Who was/is Little Joe & Thrillers ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Little Joe & The Thrillers
Little Joe Cook was a reluctant doo-wopper. Brought up on a strict gospel diet, he didn't want to cross over to secular music for fear of offending his devoutly religious mother. An insistent A&R man convinced him to make the switch.
Born December 29, 1922 in South Philadelphia, Cook formed a gospel group with his cousins, which developed into The Evening Star Quartet (Garnet Mimms was a later member). They made a couple of 1949 78s for Ivin Ballen's Philly-based Apex logo before moving over to the parent Gotham label for 1953's acappella Say A Prayer For The Boys In Korea. On the side, Cook groomed the secular Thrillers: lead tenor Farris Hill, tenor Richard Frazier, baritone Donald Burnett, and bass Harry Pascle.
Columbia A&R man Arnold Maxim tracked The Thrillers down in 1956 at a rehearsal and requested some originals. Hill erred on one of their tunes; after hearing Joe correct him, Maxim asked him to lead the song. Cook tried to beg off but finally agreed. Maxim called Joe the next day and asked him to get The Thrillers up to New York that evening; Cook was so broke that he pawned his wife's jewels to pay their train fare. Leroy Kirkland listened to their songs so he could arrange them, and Joe and the Thrillers returned at 2 a.m. on October 5 for their debut session.
Columbia's OKeh subsidiary issued Cook's jumping Let's Do The Slop first, paired with an impassioned ballad, This I Know. Then the label reached back for the other tracks done at the date, Peanuts and Lilly Lou. Cook delivered his lighthearted Peanuts in a screeching falsetto not even close to his normal range. The gimmick clicked: Peanuts cracked the pop hit parade in September of 1957, rising to #22 on 'Billboard's' 'Best Seller' charts and #23 on its Top 100.
The group got jealous and split, but OKeh skirted their absence on Cook's next OKeh outing, The Echoes Keep Calling Me, by billing him as Little Joe The Thriller. Cook sang the Sam Cooke-influenced ballad flip Lonesome in his natural voice. OKeh stuck with Joe into 1961, but the rest of his 45s (including a two-part Cherry where he sang one side in his normal range and the other in falsetto and a cover of Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs' Stay) avoided the airwaves. A Dallas group, Rick and the Keens, revived Peanuts in 1961 and had a #60 pop seller on Smash, and Frankie Valli unfurled his falsetto on a '63 version by his 4 Seasons.
Cook kept plugging away, remaking Peanuts for Reprise in 1963 and delving into soul for Bobby Robinson's Enjoy label as well as Loma Records. He groomed another group under his own roof: The Sherrys were his daughters Delthine and Dinell Cook, their cousin Charlotte Butler, and Delores Wylie. Their dance number Pop Pop Pop-Pie was a #35 pop hit on Guyden in '62. Cook eventually relocated to Boston and reigned for years at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge.
- Bill Dahl -
Various Street - Corner Symphonies 1957 Vol.9
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