An artist I just came across by accident; there is not a lot of information about him, but this I do know: he co-wrote the famous song “Fever” with John Davenport (Otis Blackwell), which was recorded by Little Willie John and Peggy.
Is he still alive? Well I really do not know, but I do know that in 1956, he, along with the Dimples made it all the way to #20 on Billboard. I wish I knew more, but I just do not.
Eddie Cooley was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and later relocated to New York. His lasting claim to fame is that he wrote the smash hit (and subsequent standard) ‘Fever‘ that has been successfully recorded by many artists including Little Willie John, The McCoys, Terry Dene, Elvis Presley and, of course, Peggy Lee.
“Fever” was co-written with the legendary composer and singer Otis Blackwell who, for this song, adopted the nom de plume of John Davenport. This happened to be the real name of Blackwell’s stepfather. As Otis explained:
“Eddie Cooley was a friend of mine from New York and he called me up and said “Man, I got an idea for a song called “Fever“, but I can´t finish it. I had to write it under another name because, at that time, I was still under contract to Joe Davis.”
When recorded by Rhythm & Blues singer Little Willie John on the King label, ‘Fever‘ climbed to the number one position on the ‘Jockey’ charts and stayed there for five weeks in 1956. It similarly made the Best Sellers chart for three weeks in May of that year and, in addition, was included on the Jukebox charts for one week.
Little Willie John – Fever
From Little Willie John’s perspective, it was an important record as it was his first record to cross over and appear on Billboard’s Top 100 Pop Charts, thus opening up the white market to him.
For Eddie Cooley, the impact of ‘Fever’ was also important as the sales of records that made the national hit parade sold in large quantities.
The disc by Little Willie John entered on the hot one hundred at position 50 on July 7th 1956, eventually peaking at the number 24 spot. All told, the record was on these charts for a total of fifteen weeks. In those days, the national chart was an amalgam of the pop side of the Best Seller, Juke Box and Disk Jockey charts.
In essence, ‘Fever‘ was a gimmick song that, probably in anybody’s else’s hands, would have been listed under the novelty category. However, when recorded by Little Willie John for Syd Nathan’s King Records, he infused it with a thinly veiled eroticism that appealed to the young black female audience who bought the disc in large quantities.
Clearly, the waxing also appealed to the white audience. The song received its definitive form from Peggy Lee, when she reworked the song and recorded it on May 19th, 1958 with her bass, drums and finger snapping lead version. In the hands of Miss Lee, the basic earthiness contained in Little Willie John’s interpretation was replaced by a sophisticated eroticism.
Peggy Lee’s treatment of the song climbed to position #8 on the pop charts on 25th August 1958. As a possible consequence, both Little Willie John and Titus Turner went on to assert that they had written ‘Fever‘, claims that went nowhere.
See also our Post: Little Willie John and Peggy Lee
Elvis Presley recorded the Otis Blackwell composition ‘Don’t Be Cruel‘, a song that had been laying around at Shalimar Publishing for weeks. Another hit at that time was ‘Apple Of My Eye‘ by the Four Lovers and suddenly Otis Blackwell was one of the hottest writers around.
Eddie Cooley and Blackwell went on to write other songs for King Record artists such as The Lamplighters, The 5 Royales and Joe Tex.
When Boyd Bennett of ‘Seventeen‘ fame rejected the song ‘Priscilla‘, a demo version was played to Teddy Reig, the A&R man for Royal Roost Records. The label was launched, initially as Roost Records, in 1950 in New York by Arthur & Bill Fadden along with Monty Kay and Ralph Watkins and was nominally owned by Jack Hooke, manager of Alan Freed. .
However, in August 1958, Roulette Records bought out the company. Reig liked the demo by Cooley and arranged for Eddie to re-cut ‘Priscilla‘ as a master. This time, it was with a trio of girls who were under the collective name of The Dimples.
Otis Blackwell recalled:
Well, Eddie was not really a singer, understand, so what I did was I found three girls that were living in the projects over there, and I put them together. Cause at that time there was no girls backing up any singer, one particular singer. There were all girl groups, all boy groups, there were duets. But, there was no group where the lead was a male and the backup singers were girls. So that’s how that got over.
Maybe Otis’s memory was a little cloudy as there were several other girl groups with a male singer around at that time. Otis went on to say:
After it hit, Eddie went on the road singing that song for three months. When he came back, he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore himself.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly how much influence Otis Blackwell really had on these recordings but, with the last statement, he certainly was incorrect. Eddie Cooley recorded several more sides for the Royal Roost label and then started to label hop.
‘Priscilla‘, when released on Royal Roost 621 in mid-1956, became successful on the East Coast with the help of Alan Freed playing it on the radio and booking the outfit on some of his shows. A reviewer in Billboard wrote :
Here is yet another left-field hit. Starting off with unusually good volume in Eastern cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore, the disc has moved out now in almost every part of the country. Detroit and Pittsburgh are very keen on the disc, and it seems about ready to make a big surge to the national listings.
On 24th November 1956, the song reached its highest chart position at #20. As a result of this success, the recording was released in Great Britain on Columbia 3873.
Research for these liner notes has revealed that a girl group by the name of The Dimples also recorded for Era, Dore and Cameo but we have not been able to establish whether these are the same ladies who recorded with Eddie. What is definite is that Eddie played a show at the Howard Theatre in 1956 that was emceed by Dr.Jive. Other acts on the bill included The Dells, The El Dorados, Screamin´ Jay Hawkins, Robert & Johnny and the Debutantes.
‘Priscilla‘ was popular enough to have cover versions made by Buddy Lucas (Bell Records) and Julius La Rosa (RCA). Gus Backus, an ex-member of the Dell-Vikings, recorded two versions, the first in 1961 and then again 1962 for the German Polydor label (# 21389 and 21614).
One of the American trade papers wrote about the original recording by Eddie:
Covers are now coming out, but the original stands out as a charmer that is likely to stand up well against all challengers.
The next release by Eddie Cooley in February 1957 on Royal Roost was ‘A Spark Met A Flame / Driftwood‘ (#626). ‘Driftwood‘ was a Cooley composition and he promoted the record by joining Irving Feld’s ‘Biggest Show Of Stars From 1957’ tour that started on 15th February and journeyed through East and South California, the Pacific Northwest and West Canada for 80 nightly consecutive shows ending on 5th May. Other acts on the bill were Ann Cole, LaVerne Baker,Clyde McPhatter,Chuck Berry, Fats Domino,Bill Doggett, Charles Brown, Schoolboys, The 5 Satins, The Five Keys, The Moonglows and Paul Williams.
The last release (#628) by Cooley on Royal Roost, ‘Hey You/Pull Mon Pull‘ was issued in April 1957 but neither side was a Cooley composition. This release was commercially still-born and so Eddie elected to give up performing and concentrate on song writing.
Tiny Topsy recorded his ‘Aw Shucks Baby‘ for Federal Records later that year and this was reasonably successful with the consequence that she went on to record a further two Cooley compositions.
In 1958, Eddie wrote ‘Golly Gosh Oh Gee‘ that was recorded by Buzz Clifford, who went on to gain international chart success with ‘Babysitter Boogie‘. Conway Twitty also waxed ‘Golly Gosh Oh Gee‘ for MGM but neither version of this song was successful.
In July 1959, Cooley received an offer from Triumph Records, a set up owned by Herb Abramson. Cooley recorded two sides for the label, namely ‘Be My Steady (Clementine)‘ and his own composition ‘Leona‘. The last mentioned has marked similarities with ‘Priscilla‘, and in fact uses The Dimples as vocal backup.
In the early sixties, Blackwell asked Cooley back to the studio to participate on the album project ‘We Wrote ‘Em, We Sing ‘Em‘. The idea of the concept was that six songwriters would each record one of their biggest hits that had originally charted by another artist together with one of their new compositions. Along with Eddie (who included ‘Fever‘ and ‘Lay It On‘) and Otis (‘All Shook Up‘ and ‘Music And Fire‘), the project included Winfield Scott (‘Tweedlee Dee‘ and ‘Some Cold Night Now‘) and Ollie Jones (‘Send For Me‘ and ‘Come On, Come On‘).
Also on the disc was Lincoln Chase (‘Jim Dandy‘ and ‘Hot Biscuits And Sweet Marie‘) and Billy Dawn (‘The Angels Listened In‘ and ‘When I Saw You‘).
Each of the six writers supported the other guys by helping out on the backing vocals. The singer/songwriters had an impressive line up of studio musicians backing them including Mickey Baker (gtr), Buddy Lucas (sax), George Barnes (gtr) and Ernest Hayes (piano) along with several others.
They did not have any written arrangements and worked them out together in the studio during the session, thus giving the songs that live feel. The resulting album of these recordings came out in 1961 on the MGM label (#3912).
In the late eighties, Otis Blackwell laid claim to writing ‘Pricilla‘. For the book ‘The Songwriters Speak‘, Blackwell told the authors:
It was comic book character. I read a lot of comic books cause at that time I wanted to be a cartoonist, ’till my eyes went really bad on me. Comic book titles would give me an idea. I’d add a little country bit to it. That gave me a sense of direction. That ‘Priscilla’ she was a bad little broad, too!
Interestingly ‘Priscilla‘ backed with ‘A Spark Met A Flame‘ was re-released by Roulette Records in 1960 and this time around, the composing credit was changed from simply Cooley to Cooley and Blackwell.
After the aforementioned MGM album project with Otis Blackwell, it appears that Eddie again lost interest in singing, returning once more to purely writing songs for other artists. Eventually, he disappeared completely from the public’s view and that sadly, is where we have to leave the story of Eddie Cooley.