[edit]

Credited to Don Covay unless stated otherwise
Chart Positions
US Pop[12]US
1961"Pony Time"
The Goodtimers
1962"The Popeye Waddle"75--
1964"Mercy, Mercy"
Don Covay & The Goodtimers
"Take This Hurt Off Me"97--
1965"Please Do Something"
Don Covay & The Goodtimers
Don Covay & The Goodtimers
1967"Shingaling '67"-50-
1968"Soul Meeting"
The Soul Clan (Solomon BurkeArthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. KingJoe Tex)
1970"Black Woman"
Don Covay & the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band
1973"I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In"296-
"Somebody's Been Enjoying My Home"-63-
1974"It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)"632129
1975"Rumble In The Jungle"-83-
1980"Badd Boy"-74-

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