He was the brass balls on the brass band that made Miami shimmy and shake like no other. Ever. He was the pompadour before the pompatus … the moonwalk before Michael … the original Blues Brother with the show band that inspired the movie. He was the king of blue-eyed soul.
And he was ours. Then, and now.
The over-21 crowd was lucky. In the mid-sixties, they didn’t have to sneak into The Barn, the smoke-filled North Bay Village cabaret that Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders turned into a raucous party-night crescendo for free-spending lounge lizards, goodfellas, snowbirds, short skirts and guys named Sinatra, Gleason, Armstrong. Even Streisand.
No velvet rope on the outside, nor velvet voice within. When the club doors swung open, the beautiful nasty hit you like a double-shot of hot bugles and thunder, with a chaser of Delta wail. Grinding atop the bar was a linebacker-sized boogaloo machine, wrapped in a one-piece Elvis with gold lamé trim, and topped with a foot-high platinum pompadour that brushed the ceiling tiles above the stage. The soulful arc of his sandpaper wail, bumped-up by the baddest show band on the planet, filled the room with rhythm, blue-eyed soul and flying bar stools. Cochran was smashing stools and mirrors long before Pete Townshend crushed his first Fender.
The crowds. Went. Wild.
They followed when Cochran and the C.C. Riders took their act to more fetching South Florida nightclub showrooms. Still, nothing ever felt quite as balls-up and roadhouse authentic as Cochran tearing it up at The Barn.
By the time The Barn closed in 1971, Cochran and the C.C. Riders had recorded three albums, notched their signature hit, “Goin’ Back To Miami;” appeared live on The Jackie Gleason Show, shared the Las Vegas Hilton marquee with Elvis, and performed “Can’t Turn You Loose” in the movie “C.C. & Company” with Joe Namath and Ann Margaret.
That was also the year my parents gave-up their Dolphins season tickets because their view of the field was obstructed by a foot-high platinum pompadour.
As time passed, Wayne’s run as the king of blue-eyed soul gave way to a higher calling. He retired from music to conquer substance addiction, then became an evangelist and minister. Since 1981, Pastor Wayne Cochran presided over his Voice For Jesus Church and Wayne Cochran Ministries in Miami.
Wayne and I bumped into each other from time to time. The pompadour, pompatus, shimmy and shake were gone, along with any interest whatsoever in revisiting the fame and pain he had put behind him.
It didn’t matter. He was still here. He was still ours.
Each time we talked, he was happy. And fulfilled. And complete.
I’m sorry he’s gone, but somehow imagining that when the Holy gates swing open, the beautiful nasty will hit the heavens like a double-shot of sweet Jesus and redemption, with an overdue chaser of Delta wail.